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Public broadcasting needs government support and action

? Public funding for CBC is among the lowest in any industrialized country in the world. Only New Zealand and the U.S. spend less per capita on public broadcasting. CBC/Radio-Canada gets $34 per Canadian per year. The average is $80. A year ago, the parliamentary Heritage Committee recommended increasing CBC/Radio-Canada’s allocation by $7 per Canadian. That would mean an additional $230 million per year.

? CBC/Radio-Canada provides TV, Radio and Internet services across the country in two languages, as well as 8 Northern languages. It is the only truly national service and it has done it all on about $1.6 billion per year, including advertising revenue. By contrast, Canwest spent $1.7 billion in 2008 to provide its services. The CBC is clearly not out of whack in terms of spending.

? CBC/Radio-Canada provides good jobs in communities across this country; furthermore, its programming provides vital local, national and international information that those communities need at a time like this. Supporting CBC should be seen as part of the government’s economic stimulus plan.

? CBC and Radio-Canada television rely heavily on advertising revenue but that revenue started to drop in the middle of last year and is continuing to drop in 2009.

? That means a major budget hole has to be filled. If it’s not filled by an infusion of public money, there will be cuts to programming and staff.

? More than ever, the public broadcaster is needed to do what the private broadcasters are getting away from: local news and programming on TV, radio and the internet.

? Some people complain that the TV service may as well be a private service. This is wrong. No other broadcaster in English Canada consistently runs Canadian programming in prime time. No other broadcaster in either language has the current affairs shows that spark and sustain national public debate.

? In fact, CBC/Radio-Canada is nothing like private broadcasters in the way it operates. It can’t generate profits in boom times to squirrel away for leaner times; it can’t go to the banks or the bond markets to raise cash when cash-flow is tight. It hasn’t gotten itself into billions of dollars of debt that it can no longer pay back. It is stuck in a model that successive governments have created: more and more dependent on advertising revenue.

? In France, the public broadcaster is now receiving an infusion of government money to replace advertising revenue.

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