18 Apr 2015

CBC's Q aimed at U.S. youth while
most Canadians given back seat

When CBC management announced following the dismissal of Jian Ghomeshi last October that the radio program Q would be re-launched, I hoped that we might see a revival of true Canadian arts and culture programming in radio’s morning time slot.

I and tens-of-thousands of other Canadians yearn for the return of programming similar to some of the greatest radio broadcasting in the world that found its home on CBC Radio going back to the mid-1970s – programs such as This Country in the Morning, Morningside and This Country.

I’m talking about the high calibre of Peter Gzowski’s Morningside. Gzowski was a master of radio, capturing the spirit and substance of Canada perhaps better than any broadcaster before or since.  And there were outstanding hosts such as Don Harron, Michael Enright and Shelagh Rogers.

Those programs could safely allow CBC Radio to live up to its recently abandoned motto: “Canada lives here.” They explored both the lives of Canada’s greatest citizens, our cultural quirks and the lives of small town folks who had interesting things to say.

CEO Herbert Lacroix : The real problem behind the CBC. 

Unfortunately the run of great morning programming ended with the rude intrusion of Ghomeshi and Q in 2007. While Ghomeshi was excellent when interviewing Canadian stars, much of the other Canadian content was missing. Instead, we were fed interviews with pop music stars, authors from The New Yorker or some other U.S. magazine, as well as live pop music.

The likes of Q and other mediocre programming was foisted on us by the pro-Conservative Board of Directors and President Hubert Lacroix, who seems happy to orchestrate the CBC’s decline.

The CBC fusses over Q, but the pop nature of the content has meant its ratings are mediocre. During Ghomeshi’s peak period, Q reached an average of 270,000 people, according to CBC Audience Relations. In comparison, The Current, the program that proceeds Q, is heard by 371,000 listeners.

Interestingly, in an effort to distance the show from Ghomeshi, CBC management has changed the name of the program from “Q” to “q”, effective Monday. I’ve not figured out how q sounds different from Q when spoken on the air.

At one point I was quite optimistic that the morning time slot might leave the Ghomeshi formula behind. Cindy Witten, executive director of CBC Radio Talk, said they sought a “good conversationalist who is witty and fast on their feet” and steeped in arts and culture. (My emphasis.)

Secondly, I knew that Daniel Richler, a widely experienced journalist and broadcaster with a vast knowledge of arts and culture, was in the running for the host position.

Richler’s long list of credits include host and producer of City-TV’s Much Music, chief arts correspondent for CBC’s The Journal, and executive producer of Book Television. Most recently Richler has produced and written television documentaries for British networks, and he desperately wanted the job.

I thought Richler would be a shoe-in.

New Q Host - Shad
But after spending big bucks on what it called “an exhaustive search” that included considering more than 200 candidates, the CBC selected charismatic rapper Shad and not the greying old Richler to host the program.

The hiring of Shad was a clear signal that Q will not attempt to return to radio’s past. Thirty-two-year old Shad, who was born in Kenya and raised in Canada, is a heart-throb rapper with a Juno award and two university degrees to his credit. His music and youth orientation will suit him well in hosting the kind of program CBC management wants.

Q will be officially re-launched on Monday, April 20.

Some of the reasons behind the CBC’s decision to put out a mainly entertainment program in this time slot are rather disgraceful.

First of all, the CBC wants greater exposure on social media and as that’s a youth-oriented domain where they are trying to build audience. Okay, except that largely pop Internet programming will fly right over the heads of most folks over 35.

The bigger problem for me is that the CBC plans to have Q appeal to many thousands of young American listeners as opposed to a general Canadian audience.

Q is heard in many U.S. stations, but since the departure of Ghomeshi and the appearance of so many fumbling hosts, several American stations have stopped carrying Q.

The cancellations are a problem because American stations pay the CBC to broadcast Q, and although the amount is not very big (the CBC won’t say how much), the loss is a decrease in revenue for the already cash-starved corporation.

Secondly, based on the popularity of Q in the U.S., the CBC is able to trade for other programs, such as the popular BBC-PRI program, The World, which is broadcast nightly by CBC Radio One. The CBC also exchanges programs with the BBC.

Another factor: when Q has a large audience in the U.S. it increases the program’s ability to snag prominent people for interviews.

So, given that Shad is fairly well known in the U.S. because of his music, and because he is hip and young and into the popular entertainment scene, instead of giving the job to someone deeply immersed in Canadian arts and culture, CBC managers gave Shad the job.

An executive at Public Radio International is quoted as saying that with the hiring of Shad, he’s hopeful that some of the stations that dumped Q will pick it up again.

For these reasons, Q content will be targeted even more to appeal to an American audience.

Shad will no doubt interview high profile Canadian personalities, especially those from the field of entertainment. However, items on the fascinating stories of little known Canadian artists and characters and small towns will be few and far between. Q producers are much more attuned to coming up with entertainment and youth-oriented program ideas rather than off the beat Canadian ones.

I now better understand why I’ve not taken a liking to Q. Given the fact that with Shad we can expect more Americana-style content, I, along with tens-of-thousands of Canadians interested in our country, won’t be tuning in very often.


7 Jan 2015

Today's media language a little
too much like 1984's Newspeak

Newspeak is the fictional language in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by George Orwell. It is a controlled language created by the totalitarian state as a tool to limit freedom of thought and concepts that pose a threat to the regime.

Canada is not Orwell’s imaginary society where peoples’ every thoughts and ideas are controlled by The Party, but our own powerful elite has pushed our media closer to censorship and a propaganda-feeding machine than I ever imagined possible.

Our elite include the wealthy, corporate executives, private media, and the Harper government. As Orwell wrote in his novel, the elite understand that if they have strong influence over media they can limit serious criticism of the tremendous changes they impose on ordinary people.

CBC's At Issue: Anderson, H├ębert, Mansbridge, Coyne
All but one of Canada’s 118 daily newspapers and all four of its private television networks support the business-dominated ideology of the elite and the Harper government. The CBC has some excellent, independent minded programming, but CBC management is so terrified of Stephen Harper that it doesn’t allow the boat to be rocked.

Of course journalists are allowed to write stories that are politely critical of the Harper government, one of the links in the chain of power, but far too often stories focus on the government’s strategy to overcome an image problem.

17 Dec 2014

Climate talks suffer a setback, chances of strong deal in Paris a longshot

With yet another United Nations high level conference making very little, if any, real progress on slowing climate change, a near miracle will be required if countries are to reach a meaningful and binding global agreement on carbon emissions in Paris next December.

10,000 march in Lima in support of a strong agreement they never got.

The "Lima Call for Climate Action" document, agreed to on Sunday by 194 countries, is not a new “deal” for the climate, as conference observer Green Party Leader Elizabeth May pointed out. It is a 12-month work plan leading to the final meeting in Paris.

One major change – a setback for some developing countries – expects nations with ‘riding economies’, such as China, Brazil and India, to begin taking action on climate change in much the same way rich countries are expected to contribute.

In what appears to be another setback for the South, the North started to squirm and wriggle its way out of a 20-year hotly disputed demand by Southern countries that northern nations must bear the cost of cleaning up the environment in Southern regions damaged by Northern industrial development.

One of the few positive advances was a promise that countries already seriously threatened by exceptional climate change, such as small islands being swallowed up by rising seas, will receive special compensation for their losses.

Deadlocked and unable to agree on details, negotiators pushed decisions on many crucial issues forward into 2015.

Even so, following the meetings, which were extended by two days in an effort to reach any kind of an agreement, a spokesman for the European Union said “we are on track to agree to a global deal” at the Paris summit.

Nearly every NGO disagreed. A frustrated Sam Smith of the World Wildlife Fund said “the text went from weak to weaker to weakest, and it’s very weak indeed.”

2C in danger under this plan

Non-governmental organizations warned the plan was not nearly strong enough to limit climate warming to the internationally agreed limit of two degrees Celsius. Even at current levels, more than seven million people, mostly in developing countries, are already dying  yearly from air pollution.

Canada, represented by a delegation that included Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, once again failed to speak out in favour of steps that would reduce carbon emissions. Because it plans to make use of its huge coal reserves, Australia was the other outcast at the conference.

Meanwhile, an Environics survey of 2,020 Canadians last week revealed that the public is concerned about climate change, apparently more than the federal government. Fifty per cent of respondents were "extremely" or "definitely" concerned about a changing climate, and 78 per cent of those fear the kind of legacy it will leave for future generations.

It is clear that if the world is to have a meaningful climate change agreement 12 months from now, countries need to overcome enormous challenges.

To begin with, whether the UN-led process itself will produce a meaningful agreement is in great doubt. The UN has been hosting these meetings for 20 years, and the results have been dismal. The UN is only a facilitator in the process and has absolutely no power – other than persuasion – to force an agreement.

In the North, governments protect their economies and their relationship with wealthy donors before they consider the dangers of climate change. And developing countries relying on dirty energy such as coal need to generate energy to help their huge populations survive.

The new Peru document is extremely vague in that says wealthy nations will help developing countries fight climate change by investing in energy technology or offering climate aid. It’s impossible to see how southern countries can deal with their massive environmental issues.  Earlier, the North was expected to provide $10 billion a year.

In addition, northern countries reiterated they expect the more industrialized developing countries to cut back on carbon emissions. But this is unlikely to happen any time soon. China and India, the two biggest developing country polluters, say they need to burn millions of tonnes of coal so they can develop their economies.

Corporate lobby dictating to North

The public interest group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) says that lobbying  by powerful multinational corporations is preventing developed countries from making a stronger commitment to the climate change fight. They say that companies and their lobbying organizations claim that stronger emission controls would result in the loss of many thousands of jobs.

The corporate sector was out in full force in Lima. Shell Oil was permitted to speak at the main session about its preferred way of fighting carbon emissions -- carbon capture and storage (CCS), a still unproven technology. Another oil giant, Chevron, was permitted to sponsor side events inside the negotiations.

Meanwhile, 82 NGOs and one international NGO were unable to participate in any meaningful way because they had only observer status. The various drafts of the agreement were negotiated in secret, and anyone making a statement was kept to three minutes. No Canadian NGO participated at the conference.

NGOs had so little status in Lima that they needed approval from the UN concerning what slogans could be placed on their protest banners. Neither countries nor corporations were allowed to be named on the banners. A march by 10,000 protesters had no impact on the proceedings.

NGOs plan to be more powerful

NGOs are upset over the limited role they are permitted to play in UN climate talks, as well as the lack of impact they are having around the globe. As a result, the International Institute of Climate Action and Theory released a 118-page document  outlining plans to strengthen and radicalize the movement leading up to and during the Paris conference.

Looking ahead to next year, the Peru agreement calls on countries to show by March how they will cut carbon emissions, but there’s no penalty if they fail to do so. The UN will then see if the pledges will be enough to limit climate warming to two degrees Celsius.

Given the track record of most countries of holding back on climate change commitments, it’s likely the UN and all 194 countries will be operating in crisis mode again next year.

For now, delegates are returning home to get some well-deserved rest. But they can be expected to be back working hard right after the New Year, working toward pulling off a miracle in Paris.

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