21 Jun 2017

Liberals take first small step toward rebuilding the CBC, but there are many miles to go

The federal government has taken the first step on a long road toward what hopefully will be the restoration of the CBC as Canada’s most important public interest and cultural institution.

For nearly 10 years the Harper government forced the CBC off track from its original goals of promoting culture and the arts, providing quality news, and facilitating a national discussion.

Harper refused to adequately fund the Mother Corp. In one fell swoop in 2012, the Harper government cut the CBC budget by $115-million over three years.

Harper very likely would have wanted to sell off the CBC but that would have caused a national backlash. Instead, he appointed seven Conservative lackeys and donors to the CBC Board with the idea of keeping the broadcaster in check.

But now, with the world pretty much in a state of chaos and false news coming at us from many directions, a strong CBC has never been more important.

On Tuesday Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly announced the government is ending the long-time practice of appointing friends of the government to the CBC Board of Directors and, instead, introducing a new system.

Joly named nine prominent Canadians with various backgrounds from across the country who will recommend people they feel capable of serving on the Board to the government.

Currently three positions are vacant on the Board, and the second term of CBC President and CEO Hubert Lacroix expires at the end of the year.

The change in how Board members are selected will immediately restore some of the CBC’s lost credibility. Many long-time viewers and listeners have turned away from the national broadcaster.

Of course establishing a new process for appointing Board Members is no guarantee that the CBC will be fully restored to health. The problems inside the corporation are so serious that the rebuilding could require four or five years.

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The first goal will be to gradually form a Board that will serve the CBC mandate. This may not be easy. While appointees will be outstanding in their own field of activity, it’s unlikely they will have served on a high-level national Board, let alone the Board of a broadcaster, which involves many complicated activities.

The Board will need to evaluate the success and future of the corporation’s move to provide programming via the Internet, and the challenges presented by services such as Netflix.

The Board and the government will have to work out the amount of funding the CBC is to receive. The Liberals provided extra funding of $150-million in 2015.

Once the government is satisfied with the progress of the renewal process, it should provide funding on a five-year basis instead of annually as is the current practice. Additional sources of revenue, such as grants from foundations, should be explored.

The CBC deserves increased funding. A 2014 study showed that Canada ranked 16th per capita in the world in terms of public broadcasting spending.

The corporation’s programming objectives need to be clarified. Too many CBC executives think that CBC-TV should be similar to private TV, and that ratings are all-important. But it’s time to finally admit that the CBC should be more like U.S. PBS and less like CTV.

Programs about dance and theatre will never have competitive ratings, but they are important to the country's cultural identity.

The Board will have to evaluate whether the corporation’s top executives have the skills and creativity required to manage a public interest broadcaster. It should go outside the CBC to fill some key positions.

At present, the expression “public interest”, which should be on the minds of public broadcasters, is pretty much a forgotten term at the CBC.

Strong new mid-level managers are needed to restore morale in some parts of the CBC. The corporation has for years had a poor work environment, largely because of weak management.

Morale is low in some news departments. Some editors have lost interest in their work because managers provide very little input.

The TV people are making one smart move. When Peter Mansbridge retires from The National, three roving anchors/journalists will host the program – a move that I and others have advocated for some time. This should result in  more diversified and interesting coverage.

On the creative side, current TV executives spend hours trying to come up with inexpensive program ideas that might allow the CBC to match the ratings of the private stations.

As a result, the CBC-TV schedule includes programs that shouldn’t be on a public broadcasting network, including Hello Goodbye, The Goods, Just for Laughs Gags, and the exploitive Dragon’s Den.

Unfortunately, the TV schedule lacks programs that discus interesting and intelligent ideas --programs that would be similar to the BBC's Firing Line or some of the content on RT, the Russian network that challenges conventional western thinking.

The managers seem to be afraid to provide programming about controversial topics. Why doesn’t our national broadcaster have a program that explains climate change, the most serious problem facing humanity?

CBC Radio receives less than its fair share of the overall budget. But because it reaches into every nook and cranny of the country, radio provides a more important service than TV.

The radio schedule is somewhat impressive because of programs such as The Current, As It Happens, Ideas, The Sunday Edition, and Unreserved. But in recent years there has been a strange move to provide an inordinate number of programming dealing with people’s personal problems.

Adult listeners are fed up with Radio's failed attempt to attract a younger audience by broadcasting too much mindless pop music. Where is the likes of Clyde Gilmour when we really need him?

Radio One's morning pop program, Q, should be banished to the evening schedule, when young people are around to hear it, and replaced with a more adult, broad-ranging program.

Unfortunately, just like television, radio lacks biting programs where strong ideas are debated.

Last weekend I met a journalist friend from the Caribbean who was in India recently. He was amazed that Indian media is full of heated debate on all kinds of topics. He asked why Canadian media is so dull.

I said I thought the influence of the Harper years and powers of the corporate community had reduced the quality of our media compared to 20 years ago.

I told him that, when it comes to information programming, the CBC is guilty of self-censorship on a massive scale.  The content of CBC-TV is particularly anti-intellectual.

With the new Board procedures, the Trudeau government is taking an important first step forward from the cynical Harper era. During the months and years ahead we hopefully will witness the rebuilding and revival of a CBC we can once again be proud of.


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Thanks Nick


  1. "Liberals take first small step toward rebuilding the CBC, but there are many kilometres to go"

    Because it's 2017 in Canada.
    42 years and counting since we converted. :-)

    1. Lol! So you probably can guess my age.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. @Anonymous

    Just like we still use 2X4s, we still do metaphors in the old system.

  3. I sometimes wonder where this country is headed. Many people I know listen to golden oldie radio stations all day long and have as much interest in public affairs at any level as they have in a ball of dust. Out west, t's caterwaulin' country music. The CBC barely gets a look in. Quite what these people really think about Canada is moot. They just don't think or care, or actively pooh pooh the CBC with a smirk as if it were a bright thing to do.

    These folk are about as interesting as mud with generally conservative views on local social issues. The great unwashed therefore. They just sit there.

    So I do hope someone has some clue about the role of the CBC in bringing "Canadians" together. Because as it stands, all I see is a bunch of isolated villages spread out across this land of ours, whose only commonality is the paper money and coins we have. And that's going away.

    Unfocussed is what I'd call Canadians, with little interest in the country as a whole. Without the CBC for those who are actually awake, we might as well call the whole thing off. So I'm in favour of getting a revitalized CBC up and running to try and at least stir the sleepers from their general torpor.

  4. I have always lived in remote places and CBC in the past had provided me with information and entertainment. Personal stories and all those light weight programs drive me crazy. As do the so called public affairs programs on TV. The Agenda on TVO is an example of that could be done. Journalists and party strategists taking part in gab fests is such a waste of time.

  5. CBC does have a show on climate change http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/2050-degrees-of-change

    1. Thanks. I just looked at it. I assume it is broadcast only in BC? This is exactly the kind of thing that will draw people in.

  6. Its all tied together the party in power ---their now annual budget bank bailout/bail-in clause, quietly inserted and the CBC never openly revealing its presence or the misuse of taxpayer monies to bailout derivative gambling banks....(the big 6). Add the never-going to tell the public about the non-trade related ISDS (investor-state dispute) clauses in every trade deal, (including NAFTA) or the newly corporate takeover of all procurement contracts as of CETA and all subsequent trade agreements.....So much for public TV or our domestic economy ---see bilaterals.org .....As an aside the only person to even mention the 120 billion bank bailouts by Harper in 2009 on CBC was ....Unifor --Jim (and the panel sh sh him --but he stuck to his guns and spilled all the beans.....120 billion to our banks in 2009 (taxpayer monies with NO INTEREST charged---NAFTA lawsuits outstanding under ISDS clauses 2 billion and growing.....One wonders if there will even be taxpayers in time....Makes one wish we could determine how our tax dollars are allocated, yearly.....digitally of course....or maybe we should use our standing as taxpayers to finally protest.....?

  7. Here s a clue that depresses me, being from the east: small provinces not covered. Who else needs protection more than we do?

    Atlantic( yes nice they address Acadie but there are 4 provinces), the North and Saskatchewan.

    Yes it s just the selection committee but who will even notice when we are missing from the actuals?

    1. Just what I was about to comment. The east coast needs the rest of Canada to hear us more than ever. We are lost to Confederation, our economies sunk,our families continue to be stripped for cannon fodder to western ( Esp Alberta) interests, our industries were destroyed and we are advised to blow our small selves up with fracking to profit a bit for 5 minutes to ease the burden of our small selves on the national or western purse.

      Nick Fillmore, I cut my political conscience on the 4th Estate; are you convinced that this Board, with its never before recognized Acadien membership, will remember the east coast in any ventures?

  8. 33 years ago, I moved from Toronto to a small city where I knew no one. I had a new baby -- my first and only -- and a husband working three different jobs in three different places. CBC Radio saved my life. It connected me to other Canadians, to issues and ideas, in a way that stimulated me and enlivened my days and made me feel a part of an on-going dialogue about what it means to be an educated and informed and involved Canadian.
    That CBC is no more. Regular radio news and political broadcasts are a sad joke -- the station might just as well read out the releases from the PMO. Discussion on important issues? There is only one point of view on anything under the purview of government. In the old days, I knew recognized a new acquaintance as a CBC listener from the breadth and depth of their understanding of issues. No longer. And yet we need a strong and principled national broadcaster now as never before. Please, bring it back, while we still have a country we can call our own.

    1. Thank you Fiona. Sad but true. We must give the new Board and the CBC time to rebuild itself. It is possible.

  9. Thanks Nick. We cross our fingers.

  10. "Additional sources of revenue, such as grants from foundations, should be explored" Please no ... do not add donation funding into the mix by having CBC rely on grants from foundations. Media that rely on donation funding like American PBS are subject to being pressured by the donors to censor content. The simple fact that rich people have more money to donate than the rest of us, is the reason why donation funded media is predominantly partisan in favor of the politics of the rich. We want CBC to serve the interests of all Canadians. Give CBC the 900% increase in public funding that it requires so that it can be on par with the best funded public media in the world (Norway's)

  11. Please read the last paragraph of this article by former Wall St. Journal editor and Reagan economist.