I’m notorious for ranting away about the fact that we don’t see any books about zombies, vampires, torrid romance avec bare chested hotties on CBC’s Canada Reads competition. That bugs the hell out of me.
Actually, there’s a number of things about the CBC that bug the hell out of me. Yes, I know they have a billion dollar budget. Yes I know they’ve been less than forthcoming in opening the books to public scrutiny, but you know, the CBC isn’t exactly alone in that department. (Here’s a line of defense for the CBC as they face a spending review by Canada’s Conservative government: we’ll open our books up when MP’s open the books up to their expense accounts. Hell might freeze over shortly thereafter, I suspect.)
There are hardcore CBC haters out there, more than you can shake a stick at. This posting might piss them off.
You see, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the CBC’s relevance in our 500 channel universe which consists mostly of crap – not to mention our 24-hour news cycle, ugh. At any rate, I’ve come to the conclusion that those who are barking about CBC’s excesses (and yes, the Toronto International Film Festival party hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos a few weeks back doesn’t exactly win CBC a lot of friends when they’re under the microscope, dumb, dumb, dumb) are barking up the wrong tree. The cold, hard truth is that the CBC is relevant to all Canadians, it’s just that sometimes Canadians need to be reminded of this fact.
A lot of people who are calling for cuts to the CBC’s budget are trying to justify the cuts because of a perception there’s a major league left-leaning slant to all of CBC’s programs. Sometimes I want to hit certain reporters on the head and say “No!”, but that doesn’t mean the entire news department are card carrying dippers. On the entertainment side, Little Mosque on the Prairie is not left leaning the last time I looked. Or is it left leaning because it’s not a show about white people in the middle of the prairie because, you know, that show went off the air nearly thirty years ago. I don’t watch Little Mosque, mostly because it sucks. A lot.
And CBC has had a rough few weeks. Last week’s Rob Ford/Marg Delahunty Princess Warrior fiasco couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Both the CBC and Quebecor are engaged in a war of words. CBC has been called to the carpet by not one, but two parliamentary committees and even Heritage Minister James Moore appears to be backing Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault’s quest to get CBC to release spending documents under Access to Information.
But here’s the thing: the CBC ain’t PBS. It ain’t CTV or Global or Sun News Network. (I tried watching Sun News Network. The graphics gave me a migraine.)
It is a public service that happens to be about broadcast media, so Quebecor and other media outlet gripes about a level playing field fail to recognize that Canada’s national broadcaster can never operate on a level playing field within its existing mandate: that’s what needs to be reviewed and made relevant to Canadians in the 21st century.
And who could have predicted the breakneck pace of change in the media over the past twenty years? I doubt even Marshall McLuhan could have gazed into his crystal ball and correctly predicted that people would be watching the news on hand-held devices or that radio itself would eventually become a medium in decline. (And it is, folks. There’s lots of data to support it, but I just point to this little thing called the iPod – that pretty much wraps things up from my perspective.)
But the CBC is important: it just needs to be reinvented in a way that resonates with most Canadians. The days of CBC being the only game in town are long gone, but its existence over the past 75 years, many of those years being spent as the whipping boy for governments in cost cutting mode or anyone with a beef against David Suzuki (who bugs me pretty much all the time), is the result of a nation that still wants to have a national broadcaster because we happen to live next door to the biggest media nation on the face of the earth.
In a perfect world, the CBC could receive a new mandate that is in concert with what Canadians want. The trouble is, can Canadians ever agree on anything? We’re split along regional, cultural and linguistic lines and maybe it is there that we need the CBC more than ever before: so that Canadians can understand each other better.
Where to start? Regional, regional, regional! Where else? Culturally relevant: programs about, oh … how about Canadian history? You know, it’s that thing we don’t teach in the school system. Don’t believe me? Ask Mel Hurtig – he’ll give you an earful. Less political correctness and more in your face controversial stuff. More of that bald guy from Dragon’s Den and less Peter Mansbridge. More Robert J. Sawyer or Arthur Slade and less Atwood and Ondaatje. (Sorry, Mike & Margaret. I still love you both, though.)
Finally, the CBC’s detractors need to recognize that those who support the broadcaster’s right to exist do so in the same way that law and order types support the Conservative government’s new omnibus crime legislation: they don’t care that prisons will cost bajillions of dollars or that violent crime is in decline. They just want the bastards put away forever regardless of the crime rate. For people like me, we don’t care how much it costs, we just want the CBC because it’s important to our lives.
Because of this, it’s unrealistic for anyone to draw a comparison to the competition in our existing media landscape because it truly is apples and oranges. Quebecor, CTV – all private broadcasters exist to generate revenue from the material they broadcast. CBC exists to broadcast material period. End of story. Get it? And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing because a national broadcaster can act as a lynchpin for Canadian values – even the ones we disagree on. Who knows, maybe a remandated CBC will produce it’s own Bill O’Reilly show to be followed up by yet more David Suzuki saving the planet – a healthy contrast of competing viewpoints. Do that and you’ll pretty much torch any indication that the CBC is left leaning.
Yes, I know the CBC has declining viewership, but its existence is an expression of what makes Canada unique. How we fund our national broadcaster in the years ahead will ultimately dictate whether the CBC flies or fries in the long run, and baby, that’s going to be the fight of a lifetime. Budget cuts are coming and Canadians need to ask themselves if they’re ready to pay a tax that will bankroll the CBC because I can’t see any other way to fund it. (In short, be like the BBC, dammit. They have Doctor Who! DOCTOR FREAKING WHO!!!)
I’ll close by pointing out that we are capable of producing world class news and entertainment in Canada. Me? I’d like to see the CBC produce a broader spectrum of programming that is more downtown Saskatoon because most of Canada doesn’t live in downtown Toronto. Are you listening CBC? I hope so.
Happy Birthday – let’s hope you make it to one hundred.