As I watched CBC News over the past couple of days, I was waiting for a funeral dirge to be played in the background.
While interviewing their own bosses, supporters and staff, the hosts or reporters were tearfully asking such loaded and leading questions as: “Is this the beginning of the end for CBC?” and “(sniff) What will become of the CBC?” and “(dabbing at eyes) Will the CBC be a shell of its former self?”
Now as someone who has been calling for some drastic rethink as to how much government support should go to the biased and bloated CBC, I’m not now going to gloat now that the paring knife has fallen.
In their recent budget, the Harper Conservatives wisely decided to axe 10 per cent of the broadcaster’s budget as part of a government-wide cost-cutting effort.
As reported by The Canadian Press, government funding makes up about 64 per cent of CBC’s budget and the corporation receives about $1.15 billion a year from taxpayers.
Some CBC supporters — which include many of the Tories’ political opponents — will decry the move as some sort of slimy political payback for the broadcaster’s outrageously paraded pro-left leaning.
But I say the CBC has lost sight of its original mandate, has lost control over its spending and has become too big for its britches.
While the CBC does some things very well — Radio One, TV sports and in-depth news — it produces some of the most unwatched prime-time dramas on Canadian TV.
It’s also venturing into areas already well-served by private broadcasters — and online, that even includes media outlets such as the Brandon Sun. How does it make sense for a private company to have to duke it out for readers/viewers and ad revenue with a government-funded machine? It doesn’t.
Mother Corp has to freshen up her wardrobe — get rid of the patchouli oil, tie-dyed dresses and Birkenstocks.
CBC president and CEO Hubert T. Lacroix (why do these artsy/fartsy types insist on using a middle initial?) said this week the corporation expects to eliminate 650 jobs over three years, including 475 this fiscal year.
He said 60 per cent of the budget goes toward salary and that it would be impossible to take a hit of this magnitude and not affect jobs. Nearly 10,000 people are currently employed full time at the CBC.
Some smart moves will include accelerating the shutdown of analog television transmitters — anyone you know still use vacuum TV tubes and rabbit ears? — and lease and sell off real estate at the broadcasting centre in Toronto to raise funds.
Lacroix said the company will have to scale back some of its plans, which include local service extensions, digital TV services, signature events and cross-cultural programming projects:
• News and entertainment will be hit, wire services reported, but marquee TV and radio programs, as well as hockey broadcasts, will be protected.
• Programming reductions will mean fewer original shows and more repeats on the schedule.
• They’ll sell buildings, close music libraries, move broadcasts of Radio Canada International entirely to the Internet and cut back on news, music and sports programming.
• RCI will also end the production of news bulletins and close its Russian and Brazilian departments.
• CBC will not expand into a CBC Kids digital channel as quickly as planned. Anyone see anything wrong with that?
And I don’t see the logic in having CBC turned into some kind of hybrid public/private broadcaster on radio by opening up certain channels to advertising.
Neither do the private radio stations.
Canada’s largest private radio broadcaster has objected to the CBC’s move to start selling advertising on its CBC Radio 2 and Espace Musique stations, the Globe and Mail reported.
Astral Media, which is in the process of being sold to telecom giant BCE Inc., said it will oppose the CBC’s application to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to change its licensing conditions to allow the two secondary CBC stations to begin airing commercials.
It will likely get a chance to air its concerns at public hearings later this year.
“Astral is fiercely opposed to seeing the public broadcaster start selling advertising,” the company said.
“CBC has to decide if it wants to continue being funded by Canadians and fulfil its mandate or if it wants to operate commercial radio stations.”
But there could also be a third way.
Why doesn’t CBC take a page from the funding model of its cousin in the United States — PBS — and look for funding through supporters (actual listeners and viewers), foundations and private citizens instead of expanding too much into commercial advertising?
As for the interim? I have to side with Heritage Minister James Moore, who said the CBC still has enough to fulfil its mandate to Canadians.
“Our budget provides the funds necessary for the CBC to fulfil their obligations under the Broadcast Act and to go further and implement their 2015 plan,” he told the House of Commons last week.
“And also to have a leaner public broadcaster that serves the interests of not only the cultural communities but taxpayers.”
IT’S NICE TO BE NOTICED
We here at the Sun were thrilled this week to read a Globe and Mail story that acknowledged us as being one of the three top newspaper success stories in Canada.
In fact, the Globe’s senior media writer Simon Houpt, characterized us as being “a case study in the binding cultural role that media play.”
From the story:
“When the Newspaper Audience Databank (a.k.a. NADbank) issued its 2011 study of Canadian readership last week, Charlottetown, Cape Breton and Brandon, Man., snagged a glorious place in the sun.
“For those three communities ranked tops in total readership: 91 per cent of Charlottetown’s and Cape Breton’s adults (18+) had read the print or web edition of a newspaper on a weekly basis, and 89 per cent of Brandon’s adults had done the same. Peterborough was a close fourth, with 88 per cent readership.
“Vancouver, meanwhile, clocked in at 80 per cent weekly readership; Montreal at 76 per cent; and Toronto at 75 per cent.
“And what did readers tell NADbank they were interested in? Ninety per cent said they read papers for local coverage.
“That yen for local news plays to the strengths of the papers in those communities, where they have strong brands and little competition from the Internet.”
We were praised for our “stable-to-stable” coverage of the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair and corporate support for the city’s bid to land regular air service through a carrier such as WestJet.
In a note to staff, following the story’s publication, publisher Eric Lawson said:
“The Brandon Sun enjoys one of the highest newspaper readerships in all of Canada.
“We are building on this by increasing local content at every opportunity: whether in news, sports or the arts, lifestyles and entertainment; whether in the form of stories, photographs or graphic elements; and whether staff-written or contributed — we are engaging readers wherever we can, in print and online.
“Local advertising content is also vitally important. We continue to build our local advertising presence — which also increases readership, as readers turn to the paper for information on goods and services in their community.
“Everyone in every department contributes to this success by helping to build our relationship with the community we serve.”
And we do it all without any government funding.
I won’t have a column next week as I’m taking a week off. I’m heading off to Las Vegas to reunite with some old high school buddies from Montreal, some of whom I haven’t seen in 30 years.
One of them is a professional poker player at a casino in Vegas, hence the location for the reunion.
And, as we have no commercial passenger air service, I will be driving south to Minot, N.D., to catch a flight to Sin City.
If we had service at McGill Field, without a doubt I would fly out of here and connect to Vegas through Calgary.
And not spend hours bouncing down Highway 10 south.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 7, 2012