Wednesday, March 25, 2009

public broadcasting

Stephen Harper's Conservatives have once again proved their level of dissent for non-partisan media. His government has previously attempted limiting the freedom of the media within the National Press Gallery, and now has moved to cutting $171 million from the CBC's budget.

This decision has forced the CBC to cut 800 jobs as well as several programs. It is also resorting to selling some $125 million worth of assets, which must then be approved by Culture Minister James Moore. The CBC has served as a national unifying force since its foundation more than 100 years ago. Its purpose was to create and foster Canadian nationhood through the broadcasting of programs and news that was significant to Canadians.

Contemporary times have seen the CBC airing Canadian content such as Degrassi, Corner Gas, and Little Mosque on the Prairie; these shows are distinctly Canadian and their popularity speaks to the role of the CBC in the lives of Canadian citizens. The programming cancellations that are to result from Harper's funding cut will certainly serve to divide and anger the Canadian population.

A public broadcaster is not the same as a private broadcaster in the same way that socialism is not the same as capitalism. While one is reliant and vulnerable to market forces, the other is nationalized and (ideally) sheltered from the goings-on of private entreprise. Harper said that "broadcasters, both public and private, are having a difficult time with the recession," yet the differences between the two are profound. While CTV is private and operates within the realm of the private sector, the CBC is publically funded in the same way that Catholic schools are in Ontario.

Rather than cutting funding to a historic national institution, why not make cuts to other publicly funded institutions such as Catholic school boards? Certainly the push towards a single rather than dual school system could provide plenty of money that could be used to help organizations such as the CBC. One would be hard pressed to say that society would be at a loss without a religious school system; the same can not be said if society were to lose the CBC because of Harper's authoritarian approach to non-partisan media.


  1. "Traditional" broadcasters, and newspapers for that matter, across North America are suffering record erosion of revenues such there very viability is increasingly at risk. The advertising income lifeblood of the industry is drying up for them, as it follows the eyes and minds of viewers to new media sources.
    Private and public broadcaster business models are under attack. Private broadcaster face bankruptcy if they do not reinvent their business. Their profit motivation will force them to evolve or perish.
    What is the motivation for a public broadcaster? As eyes and minds shift to new media, how long does the Canadian tax payer subsidize public content in the name of "Canadian culture"? Advertisers follow viewership. What makes the CBC imume to market forces and fiscal responsibility, demanded through budget cuts?
    I say they should have to deal with the same pressures as their competition who must win viewers and revenue. Not remain insulated from that imperative. Yes, the CBC has some special status, and culture and arts should have public support. But there must be limits, as Canadians are taxed too high now. the CBC should not get a blank cheque in the name of culture.

  2. I guess that's where we differ on opinions about the market imperative. I see the CBC as, for the sake of argument, something similiar to the Canadian public health care system. We have not privatized health care just because it is ineffective. For many, public health care is part of what it means to be Canadian. The CBC is an institution that served to tie Canadians together from the time of the National Policy to the Aird and Massey Commissions. I view it as a cultural heritage institution that should be preserved, rather than strictly an economic corporation.
    As a journalism student, I understand the ways in which Canadian media has evolved over time, both private institutions such as CTV as well as public ones like the CBC. While I agree with you that the CBC does in many ways need to reinvent certain aspects of its business model, I do not think that it should be forsaken for the sake of market forces, as Harper seems to want.