CBC: a treasure or relic?

2023.04.27 | OPINION

CBC/Radio-Canada building

For CWA Canada

Over recent months and years CBC has faced public outcries for everything from the telecast time of its flagship television show The National, to its complete defunding.

Complaints and feedback about programming is what a public broadcaster expects, but a serious challenge to its mere existence is a troubling development.

The demands to stop the more than $1.2 billion annual parliamentary appropriation to the CBC are not new, but it rings louder these days thanks to the current leader of the federal official opposition. The Conservative Party of Canada leader has a soapbox firmly planted and a message resonating with some sections of the public during a period of post-pandemic inflation, angst, and mistrust of public institutions.

Unlike decades ago when the CBC was embraced as a national treasure, there are indications the public now views the corporation as more of a relic. In fact, getting rid of the public broadcaster as we know it today may be something the public would support or even embrace.

A recent poll by Abacus Data for Spark Advocacy showed only 55% of those surveyed viewed CBC as a valuable institution they want maintained, compared to 45% who are warm to the idea of letting go of the public broadcaster to save tax dollars.

The strongest support to end CBC funding, according to the poll, comes from those under 30 in conservative-leaning Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Having lived and worked on the prairies most of my life, the poll results don’t come as much of a surprise.The detachment from our national public broadcaster began decades ago and has been a slow and steady bleed ever since. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

I was working at CBC Saskatoon in the late ’80s when we suddenly learned our station and several across Canada were being shut down. Until that point, we enjoyed our own noon and 6 p.m. news show, and had a full roster of television and radio content filled with local arts, entertainment and politics. Writing all those stories meant getting out of the office regularly and meeting face to face with people to learn about what was on their mind.

The closures resulted in a gradual centralization of CBC English content in Toronto with the regions losing most of their ability to create new shows, documentaries or hold live audience events.

Radio remained intact, but it too experienced reduced air time locally, and the ability to generate original stories.

And so it has gone ever since.

The impact on those of us working in the field was noticeable. There were fewer trips to the rural areas, and more reliance on news stories bagged for the masses from head office in Toronto, aided of course with requisite clips and footage from across the country.Jump forward to today and platforms now share everything.

It’s not uncommon to see a story on national television, hear the same version on radio the next morning, and read about it at some point online.

It’s no wonder support for Canada’s public broadcaster appears to be on the decline — the connection to the public, by the public broadcaster, was severed years ago.

More than a year ago, I sat before a panel of CRTC commissioners and implored them not to give CBC a “blank cheque”. My plea came during the CBC licence renewal hearings and was said in the context that allowing CBC to move all of its content online and off television and radio airwaves would be a mistake.

That request still stands as the CRTC reconsiders its loose licence requirements after being ordered by the federal cabinet to take a second look.

Audiences are migrating online, especially young consumers of information. But currently we still have radios in vehicles, and television sets with hundreds of channels.

CBC has feigned indignation at the mere suggestion of defunding it, but instead of being insulted, it should see it as a rallying cry.

Several times during my term as CBC branch president of the Canadian Media Guild, I urged management to invest heavily in the regions, and to be relevant again to all Canadians.

That also means lessening its exploitation of a temporary workforce, getting out into the community, and producing content across the country that will be of interest from coast to coast to coast.

CBC remains the largest purveyor of Canadian news in the country with the greatest reach. It has free content online and through its television app GEM.

It has foreign bureaus (though not as many as it used to) devoted to finding Canadian angles to international news, and has taken great strides over the past few years to become truly diverse and inclusive.

But it isn’t good enough to just remind Canadians why a national public broadcaster is in their best interest — they have to prove it everyday.

The national public broadcaster has a civic responsibility to play in the preservation of democracy.
That means fully funding seasoned reporters to cover city hall, the legislature and even school board meetings. Volumes of reports and data need to be analyzed and interpreted for the public. That’s where a public broadcaster comes in.

But the direction to do much more reporting in more places must come from the top.

It’s time CBC senior management, and the federally appointed board of directors, takes a leading role in protecting what once was, and could again be a truly coveted Canadian institution.

(Kim Trynacity is a freelance writer and past CBC branch president of the Canadian Media Guild, CWA Canada’s largest Local.)

1 Comment on CBC: a treasure or relic?

  1. Bill Mackenzie // 2023-05-15 at 8:23 pm // Reply

    I Was employed by CBC for close to forty years,I was proud to work there as Film prod editor,Then on to Technical end of the business.Then they started closing out departments, many layoffs,Please save what is left of the CBC televisions, and radio.


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