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CBC is more popular than the government

Should the CBC’s 75th anniversary be its last?

Chances are you said no. There is, however, a certain contingent that would scrap the public broadcaster, some on ideological grounds (the CBC is leftist), some because “entertainment” should be a private-sector function, and some because they don’t watch the boring/crappy/biased/insert-putdown-of-choice offerings, so they shouldn’t have to pay for it.

I don’t watch a whole lot of TV. I don’t have cable. One of the channels I do get is CBC – I do watch it, but not all that often (even hockey, that stalwart of the schedule, is increasingly difficult to watch for its Toronto-centric focus, though it doesn’t often fall to the abysmal level of some U.S. feeds). For educational and information shows, along with good series (often British, a la PBS) TVO does a much better job. That said, CBC shines on the radio side.

I guess that puts me in the pro-CBC camp, along with the majority of Canadians, despite the concerted attacks led by private broadcaster/publisher Quebecor and fed by the Harper government.

A recent poll commissioned by the advocacy group Friends of Broadcasting found 46 per cent of us want to see the CBC’s current funding levels maintained – that’s about $1.1 billion just now – while another 23 per cent favour an increase. Only 17 per cent supported cuts.
Axing the CBC, not part of the poll, is certainly a much-discussed topic of various online forums.

That last option is unlikely. As are the options preferred by the majority of Canadians, as the government has indicated it expects the broadcaster to meet the five to 10 per cent across-the-board cuts its demanded of most departments and agencies going into 2012 budget deliberations.

Cuts to the CBC would be at odds with Conservative promises, including those made in last spring’s election. The government has pledged to maintain or increase funding, notes Friends of Canadian Broadcasting spokesman Ian Morrison.

“A 10 per cent cut to the CBC’s budget, as the Conservatives are contemplating, would have devastating consequences that would be visible and of great concern to the vast majority of Canadians.  In addition, the steady attack on the CBC by various government MPs could change the direction of public support [for the government] on this issue.”

Speaking from Ottawa, where the organization this week launched a satirical campaign whereby the CBC is bought by a U.S. wrestling promoter (see www.friends.ca), Morrison argues the government would be well advised to honour public sentiment.

“Public broadcasting is very popular with Canadians, including a majority of those who are Conservative supporters.”

During the government’s five years in power, there have been threatening rumblings, but it has continued funding for the CBC. In that regard, it’s done better than the Chrétien government, which slashed the broadcaster’s budget, along with many others, as it fought to tackle the massive deficits of the Mulroney era.

“This government has not attacked public broadcasting the way the Chrétien government attacked public broadcasting, cutting $400 million from its budget,” Morrison explains. “Chrétien did a lot more damage to public broadcasting than Harper has done to date.”

He worries, however, that the situation could change for the worse.

There’s a great deal of hostility coming out of Ottawa these days, including a recent lumping together of the CBC and the Canadian Wheat Board, the farmers’ cooperative that Tories are in the process of neutering.

While Harper has been quiet about the CBC – uncharacteristically leaving the comments, hints and innuendo to others – there seems little doubt the attack is emanating from the PMO.

“This new attack that began in July is out of the blue,” he says. “There’s some kind of orchestrated campaign going on.”

Whether that includes fuelling the attack by Quebecor, including hundreds of often-frivolous access to information requests and the resultant court challenges, is open to speculation. What is clear, though, is that Quebecor has a conflict of interest, as it competes directly with the CBC for advertising dollars. That is reason enough to dismiss its antics.

The anti-CBC push could be little more than past efforts of mollifying the Reform base by giving the impression of being tough on the broadcaster, or it could be the first step in a plan to “eviscerate” the Mother Corp. by, for instance, stripping away its ability to sell advertising, which would wipe $500 million from its coffers.

The true intent remains unknown. Like so many of its ‘open and transparent’ moves, the government is being secretive about its intentions and goals.

“This is serious,” Morrison notes. “The government is making decisions behind closed doors.”

There’s that openness and transparency again. This time the secrecy is being used to formulate an attack on what is one of the most popular national institutions, one that does indeed link Canadians from coast to coast to coast. That’s more than can be said about many things to come out of Ottawa.

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Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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  1. I, as most Canadians do, think that CBC should be around in some form for many years to come. Radio is very popular and so is sports. Even with a 10% cut, there is 90% of 1.1 billion dollars as well as the 500 million dollars in advertising revenue that CBC will get. Surly that is enough to keep the radio and sports shows alive!

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