There is a report in the Toronto Sun that says that “Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch this week proposed to dismantle Canada’s state broadcaster … It is a proposal that speaks,” the Sun suggests, “to Canadian frustration with a public broadcaster that in recent years has been rocked by scandal, allegations of political bias, a lack of transparency and accountability, declining audience and, arguably, a self-serving mandate … [further] … Maxime Bernier, Leitch’s fellow leadership candidate, has proposed scaling back the CBC’s mandate to get it out of game shows, cooking programs and programming already offered by private media … [but] … Bernier wants to revise the Broadcasting Act to get them out of selling ads and instead move toward a PBS model financed by sponsorships and viewer contributions, with the goal of decreasing the Corporation’s billion dollar subsidy … [and] … While the plans of both leadership hopeful’s differ in several ways, the common thread is that both former cabinet ministers believe the CBC needs serious reform.“
The CBC was founded as, essentially, a defence against American cultural dominance (soft power, again) and, from the early 1930s until the late 1950s it had a near monopoly on radio and television broadcast licenses because it was not only a major broadcast network, it was, also, the national broadcasting regulator!
I think that the first question that needs to be asked is: are we still in danger (if we ever were) of cultural domination by the USA?
If the answer is yes then how much does the CBC, with an English TV market share of less than 6%, matter? It can hardly be the right answer to US cultural dominance.
In my opinion we are now, most of us, in a global cultural marketplace where we can see and hear news, information, entertainment and sports from around the globe, with or without the CBC (with or without CTV and Global, too, come to that) … the “most of us” live in areas well served by the CBC (and by other networks, too). This is a list of the CBC‘s top level high definition TV stations:
This is where most Canadians lived in 2013 (so not much will have changed):
Increasingly Canadians are watching less and less traditional network TV (they are cutting the cable) and are getting more and more of everything: news, information, entertainment and sports, from the internet. Here is how internet coverage stacks up in Canada in 2016:
I think you can see where I’m going with this.
The CBC is, by and large, serving a saturated market And given its less than 7.5% market share it is not serving it very well. Most of what the CBC does is, almost certainly, a waste of taxpayers’ money.
What about the “others?” What about those who don’t live in the areas served by some combination of high speed internet and network broadcasters, public and private?
The challenge, it seems to me, for government is to get out of the broadcasting business, entirely. (There is, I think, an argument that can be made for the government to fund (subsidize) high quality information (programming) that can be distributed by private network (broadcast and telecom) operators … but I don’t think it’s a really good argument.) The money ($1+ Billion) currently allocated to the CBC should be used to provide access to private networks in rural and remote areas. It may require much higher initial subsidies to “roll out” such services in areas where a viable commercial market simply does not exist and it may then require $1 billion a year just to keep the channels open … despite the tiny, tiny markets.
My three questions are:
- Do Canadians need, and/or do they have some sort of right to public broadcasting? My answer is No!
- Do Canadians need or do they have some sort of right to publicly funded information? My answer is Maybe, in some small part.
- Do Canadians need or do they have some sort of right to access to information and other services? My answer is Yes!
In my opinion access to information (and, yes, entertainment, too) provided by network operators is as basic a right as is access to public transportation, public health care or public education. We don’t seem to have too much trouble agreeing to fund those “essential services,” we should not hesitate to fund telecom network access which will, as the technology progresses, mean full access to a wide, global, range of news, information, entertainment, cultural and sports programmes.
We, a mix of public and private partners, built the great railways and canals, we built the trans-Canada microwave system, we helped pioneer the world’s first commercial, non-military satellite network .. there is no reason why public money should not be used to extend telecom access to very nearly all Canadians.
I am, of course, proposing a public-private-partnership (PPP), which many fiscally conservative Conservatives will oppose because they are, too often, just thinly veiled handouts to fat cat corporations but, as I said, we have a long history of successful PPPs in Canada and despite the fact that no one really wants to give money to e.g. Bell, Quebecor, Rogers and Telus, they are the only people who can build and then operate and maintain a nearly complete, coast-to-coast-coast, network that will bering broadband service to almost all Canadians. But those companies cannot build such networks without violating their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders ~ only the government can pay them to provide such an economically unviable service as a public service.
On balance, i think Dr Leitch is farther along on the right track than is M Bernier. But she needs to remember an old maxim cited (as a book title) by the American author Robert Ruark …
… the “something of value” that Canada should gain by doing away with the old, traditional CBC, would be a modern, affordable, 21st century public access network for almost all Canadians.