The media ecology may be changing, but chipping away at this staple of our culture is not the answer
The Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications recently released a report on the future of the CBC. I was a part of that study, but I could not support the report. Some Conservative members of the committee spent too much time denouncing the CBC and not enough time on building a way forward. Regrettably, all we got was a lost opportunity. So I authored a Minority Report in response, A Plan for a Vibrant and Sustainable CBC/Radio Canada.
The CBC is facing significant challenges. There is the continued rise of the Internet and digital services like Netflix that are changing the broadcasting landscape. More and more content is consumed online. There are also long-standing challenges of competing against the U.S. entertainment giant to our south.
With these challenges in mind, here is what I propose. It is important to have a strong and vibrant CBC, to tell our stories, to entertain and inform us as Canadians. Polling suggests Canadians want it. The overwhelming majority of witnesses we heard from want a robust CBC. They want it not only to fill gaps left by private broadcasters — as the committee suggested — but because, as one witness said, the “CBC is the only network that brings together all Canadians.”
Regrettably, the CBC’s ability to meet consumer demands is severely challenged. Why is that the case? Simply put, the CBC is starved for cash. At $29/per capita, the CBC is well below the average of $82 per capita invested in public broadcasting in other industrialized countries. The BBC in the UK, for example, receives three times more funding than the CBC.
To have an effective public broadcaster, the CBC needs strengthening. Not only should the government commit to stable and predictable funding over five year periods, adjusted to inflation, the government should also pledge to increase CBC’s per capita funding to at least $40 annually. This can be done by incrementally raising the parliamentary appropriation and exploring other funding models that could either enhance or eventually replace the parliamentary appropriation if sufficient funds are found. Other countries do this to great effect.
With increased funding, the CBC should get out of the commercial advertising business altogether leaving it to the private sector broadcasters. Not having advertising on radio has served the CBC well and would follow the highly successful model of the BBC in the UK or HBO on this continent that provides continuous uninterrupted programming that so many people enjoy.
As much more content continues to be consumed online, the CBC should launch a direct streaming service similar to Netflix. This should be a free service for Canadians so they can consume CBC’s content on the platform they desire.
On governance, the committee wants to leave appointments for the board of directors to the Prime Minister alone. I disagree. A new process is needed. Either an arm’s length selection process or an all-party selection committee should be created to select the board. This would increase accountability, transparency and competence. Once selected, the board would appoint the president and look for a person with proven expertise in business and the broadcasting industry.
Lastly, I strongly disagree with the committee recommendation that said, “A portion of CBC’s funding should be reallocated to an external ‘superfund’ that would help finance the creation of Canadian content.”
Without increased funding, this would cripple an already cash strapped organization. Also, where would the money come from? If the goal is to create more Canadian dramas and comedies, then taking money away from those areas within the CBC doesn’t make sense – which means it would have to be taken from the other side of the CBC, the news.
This is not at all what we heard from witnesses who expressed how important CBC news is to our country. CBC news provides distinct local, regional, national and international perspectives and in-depth coverage, which contributes to a vigorous democracy.
The CBC is just as important now as when it was created. Canadians want and need a robust and durable public broadcaster to tell our stories, to inform and entertain and to nurture and convey our national identity.