In the wake of massive $115 million cuts to the CBC, a campaign called Re-imagine CBC has assembled the Canada’s citizen newsteam Anchorman-style to dream up a way to save our beloved public broadcaster. As much as I love and treasure the CBC to the point where I giggle like a little girl during Jian Ghomeshi’s Q at 10am every morning on CBC Radio, attending a local Re-imagine CBC meeting at Hub Ottawa only made me more cynical.
The question that I asked the 12 or so CBC superfans in attendance was this: What separates the CBC from Bell (CTV), Rogers (CityTv), Shaw (Global) or even Quebecor (Sun)? If you agree that it is a national treasure, how do we convince Canadians that spending millions on it is money well spent during a recession? The answers I got did not satisfy me. After all, it makes sense that the Conservatives cut the CBC’s funding. The CBC has historically been the mouthpiece of a political centre-left that is accurately associated with the Liberal party who governed Canada for most of its near-145 year history. Also, the CBC focuses on a government who prefers to pan the lens towards business and family values instead of turning the lens inwards on themselves. This has been made crystal clear with the Torys’ finely-tuned party rhetoric and their limits on discussion over this year’s budget (House Leader Nathan Cullen’s face tells it all!). The Conservatives must be thinking that if the CBC is doing the same thing as privately owned media why should they deserve our cash when the other guys mostly fund themselves.
When Peter Mansbridge chose not challenge Stephen Harper on his PR-flub of “Islamicism is biggest threat to national security” in a rare 1-on-1 with the Prime Minister on the National it was clear that the CBC had changed. They have pandered to the pressure and fear of being de-funded. Turn on CBC TV today. Its hard to see the real dramatic difference between them and their rivals. They are at the same events, take pretty much the same quotes and do nearly the same short 1:30 min stories. In fact, in any media scrum you can find a CBC radio, local TV and sometimes even a CBC National covering it. This is a complete waste of resources. Fortunately CBC has been starting to address this by allowing their radio journalists to go live on TV more often. On the contrary, sometimes the inverse has been done – TV audio going on radio…Yuk!
What used to separate the CBC from the pack was their in-depth coverage – something noticeably absent from today’s broadcasts. The move towards punchy minute package-reports, pundits and copy stories is evident in the changes the CBC has made in response to these new cuts. For instance, one of CBC’s only in-depth investigative news shows CBC Radio Dispatches was cut. This is because media advisors, many of them coming from the US, perpetuate the idea that news must be local, local, local. I got it pumped into me at Journalism school at Concordia University. People don’t care about international news so give them what they want. Who are they? Does it apply to Gen X and Gen Y? Cambodian Canadians and Polish Canadians? The myth that everyone likes only local is not only perpetuated to young journalists, but to the rest of society as a supposed undeniable fact. Canada is an extremely diverse country with people born all over the globe. When they turn on their public broadcaster they might want to see what is going on in their other home. Understanding global issues also helps us choose the path we want for Canada politically. Stressing the importance of international news is one way to convince the public of CBC’s worth and the fact that CBC is cutting that aspect of its service is a u-turn in the wrong direction.
In my mind, information is a right and should be absolutely free. We can’t run a democracy without it. Obviously this won’t happen in the near future, so I acknowledge that quality broadcasters like the CBC must fight for our loonies. They must rake risks and find a way to stand out from the pack and run a different race rather than clawing away on the same horse track. Kai Nagata, the former CTV Quebec City Bureau Chief who quit his job with a riveting essay on the problems with corporate broadcasting reminiscent of the Half Baked “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, fuck you I’m out!,” suggested recently that the CBC dump its TV service altogether and ride the Net.
Radical? Yes. Bad idea? Not necessarily.
CBC Hamilton’s beta webpage is an exciting move in the right direction, at least locally.
Why not make the CBC more edgy and rough? Get away from the cookie-cutter coverage the CBC has been doing and get some real interesting long-form, investigative and interesting journalism! Instead of sending someone to cover the Juno’s for a 1-minute wrap, why not send them there on acid like Vice Canada did? Ok maybe not that, but there are ways to get more creative with your journalism. Just look at Vice or OpenFile to get a taste of how awesome investigative journalism can be in the 21st Century.
We need to get down and dirty with these ideas and change our CBC. We will never be believed if we keep saying I love the CBC cause its lefty and unbiased, that makes no sense! 12 CBC lovers preaching to the converted in a single two-hour meeting is not going to do it, but the Re-imagine campaign is a step in the right direction.
Get yourself into the conversation! Re-Imagine CBC has a survey online with as many or as few questions as you have time to answer.
Here is how I prioritized my CBC:
1. Informative and in-depth
2. A watchdog for powerful interests
3. Uniquely Canadian
4. A digital innovator
5. Open and participatory
6. Community driven
What about you?