What can we do to ensure a strong future for CBC?

The single most important thing any one of us can do is have a conversation about the value of public broadcasting. And then have another one, and another one after that.

Public broadcasting is about the kind of country we want to live in – it’s about the kinds of communities we want to build together. It’s about values and priorities.

And it is most certainly about taking action.

The Canadian Media Guild believes that a quality media system in Canada, one that serves all Canadians, includes and requires a strong national public broadcaster.

We need to make clear the connection between the public investment in CBC’s programming and services and the enormous benefit that investment brings this country and its people.

At its best, public broadcasting ensures universal access to high-quality journalism, information, and cultural programming — regardless of a person’s location, social standing, and financial resources.

Kelly Toughill frames that commitment in her testimony before the Senate committee examining “Challenges faced by the CBC”:

The corporation is supposed to “express Canadian culture and enrich the life of all Canadians.” That’s all Canadians, not just Canadians who can afford a subscription on top of cable and/or mobile fees.

I think and clearly believe that CBC is a national good, that it serves a purpose in much the same way education and healthcare do.

Those of us who work at CBC/Radio-Canada need to communicate what’s involved in getting the job done, and what helps and what hurts.

Ideological cuts

In May 2011, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives formed their first majority government, and $115 million has been cut from CBC / Radio-Canada’s annual public funding since 2012.

Heritage Minister Shelly Glover and other Conservative MPs such as Rick Dykstra and Joyce Bateman like to say that CBC is cutting programming and staff because of ‘declining ratings’ or ‘fewer viewers’.  Conservative leader Stephen Harper recently repeated the same line.

They want the public to think that programming and service cuts at CBC are primarily the result of declining commercial revenues rather than substantial reductions in public funding. They’ve been ducking responsibility for their cuts.

And they ignore another key point about public funding: CBC/ Radio-Canada belongs to Canadians. Public funding is a public commitment to media work and Canadian programming that meets more than just commercial goals.

Public funding means that CBC can do work that there is little or no commercial case for doing. Often, commercial values and priorities are used to criticize and diminish public service broadcasting, but public broadcasting standards are different than commercial standards.

Costs and Benefits

Back in 2010, before cuts that reduced public funding even further, CBC President & CEO Hubert Lacroix put public funding for CBC in perspective:

The usual challenge to our case is to say that we receive $1.1-billion in public funding and that should be enough.

The fact is we, with our billion dollars, operate 28 services and broadcast in two official languages and eight aboriginal ones across six time zones.

The BBC has public funding of $7.5-billion a year, France Television and Radio France together receive $4-billion, Germany $10.7-billion and PBS and NPR in the U.S. receive $1.2-billion from government sources.

To deliver what we’re mandated to offer Canadians, we also need to rely on commercial revenue. […] Commercial revenues today make up close to 40% of CBC/Radio-Canada’s overall budget.

That’s the big picture.

$29 per Canadian per year for Canadian radio, television, and online services, offered across the country and around the world, 24/7 — programming at the local and network level, incorporating a variety of genres, in several languages.

But, it’s also important to consider the cuts up close. Here’s what CMG member, Joan Weeks of Sydney, Nova Scotia, said in May 2014:

So, what happens when you have the same amount of airtime to fill and you have fewer people to fill it? Well, what happens, and we’ve started seeing a lot of it, is a lot of important local stories don’t get covered.

If someone locally is being taken advantage of, or is not being treated right by their government, there may be no one who will tell that story because you just don’t get as much coverage.

I love my work at CBC, I love doing the accountability… Is your politician representing your interests or his own? That’s as important to know in our communities as it is on Parliament Hill.

It’s worth saying again- public broadcasting is about the kind of country we want to live in – it’s about the kinds of communities we want to build together.

CMG’s campaign for our national public broadcaster aims to restore strong public funding and to guarantee independence at CBC/Radio-Canada.

That means having the conversation about the value of public broadcasting in this country, person-to-person, in every community — even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable.