Prisoner 18330-424 Writes About The CBC

Some people have been more vociferous in their criticism of the CBC television service than I have, but few have been more consistent. In fairness to the Corporation, it has been given a very difficult mandate: to create and buy programs, provide public service broadcasting, run a comprehensive news network, encourage Canadian television production, sell advertising and compete with private television. And it has not been funded on a scale that permits it to pursue much of such a menu thoroughly. I believe there is a place and need for the CBC, but not on its present impossible mission.

For most of the past 75 years, Canada needed the CBC to give it some definition in the overlapping floods of U. S. information and entertainment. In the last few years, I think the CBC’s rationale has evolved to a necessary instrument of public policy in one of the world’s 10 most important countries.

Despite the best efforts and great talents of Peter Gzowski and others, I don’t think that the old CBC did much for national unity, with the French service ceaselessly spewing out separatist propaganda at the expense of federal taxpayers. And international coverage rarely seemed to rise above Paul Lin’s Cultural Revolution Maoist apologia, maverick U.S. Admiral Gene LaRocque snivelling about American militarism, and a reflexive blaming of all Mid East problems after 1975 on Israel, by such drearily predictable people as Gwynne Dyer.

As I have written here before, Canada is steadily gaining stature in the world, even if the government is not pressing the point and most Canadians who are interested in such things are still rubbing their eyes and pinching themselves. Such a rising country needs a public broadcasting service, especially as it shares its official languages with more populous countries.

The reasons for Canada’s expanded place in the world are easily identified. The collapse of separatism in Quebec ended the irritating era in which France and other countries in its orbit could pretend that Canada could come apart at any moment. The implosion of the Soviet Union; the adoption of economic growth policies by China and India, representing 40% of the world’s population, alleviating the cyclicality of world prices for Canada’s natural resources; the torpor of Europe and derailment of the supposedly inexorable progress of Eurofederalism; and the shambles of the United States’ half-hearted efforts at unilateralism have all raised Canada’s relative place in the world, and accordingly have generated greater need for a serious public broadcaster.

The facts that the Clinton-Bush U. S. economy was itself a giant Ponzi scheme where the country borrowed trillions from the Chinese and Japanese in order to finance colossal trade deficits with the lending countries; and that the mighty and fabled Wall Street lending and investment banking cartel has almost died of self-inflicted wounds, should help Canadians out of their usual diffidence opposite the United States. Canada’s humdrum but cautiously regulated banks have re-enacted the story of the tortoise and the hare.

Because of the overwhelming proximity of the United States, the Canadian television industry has really been a simulcasting business, as many popular programs are bought in the United States and televised at the same time as in the United States, with advertising sold locally over the American commercial spots. This has been defended by Canadians as “cultural sovereignty,” but is not always easily distinguishable from piracy. Of course there is some domestic and local programming, but this is the core of Canadian private sector television.

There is fairly general agreement that CBC radio fulfills its mandate well. I suggest that CBC television stop buying U. S. commercial programming, but have a first call on any other foreign programming for telecasting in Canada, and that it retelecast the best of the BBC, Australian, and other television, including France and other French-speaking countries.

The now generally admirable television news service should be expanded and made available internationally, in competition with the BBC, whose World News service is toe-curlingly anti-American and anti-Israel. It should expand its public service broadcasting of events to include the best of foreign public affairs, including a first refusal in Canada on C-SPAN material. Properly edited, this could be an entertaining and informative potpourri of good debates, speech excerpts, flamboyant parliamentary exchanges and so forth. (The Australia Tourist Office used some of the outbursts of former prime minister Paul Keating, in debates and on the hustings, for foreign tourist promotion. I rated Keating as the greatest tourist attraction in the country, next to Sydney Harbour, but ahead of the Great Barrier Reef.)

The CBC could also buy Discovery-, History-and National Geographic Channel-style documentary material. There are immense quantities of such film available and it is very often quite engrossing and not expensive to string together.

Down-market sitcoms, soap operas, quiz shows, infomercials and the horrors of reality television, should all be avoided. So should advertising, unless the audience ratings justify rates that would materially add to revenue.

It should be possible to combine with some other telecasters on specific projects and even on whole channels for international telecasting, especially in news. The BBC is overrated in this area, and has had a free ride, resting on the myth of Lord Wraith and the plummy accents of the Dimblebys for far too long.

Because it has been pulled in all directions, CBC television has been neither fish nor fowl. Ideological neutrality should be resurrected, and funding should be assured, in part from the taxation of private commercial broadcasting, with which there would be little competition, except in news. I remember an absorbing “interview” Knowlton Nash, contemporarily dressed, had with a period-costumed George Washington, more than 40 years ago. The CBC has an aptitude for this sort of thing. It is very interesting to those with any historical curiosity, and not expensive to produce. Now that the country finally has an opera house, it could telecast an opera a week relatively cheaply, whether from Toronto or foreign companies.

Professionally approached, Canada could have a first class national and international voice, that would certainly be competitive with the stuffed shirt leftishness of the BBC and the “Have a nice day,” cloyingly World Federalist McNews of CNN. As in many other spheres, Canada’s time has come, if it will only seize it.


  1. Anonymous
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 9:25 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    A 180 degree turn on Conrad – Wonder what changed in his life…..Ah yes…. maybe now that he has some time to kill he can pre-justify his eventual plan when coming-out to attempt to buy the CBC from the Govt for 1 penny on the dollar (for obsolete technology – the license is not worth a penny to the private sector).
    Also please note the CBC should not be intended for the MAJORITY viewers but a minority of Cdns and is the only major stepping stone for Canadians trying to express themselves culturally so that hopefully someday the greedy $$$ privates will sign them on. The CBC's only reason to try & get the viewing masses is to try & get the needed revenue that the flavour of the month govt won't give out for it's survival – anybody else here lived in society for the last 30 yrs without getting one penny raise increase/revenue to live on.
    NOT !

  2. Allan
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 6:13 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’ve gone into a bookstore at least once a week for the past 40 years, and in that time only twice did I encounter a famous person.
    Once it was Sandra Shamas, and the other time it was Conrad Black.
    Standing next to this oversized figure at the once familiar Lietchman’s, I just immediately liked him. Over the years, that hasn’t changed.
    Perhaps because we have so much in common.
    He likes books, he likes making jokes, and he can’t help but always spot an attractive woman.
    My latest encounter with him was at the World’s Biggest, where he was signing his Nixon book via the electronic gizmo that Margaret Atwood invested in to help authors sign books without incurring travel expenses and airplane pollution.
    While safely contained in the TV monitor, Conrad still surveyed the Toronto bookstore and found a tall blonde to flatter. He’s, I guess what you’d call, irrepressible.

    None of this is intended to overlook or excuse the actions that put him where he is today.
    But it does mean that I tend toward having a positive bias when it comes to Conrad Black, as I do with most people who really dig the printed word and have a pronounced sense of humour.
    Apart from a fascination with the female species, our interests are very different, however. He likes history. I like pop culture.
    I gather he’d rather have dinner with Pat Buchanan than Howard Stern, but there’d still be some common ground there (hubba hubba).

    So I approach his essay ready to be enlightened and mildly provoked.
    And just in the very first paragraph, he nails it.
    Being the CBC – a Mission Impossible.

    But then, sure enough, he veers off into global politics, and getting his digs in at old foes. Somehow, this has to do with public broadcasting in Canada.

    Then it’s back to content.
    Put on more educational documentaries. Avoid populism unless it pays.

    I suggest that CBC television stop buying U. S. commercial programming, but have a first call on any other foreign programming for telecasting in Canada.

    Doesn’t a statement like that deserve some clarification?
    Stop buying U.S. commercial programs – what about the ones that aren’t commercial? Like music concerts and Bill Moyers?
    Buy foreign programming – I take it you don’t mean Japanese game shows.

    It’s this convoluted thinking, based more on whims than public appeal, that shows Conrad’s approach is not ready for prime time, and I’m glad he’s not running the CBC.
    (it would be fun to have a Conrad Black Live show though where he had to interview people in the news regardless of whether they met his no doubt high standards. Eh, meh Lord?

    Because it has been pulled in all directions, CBC television has been neither fish nor fowl

    Again, I think this is the ultimate dilemma faced by the CBC. Being obligated to be all things to all people. A PBS that’s required to boost revenue with shows that have commercial appeal. Make programs that are so clearly Canadian that taxpayers will help to fund them, but make other programs that will appeal to any market in the world so as to maximize profit. And put up with complaints from both sides throughout.

    Conrad thinks the BBC is over-rated, and CNN too happy-faced.
    But he doesn’t offer up much of a vision for a channel that anyone would watch, other than classroom teachers needing to kill time.
    He seems to have it in for Americans and the Brits, but can a case really be made that Australia, India and France are any better at creating worthwhile programs?
    We can do anything they can do.

    I’m almost sorry I put up these two columns by Jonas and Black, because for all their touted intellect, they really don’t offer much help or insight.
    Still, they are our elders, our superiors, so we’ll tolerate and respect them and their views for a bit longer.
    But I don’t think either of these guys know what they want.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 1:33 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “… the French service ceaselessly spewing out separatist propaganda at the expense of federal taxpayers.”

    spoken by someone who has clearly never heard or watched Radio-Canada.

  4. Dwight Williams
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 12:35 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    The rest of us who fear its destruction aren’t convinced that it will be replaced with anything at all, and if it is, we’re not convinced that the replacement will indeed be better than Canwest-CTV-Rogers. Or allowed to be better.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 9:31 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Sigh…. I found it quite spot on. Its not that all of us “Right Wing Assholes” (TM) want to kill the CBC, we just want to kill what it is now and replace it with something better than a subsidized Canwest-CTV-Rogers.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 8:47 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Some people have been more vociferous in their criticism of the CBC television service than I have, but few have been more consistent = self-righteous tripe. Seriously.

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