Providence protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America. How do we go about getting the CBC signed up for this?

Have you read Jeffrey Dvorkin’s essay in yesterday’s Globe? You should.

A former managing editor of CBC Radio, and ombudsman at NPR, Dvorkin, floats the idea that CBC consider abandoning commercial advertising in favour of direct audience financial support. That’s right… the dreaded funding drives.

While I’m not confidant that this approach would fly in Canada, I think he nails it when he suggests that now, more than ever, is time for the Ceeb to rethink its connection to the nation’s cultural life:

“The CBC’s financial problems are directly related to the question, “What should a public broadcaster be?” Most countries with public broadcasting systems wrestle with this, but in the United States, a certain clarity of vision has emerged.

NPR and television’s PBS have found niches in the world’s most competitive media market. Those niches are “local” and “quality.” CBC, on the other hand, seems to define success exclusively around high audience numbers.”

I want to be optimistic. I want to believe that our executive team will, perhaps, after a midnight visit from the ghosts of public broadcasting, see the value in this vision, but so far we’ve seen no evidence of any bold, out-of-the-box thinking that might get us out of this mess.

So then, maybe we should look to the words of Otto von Bismarck, who once said: “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.”

Fingers crossed that this includes us as well.


  1. Anonymous
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 9:53 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Dvorkin is halfway there. There’s nothing wrong with the public radio model, when it applies only to public radio. I’m a former CBC reporter now working at an NPR station in the US. It is critical that you distinguish between the funding experiences of radio-only stations like KUOW in Seattle and “dual-licence” radio-TV operations like KQED in San Francisco. The radio-only ops generally do well on the fundraising model. The problem comes when the same operation holds radio and television licences,as at KQED. TV is a huge drain on cash, so radio is systemically ravaged to feed TV. (This should ring bells.) Step one of any revisitation of CBC funding must begin with deciding how to protect radio from the internal decision-making that robs radio to support television. That would be a fair exchange for having to get reporters and producers to shill for money.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted March 22, 2009 at 7:41 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    For crist sake. Canadians DO pay for the CBC. It is something like $34 a year and among the lowest among the world. And frankly anywhere else in the world, save the US, an institution like the CBC would be allocated that money, no questions asked, and then left free to serve the people, their viewers, no matter how many or few or diverse that might be.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted March 21, 2009 at 10:28 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece


    What’s very funny about this, is the fact that there was a little known program on CBC in the late 60’s called “Enterprise”. Shot in Vancouver, it was actually named after the star ship, and intended to explore strange new world. You want to talk experimental television… this was it. It came on after midnight when all the squares went to bed, and ran until they got tired.

    This is the only clip currently in the digital archives, and it isn’t credited to that program.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted March 21, 2009 at 12:44 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece


    Both William Shatner and Scotty Doohan got their start in TV drama at the CBC.

    Not to get too off topic, but why were most of the Star Fleet captains paragons of virtue and most of the admirals usually corrupt? I always wondered what happened to the captains when they were promoted.

    In some ways that reminds me of CBC, “CBC Fleet command” is completely corrupt. A few executive producers are sort of like Star Fleet captains.
    A few senior producers are good executive officers.
    But then they’re promoted to management….

    As for the rest of us, it’s alwyas “red shirt, you’re dead.”

  5. Dwight Williams
    Posted March 21, 2009 at 11:47 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Another sidebar: I remember that I liked the TNG variant of this saying.

    …fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise

    We need a CBC Starship Enterprise. Or at least a Damn Good Space Opera.

  6. Dwight Williams
    Posted March 21, 2009 at 11:39 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “When is the last time you heard someone proudly describe themselves as a “CBC person”?”

    If we’re talking “fan and supporter” as “CBC person” and by “last time” he means “most recent occasion”?


  7. Anonymous
    Posted March 21, 2009 at 9:41 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    There’s a big difference between “stepping stone to the USA” and “I gotta go south if I wanna keep working”. Not everyone who goes south does it gleefully.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted March 21, 2009 at 8:05 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    But Jeffrey you of all should know that the CBC is like a needed vitamin, not everyone wants it or needs to take it, it costs money but in this big beautiful country you need the CBC – so many Canadians have used the CBC as a needed stepping stone to progress in their careers such as the many US soap opera producers that came from CBC, – Even yourself – you left the CBC after many years of learning & developing your own skills & reputation allowing you to get a job in the USA.

  9. Jeffrey Dvorkin
    Posted March 21, 2009 at 7:12 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I don’t disagree. Public broadcasting in the US is far from perfect. But it knows what it is. Audience loyalty to the CBC in general and Radio in particular is based on the premise of a captive audience. There is so little else out there, that many cling to the CBC hoping that at some point it will right itself and return to its role as a true public broadcasting. The chances of that happening are slim unless we ask the CBC and ourselves what should constitute public broadcasting now?

  10. Anonymous
    Posted March 20, 2009 at 4:33 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Spend any time in the states, and you will hear just as much, if not more complaints about the state of public broadcasting there. PBS is mostly garbage except for Frontline and Nature. The best thing they play on NPR is As It Happens.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted March 20, 2009 at 10:41 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Jeffrey, you’ve been out of the country too long.
    Millions of people say they’re CBC Radio listeners. How else would the service (R1) have the highest ratings in its history.

    Radio is hardly the problem.

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