Fraser rejects Koch-Weissenberger CBC plan!

June 23rd, 2006
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In the National Post a couple of years back we called for the CBC to be privatized and turned into a kind of northern PBS. (Apologies, we neglected to place it in the archive. Another Post column (click here to read), however, poked fun at Radio-Canada’s almost complete lack of viewers/listeners.)

We couldn’t resist the image of state broadcasting luminaries like Peter Mansbridge and Michael Enright frog-marched onto the stage during pledge night, reduced to yelling at viewers to send in their dough to keep the Air Farce (or perhaps the National) going for one more season, promising coffee mugs or tote bags for every major donation.

The column, admittedly meant to be provocative, received surprisingly wide circulation on the Internet, showing up in various pro- and anti-CBC forums, in some circles apparently treated something like our calling card.

The report on the CBC by the Senate’s Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, alas, takes reform of the declining institution in a different direction.

Among 40 recommendations the report, presented to Parliament by Senator Joan Fraser, calls for the CBC to avoid “competition” with private-sector broadcasters. Oh, and Fraser & Co. want the CBC’s $1 billion annual subsidy boosted by at least $400 million.

Blogger Stephen Taylor has a nice round-up of the political manoeuvrings preceding the report, as well as links to the report in full.

Fraser’s demands are nothing new. There’ve been repeated calls for the CBC to stop trying to do what the private broadcasters do and (insert various hackneyed verbs and adjectives here) “return” to the “roots” of its “original mandate” to provide programming that’s “distinctly Canadian” and “reaches communities” in the “regions”.

Although in aggregate this view will strike many Canadians as reasonable on its face, it contains two fundamental errors (one of which may be deliberate):

1. “Competing” for viewers, it can be argued, is the only thing keeping the CBC even tenuously connected to ordinary Canadians, and reality in general. Take away the need to compete and sell ads, and we would quickly descend into a netherworld of non-stop documentaries on the artist who brought us Piss Christ or advocacy pieces for victimized pre-operative transgendered females denied the right to be strip-searched by female police officers; and

2. Implicit in this line of argument is that everything the private broadcasters (and independent production companies) do is fundamentally illegitimate, un-Canadian, doesn’t reflect the community, isn’t right for ordinary Canadian viewers, etc. I.e., we’ve gotta’ have the CBC or Canadian culture goes down the tubes.

Who’s more Canadian – Joan Fraser or Don Cherry?

Although some might see Fraser, a former editor of the Montreal Gazette known for her reflexively politically correct views, as living testimony to our Senate’s basic illegitimacy, her report is useful in illuminating a significant current of thought among Canada’s depressingly statist, leftist chattering class.

In our view, of course, it’s a faulty current of thought, with the call to eliminate hockey coverage its apotheosis (or nadir). Hockey is virtually the only thing the CBC still does well. It does hockey better even than the top U.S. broadcasters. And it’s not just because of our personal fondness for Grapes; the CBC sports team’s regular commentary, the camera angles, the replays, everything is superior.

Business opportunity

If the CBC were run by real businesspeople (like Canwest’s Aspers, say), it might detect an opportunity to “unlock hidden shareholder value”. The CBC wouldn’t just hand hockey over to the competition, but “spin out” the sports broadcasting unit into an independently operated income trust that could generate perpetual cash flow for its unitholders (a mix of ordinary investors and the CBC itself). But now we seriously digress.

Conservative objections to the CBC

Fraser’s report will no doubt disappoint many DrJandMrK and Post readers. Their (and our) beefs can be distilled into two broad concerns:

1. It’s perverse for a free society to maintain a state broadcaster; and

2. The CBC’s soft-left, hard-left or demented-left take on literally every issue nauseates us.

For both reasons, we want something done about it.

Unintended consequences

The Doc and I have discussed this issue at length on many occasions, and as much as we’d like to see the CBC stripped of its federal subsidies, we realize that nearly any action has unintended consequences. And we worry about these ones.

For example, are we the only ones who’ve noticed that the CTV’s and Global’s newscasts have grown increasingly leftist and politically correct over the past decade? The private broadcasters used to be an alternative to the CBC. Nowadays their reporters, anchors, producers and story editors are virtually modelling themselves on their statist brethren.

If the CBC were altered in some fundamental way, would this improve the CTV’s coverage even one iota? Or would Mothercorp’s falling stars abandon ship in search of jobs at the networks they previously despised, pushing those networks even farther to the left?

Perhaps it might be better to preserve at least the fiction of the CBC’s respectability, so that it might remain a repository for the (distressingly large) neo-Marxist news media cohort. Then again, it could be argued that the CBC’s mere presence drags the entire broadcasting media to the left. We just don’t know.

There are many unknowns, but it’s safe to say that Canadian small “c” conservatives won’t welcome the idea of a further $400 million subsidy. Personally, I’d rather give my tax dollars to fraudulent Quebec advertising agencies.

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