Post defends CBC?

April 15th, 2012
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Maybe it was just an over-indulgence of lamb chops at Easter, but I could have sworn that the National Post featured one or two opinion pieces last week defending the CBC. The impetus was a story that, due to the cuts to the broadcaster’s budget, CBC Radio One might have to run ads. Shocking.

Jonathan Kay used this to not only defend the Mother Corp, but to stand up for what he termed intellectual elitism. Kay starts off on the wrong foot. He quotes a New Zealand study saying that most developed countries have public broadcasters – the U.S. is an “outlier”. Suffice it to say that numbers do not equal truth. One could just as easily argue that public broadcasting is an archaic hold-over from the statist “consensus” of the last century, and that it lingers on in these countries.

Kay goes on to list what he calls the “usual” justifications for tax-paid broadcasting – “creation and sustenance of a coast-to-coast identity, and support for homegrown artists and intellectuals”. Presumably he agrees with this – and with the CBC’s role in supporting what he terms “good old-fashioned intellectual elitism”. This opinion appears to have been positively influenced by the CBC granting him a full-length interview after the publication of his recent book. He goes on to caricature commercial AM radio as what one might sum up as defecation, demagoguery and the horizontal mambo.

In response, Matt Gurney wrote a (not surprisingly) rather soft rebuke of his Post colleague where he, among other things, countered Kay’s depiction of commercial AM. Gurney’s strongest point is that if “the intellectual elites won’t pay up to save a service they value, they are neither intellectual nor as elite as they perceive themselves to be.” Bravo.

He makes an interesting additional point that niche advertisers would actually seek out CBC radio’s audience. This is certainly corroborated by my experience listening to private classical music broadcasters. There are many such stations that combine advertising with pledge drives where the “elite” can pony up to support their choice.

Kay’s model of elite broadcasting is hardly, to use a favourite term of the Left, “sustainable” in the 21st century. Taxing the Booboisie to fund the elite programming you want – just because you can – just doesn’t jive with an age where almost everyone can access content on the internet. There just about any group, for better or worse, can build its own “network” spontaneously, without having to tax others for the privilege.

The political dimension is, in my mind, where the CBC adds insult to injury, but is something that Kay gives short shrift. He states that “populist conservative voices such as Rex Murphy, Don Cherry and Kevin O’Leary” are “now a big part of CBC’s public face”. He similarly maintains that CBC has “changed a lot” in recent years. Must be a different CBC than the one I listen to.

Forgetting for a moment that Cherry has been targeted by the aforementioned intellectual elite as an antediluvian knuckle-dragger, the “public face” comment reminds me of the time an editor at the Globe and Mail told me, as proof of their objectivity, that they “featured Preston Manning and Gwyn Morgan”. As if a couple of articles a year, like Cherry’s eight minutes a week, counts against the establishment torrent.

The fact is that CBC has a viewpoint and it is certainly not conservative. Using the oft-repeated mantra of the Left, that “less than 40% of Canadians” vote Conservative, one wonders how CBC would be transformed if its editorial and opinion positions approached 40% conservative. It would be unrecognizable.

But that is what one would expect from a tax-funded broadcaster, something approaching representation of a cross-section of Canada. Many (most?) Canadian taxpayers do not see themselves reflected by the CBC, which is certainly one source of common dissatisfaction. The “coast-to-coast” identity created by the broadcaster might represent our urban intelligentsia or perhaps fit from one coast of the 416 to the other.

Its flagship shows like As it Happens and Sunday Edition have that comfy, early Eighties feel, if you’re into that. Like they were set in red aspic. A case in point was last week’s episode of Sunday Edition, which included a feature called God I’m Angry, a “look at faithful indignation, the connection between fury and belief”. Subtly enough, that was played on Easter Sunday.

Readers may recall that, some years ago, Sunday Edition‘s host Michael Enright was embroiled in a controversy. It seems he referred to the Catholic Church as “the greatest criminal organization outside of the mafia.” Last Sunday’s show was perhaps mild by comparison, and the show’s supporters might point out that the report covered ALL religions, not just Christianity. Remarkably, a church-affiliated college later conferred an honorary degree on Enright.

CBC listeners over the last few weeks will have witnessed the rather unfortunate, repeated reporting of the budget cuts to the corporation. Apparently this is a major news item. This is interspersed with calls for listeners to write in with their reaction to the cuts, notes that are then read on-air. Of course chat like this occurs around the water cooler when cuts happen in the private sector, but those people can’t broadcast nationally. This very personalized coverage on CBC accompanies reports on the broader federal cuts: e.g. cuts to food inspectors will result in innocent deaths, and reduction in border security will see terrorists infiltrating Canada.

What remains then is the question whether tax dollars should fund a broadcaster as much ignorant of as it is hostile to a large segment of Canadians. If the U.S. is an indication, networks like NPR (which still receives tax dollars) and MSNBC on cable TV survive to represent views similar to CBC. Canadians must continue to question whether such views deserve to be subsidized by taxpayers. Is such subsidy consistent with a free society in the 21st century? Jonathan Kay concedes that a pledge drive for CBC would have little success. What does that tell you?

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By John Weissenberger