On Wednesday, January 28, during a public hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications, you made the following comment to Alain Saulnier, a former executive at the CBC.
"Wouldn't you agree that the most important thing is the ability of Canadians, who provide a billion dollars a year to the CBC, to access information and stories about themselves? Whether it's Quebec, Atlantic Canada, the West or the North, they're interested in knowing more about their own country and in learning about their history, and to talk about their future and to understand each other. That's the primary reason for the CBC, I think.
"Isn't there another way you could deliver the same thing and maybe even better, which is that instead of providing the billion dollars to the CBC, you provide it to content providers, producers who make the stories, and then you mandate that private networks through content regulations or what have you carry those stories, so you wouldn't then need a CBC?”
I am writing this open letter to warn you that what you proposed to Mr Saulnier is a very bad idea. If you continue reading, I'll tell you why.
As you told Alain Saulnier, Canadians are interested in having their own stories told. Private broadcasters have no interest in telling Canadians' stories. They prefer to reflect America back to Canada by airing cheaper American-made programming. Such programming is emotionally compelling, it holds audience attention very strongly, even through excessive commercials. (As Newton Minow observed to the FCC back in 1961, commercials are the whole and only reason for television to be broadcast at all.) Private broadcasters would not buy or air content from Canadian creators unless it was like the American content that they are already airing.
I'm sure you would argue that private Canadian broadcasters could be forced by legislation to air content from Canadian creators. But Canadian content distribution companies of all media are familiar with the Canadian Content rules first passed into legislation under Pierre Trudeau. Many fine Canadian bands and performers were able to earn a place on stage and in history because of these rules, (The Guess Who and Rush come quickest to mind), and plenty of programming, too... and all of this content is indistinguishable from American programming, except on the CBC. The "CanCon" rules are still in place, as you know; every-so-often the CRTC waters them down a little more and private broadcasters have gotten much practice in getting around them.
Perhaps nearly as important as the preference of private broadcasters for American-style programming is their insistence that any programming they air have a neocon spin. And it is perfectly obvious to ordinary Canadians that private broadcasters are partisan, especially to Canadians who disagree with their preferred spin. That's why so many thousands of us told the CRTC not to require that the Sun news network, ("Fox News North"), be included in basic cable packages.
It really is a choice between local programming that reflects Canadian values and the neocon spin that private broadcasters insist upon. Neoconservatism has nothing to do with everyday Canadian life, except in the eyes of private broadcasters. Neoconservatism suits very well the needs of private broadcasters and other corporations, international corporations especially. To ordinary Canadians, living their everyday lives, it might as well have come from sentient lumps of coal from an alien planet.
In short, if private content providers made content that actually reflected the lives and stories of Canadians in their local regions, they would be wasting their time and our tax money, because private broadcasters would not accept it. The only broadcaster in Canada which can reasonably be required to accept and use such content, especially if that content is non-partisan, is the CBC.
And that is why the CBC is indispensable.
There is another reason why the CBC is needed in Canada; efficiency. Let us say that you gave all the CBC's funding to private content providers. They would then have to assemble production facilities and teams; buildings, equipment, materials, engineers, operators, talent, management and so forth. All of that takes money, sir, and time. Assembling all of this for each new piece of content would take much more money than if the facilities and teams were already there. The CBC has such facilities in centres across Canada, centres which can be used again and again for different projects. Each facility already has equipment, materials, talent and so forth. Because the CBC does not have to recreate its facilities for each new project, it is much more efficient and creates more content than giving the money to private providers.
Finally, let me directly address your idea to fund private content providers so that they can create content from various regions and locales across Canada, reflecting local stories and local culture. The idea has merit. In fact, it has been done before. It's called the National Film Board/Office National du Film. Again, the only broadcaster in Canada that makes any regular use of NFB content is the CBC! (and occasionally some provincial educational broadcasters) This is probably because NFB content is non-partisan, for reasons that I've already described.
In conclusion Senator Greene, the CBC is doing its job. The only thing broken about it is a severe lack of funds, especially compared to the lavish budgets that private broadcasters enjoy. If you want to fix the CBC, give it a source of regular, independent funding with which the party in power cannot interfere. And if you don't like the way the CBC portrays your party, then fix your party!
With due regards,
Allan D. Burrows