Before the government hands over another $675 million to the CBC, is it too much to ask if thats the best way to promote Canadian culture?
Although they are talking of establishing a five-year accountability plan for the CBC, the Liberals seem to think the logic of giving the broadcaster more money is self-evident. Because its the CBC, you can imagine them saying.
But given the revolutionary changes to the media landscape, wouldnt this be a good time to revisit what we want from public broadcasting, and how best to achieve it, before simply writing a giant cheque?
The CBC is making all the right noises about investing much of the new cash in a digital strategy of some kind. That sounds necessarily futuristic and sensitive to the disruptive nature of todays communications technology.
Because its 2016.
But as someone who works in privately owned media, as a writer, broadcaster and business owner, I find it hard to understand why the CBC uses taxpayers money to operate websites that compete directly with every newspaper, magazine and broadcaster in the country. Is the Internet so short on sources of information that we need another one, subsidized by the government?
Ultimately, why do we still need publicly funded radio, television and digital platforms rather than simply an investment in Canadian content? Do we really need a separate, government-sponsored radio network, television network and collection of websites, or can taxpayers support Canadian programming that can be distributed digitally or through existing traditional media?
There are some who might oppose any increase in funding for culture, but even those who believe in supporting the arts must hope to see the money invested as wisely as possible. So its interesting that the Liberals chose to largely fulfil their promise regarding the CBC but shortchanged, at least when compared with their campaign commitments, other cultural institutions such as the Canada Council for the Arts. The council will get a boost in funding, but not as much as the Liberals pledged in the fall.
It can be argued that the Canada Councils model is far more efficient than the CBCs, in that it primarily grants money to visual artists, poets, writers and performers to support their work. If it took the same approach as the public broadcaster, it would operate its own music label, publishing house and national chain of art galleries, all of which would compete with the private sector.
If the goal is to make great Canadian programming available to Canadians, then take all of the money that is invested in operating stations and networks and fund the production of that programming. Rather than air it on a proprietary network that carries overhead and must draw viewers and sell advertising, put it on YouTube. Or give it or sell it to private broadcasters, who will air it to meet Canadian content requirements.
If another goal is to ensure Canadian voices and perspectives on news events, then support the private news organizations that are struggling to stay viable. Help them fund international bureaus, for example. Instead, the government is putting its money into a public network that competes with and could hasten the demise of private players.
This isnt an argument to cut spending on arts and culture, but to put more of the money toward content rather than overhead. Why should the public fund a separate network when there are now so many ways to make programming available to Canadians? If the issue is Internet access, then invest money in taking broadband to remote communities.
Rather than modernize the CBC, the government should be updating the way it invests in quality Canadian programming. Without the costs of a broadcast network and various channels and websites, there would be more money to create content and more viewers, readers and revenues for private media companies with which the CBC currently competes.
Mark Sutcliffe is an Ottawa journalist and hosts Ottawa Today on 1310 Newstwitter.com/_MarkSutcliffe