Cuts could mean setbacks for CBC

Gerry Phelan
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I used to hate the CBC. I didn’t like their radio programs and had little time for anything but their television newscast.

For awhile, when I worked full time in broadcasting, I looked at CBC as a nuisance and a competitor, with way too many people, doing much too little.

Times have changed. I’ve never worked there, though I was once considered for a top CBC job. I actually went through the interview process, and waxed on at length about ways the “Mother Corp,” as it was affectionately known, could save money.

I told the hiring panel I would have reporters in radio and television sharing stories and story ideas. Why send six reporters to one news conference, when two would suffice? I talked about ways to create a lean, mean, fighting machine.

That was two decades ago and, as it turned out, CBC didn’t need me to do that. The CBC today is but a shadow of its former self. I think it has made great inroads and are more accountable than ever for the dollars it spends.

The worry now is that the latest federal budget will take things too far. The CBC will lose $115 million in funding over the next three years. It will have to eliminate about 650 jobs, many of them sooner, rather than later. There will also be significant changes in programming and a reduction in live music recordings and documentary production.

We’ve been told the corporation hopes to sell ads for CBC Radio Two, but Radio One will remain commercial-free. The CBC seems to feel the blade whenever a government takes a close look at ways to balance the books. It’s an easy target.

In the multi-channel radio and television universe, some argue private stations already do a good enough job. Why should taxpayers fund their competition?

It’s a good point. The CBC should not, and in many cases, is no longer, providing the same service as private broadcasters. If pennies are to be pinched, CBC managers should change the ratings mindset that has crept into things in recent years.

Forget the American game shows as a lead-in to news broadcasts. Your journalism can stand on its own.

The CBC website outlines its mandate clearly, pointing out that “the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains.”

It is supposed to be “predominantly and distinctively Canadian” and “reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions.”

 For the most part, it does a good job with that. “Republic of Doyle” and “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” are shining examples. The heart-warming “Land and Sea” is no less impressive today than it was decades ago.

On the journalistic front, David Cochrane’s “On Point” provides a much appreciated questioning and analysis of political issues. It has also been good to see CBC television begin to offer something in the way of weekend news. It should enhance that presence.

The more news voices, the better. It gives different perspectives and offers viewers and listeners a wider view on matters of importance to their daily lives.

The key is for the CBC to remain relevant to Canadians, while recognizing its role for what it is. It must not be a copycat of successful private broadcasters. It is also unfair if a government-funded agency is actively competing for listeners and viewers. Stop the self-promotion and back-patting. Spend less time and money convincing people you are the best, and just be the best.

It was only a year ago that the CBC unveiled a five-year strategy. “2015: Everyone, Every way” was billed as a plan to deepen the relationship with Canadians. It recognized up front that the CBC cannot be all things to all people, but that it wants to be “something for, and mean something to, every Canadian.”

It’s come a long way. Let’s stop the death by a thousand cuts.  

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached


Organizations: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Mother, CBC Radio Radio One On Point

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Skeptical Cynic
    April 14, 2012 - 11:16

    Mr. Phelan, do you seriously believe that the depth of information provided by news articles on private entities such as VOCM's website are comparable to the CBC's? That is laughable. The news write-ups and depth of info on the CBC website frankly makes the VOCM write-ups read like a junior high school newspaper. The quality of grammar is grade C to D minus, and the quantity of information reported is superficial at best, or token at worst. Of course, this quality aspect of the public broadcaster is likely a primary motivation behind the cuts to an already bone-thin CBC; the current federal government's modus operandi seems to be that an informed electorate is a dangerous thing.

  • Martin
    April 13, 2012 - 10:43

    A fair assessment, but CBC does need to improve it's technical side greatly. How many times in the past year on Here and Now have the teleprompters failed, or the wrong image be displayed while the anchors are reading and unrelated story. They have lost their audio too many times on the news and other shows. Let's do a fair comparison: does this happen as often at NTV - No it does not. Yet, the crew at NTV are paid less. CBC pays a first rate salary so we should expect a first rate broadcast but these ongoing technical errors are not up to scratch