Keep The CBC, With Big Changes

December 1st, 2016 | R. Rados

Had Stephen Harper's government privatized or dismantled the CBC with his short-lived, single term majority, we wouldn't be talking about this. Instead, his government incrementally cut away at the CBC's budget, causing a slow and painful bleed that resulted in even more anti-Conservative sentiments inside the organization. In the most perfect scenario, the CBC wouldn't have been around for the 2015 election. Now we're left with a Liberal majority and an even stronger CBC. Whether we like it or not, the CBC will control the narrative in the 2019 election. By renewing calls to privatize or dismantle the CBC, Conservatives are only guaranteeing a stronger anti-Conservative narrative.

The CBC employs more journalists in Canada than any other news organization. Many of the journalists at Postmedia, Bell Media and Shaw got their start with the CBC. Many of them who didn't could eventually end up at the CBC in the future. Any journalist who wants to become an international correspondent will most likely end up at the CBC or somewhere in the US. When a politician comes along and threatens the one Canadian institution that will always guarantee jobs for journalists, we can't expect those journalists to be kind. The same applies to most industries. However, unlike most industries, the news industry can sway public opinion. When it comes to winning elections, the only thing that matters is public opinion.

It's totally un-conservative to suggest keeping the CBC's funding intact. I get it. But, in the grand scheme of things, the Conservative Party has bigger fish to fry. The current leadership aspirants have a lot of good ideas. In my opinion, the best ideas have come from Maxime Bernier – minus his plan to reform the CBC and adopt a PBS model. Michael Chong proposed privatizing CMHC and imposing massive income tax cuts, Kellie Leitch proposed capping government spending and doing one-on-one interviews with all refugees. Those, too, are good ideas that the Conservative Party should adopt, regardless of who the next leader will be. What isn't a good idea – right now – is threatening to dismantle, privatize or squeeze the most powerful news organization in Canada. The time to do those things has long passed. The opportunity was squandered by the Harper government.

Canadians are different than Americans when it comes to media diversity. We don't have a lot to choose from in the way of news. The CBC even has significant influence over the news we read on the internet. Canadians are still more accustomed to getting their facts from mainstream sources, whether we like it or not. Americans have mastered the art of creating and embracing diverse forms of media, but Canadians still have a long way to go. Until we get there, we need to work with what we have.

Conservatives can benefit from leaving the CBC and its funding intact. There are, however, some important and non-threatening changes that should be made.

Copyright Exemption For News Content

The CBC shouldn't be afforded the same privileges as private media. Taxpayers give more than a billion dollars to the CBC every year, meaning that their news content should belong to the public domain. Any of us should be allowed to use clips from any and all local and national CBC news programs. Peter Mansbridge belongs to all of us, because we've been paying a good part of his million dollar salary for decades. If Peter Mansbridge doesn't want his likeness used in Youtube videos or by conservative media, he should get a job in the private sector. The lawyers, who we pay with our tax dollars to track down and threaten people who use CBC news footage, should join him.

News casts and reporting aren't creative material. They aren't artistic. Nothing about sharing and reporting facts deserves copyright protection when its being paid for by the public. If we're going to pay investigative journalists and news anchors to share facts and information, that information and the platform used to share it is automatically our property.

There really is no argument that could justify allowing CBC news programs the same copyright protection as news programs produced by the private industry. This shouldn't even be a partisan issue. The current Liberal government could make these changes at any time.

Stronger Standards, Stricter Punishments

There are already a set of standards that journalists are supposed to adhere to. The problem is, they usually don't adhere to them – or they only adhere to them whenever it's most convenient. A journalist's personal views are never supposed to influence their reporting. Sadly, they usually do.

It's not just the CBC that employs pathetic hacks and bloggers posing as journalists. The private news industry is rife with faux journalists and people who are blinded by their biases, but who think they're doing honest journalism. The only people who deny bias in media are people who are so blinded by their own biases that they truly believe their own opinions are facts. Others acknowledge and see the biases, but don't mind them. A Quinnipiac poll from the US presidential race that showed Hillary Clinton with a significant lead also showed that 55% of respondents believed the media had a bias against Donald Trump. This means that people who supported Hillary Clinton were fully aware of the bias, but probably didn't mind it. We see evidence for this every time we hear someone complain about the media “normalizing” Donald Trump – after he became the official president-elect.

We've reached a point in our history where journalism is dead and partisanship is so virulent that people are accepting, encouraging and promoting media biases against people and candidates they don't like. As a public institution that's funded by conservatives, liberals, men, women, gays, lesbians, heterosexuals, pensioners, students, entrepreneurs and people from all walks of life, the CBC has an obligation to represent and serve everyone. The CBC doesn't have the right to treat any one group differently.

The CBC has to be forced to adhere to strict, objective standards. Failing to do so should result in some kind of consequence that's devastating enough to ensure it never happens. A multi-party panel should enforce standards within the CBC in ways that aren't being enforced now. Credentials should be revoked and people should be fired when reporting at the CBC fails to be truly objective and non-partisan. That includes wilfully ignoring obvious, valuable news and information to protect one particular party or candidate. That includes sitting on a hidden video of a candidate peeing in a cup, then re-releasing it two years later and just in time for an election.

Lose The Fiction

Schitt's Creek is a good show, but let's face it, CBC's drama and comedy programs are some of the lowest rated programming in the world. They aren't just poorly rated in Canada. Literally no one, anywhere, watches enough of CBC's non-news content to justify producing any more of it. CBC's drama and comedy programs are a black hole for taxpayers and sponsors. If CBC was a private organization dedicated to strictly Canadian content, most of its dramatic programs would have been cancelled.

Most of the profit CBC generates comes from its sports, news and reality programming. There are a few drama and comedy programs that would make the cut, but most of them still have dismal ratings and make dismal profits from advertising. This has been the case for decades, but taxpayers have continued to foot the bill for worthless Canadian sitcoms and dramas that Canadians don't care about. When we put Schitt's Creek and Heartland up against Big Bang Theory and Survivor, they always lose by a long shot. Even when these shows are technically unsuccessful, we nominate them for something called a Genie Award and then pat their producers on the back and encourage them to make more. CBC's world of fiction programming exists in an alternate reality, where everything that would naturally fail in the private sector survives just to bilk taxpayers.

The CBC's operating budget would, undoubtedly, be much smaller without all this nonsense. The CBC should leave fiction and most entertainment to Global and CTV, who have both produced successful Canadian versions of American shows like Big Brother and The Amazing Race – as well as a few good, original drama and comedy programs. Abolishing the CRTC is a good first step in eliminating the draconian requirement to produce a percentage of Canadian content. If Canadians don't want Canadian content, they shouldn't be forced to produce it. If they do, they should learn to produce things that people actually care about.

The current environment forces Canadians to produce Canadian content just for the sake of it. What we're left with is a bunch of pretentious, lecturing storylines written by failures. Letting the private sector dictate the content would force Canadian producers and writers to create things that Canadians want more of. The private sector should be allowed to weed out the charlatans and participation award recipients, while allowing true talent to flourish.

All of these changes could be made by making various amendments. None of these changes should be considered partisan. The current Trudeau government, with its strong majority, could easily improve the quality of the CBC by making changes that would make the CBC more affordable, more objective and more accessible to Canadians. Putting copyright lawyers on a public payroll to threaten the very taxpayers who pay their salaries isn't appropriate. Forcing Canadians to produce unwatchable content isn't reasonable or valuable. Letting publicly paid journalists get away with biased, dishonest reporting isn't Canadian. Making these changes would help some conservatives warm up to the CBC and, potentially, eliminate future threats of privatization and destruction.