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Starving CBC to death

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 20, 2012

The new budget announced by the Harper government will hit Canadians in several ways thanks to the new word of the day “Austerity”.  Austerity has failed in Ireland, failed in England, failed in Greece, Spain and Portugal…so it seems we will try it here because? Well, our government must technically be insane, based on the definition that if you try something that has been done again and again with the same result but you assume you will get a different outcome well you might be a redne…er insane.

Seth Klein of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated it best “None of these spending cuts are actually necessary.  A balanced budget could be achieved just one year later than Flaherty’s target, without inflicting any of the damage.”

BUT I will suspend my usual rant about whether we should be stimulating an economy during a recession…something all but the most ideologue Friedman-ittes recommend…no, I would like to look at what was cut and its potential impact on the skeptical community.

First, it is no secret that Harper personally and the conservative movement in general has always considered a corporate-independent source of news unacceptable or at least uncomfortable. To this aim, Harper has (and to be fair Paul Martin as Liberal finance minister and leader before him) constantly attempted to undermine the financial base of the CBC.

The CBC has gone from a completely publicly funded institution whose primary aim was to provide an independent source of news and promotion of the uniquely Canadian culture to an emaciated version of its goals.

As funding for the CBC was cut, the CBC has become more and more dependent on corporate advertising. It is not coincidental that as politicians have attempted to starve the CBC out of existence its ability to be both effective and independent of its advertisers has diminished.

In a line made famous by Grover Norquist I will paraphrase what has been attempted. They wish to shrink the CBC to a size they can drown it in the bathtub. worst effect this has on the CBC is not only the reduced funding but the unpredictability of such funding. Prior to the election Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore stated that “We have said that we will maintain or increase support for the CBC. That is our platform and we have said that before and we will commit to that”.

Of course now that they no longer have deal with being a minority in parliament, this majority government doesn’t care. Harper’s group has shown time and again they don’t give a damn what the people want…what is best for Canada…their main, (dare I say) only concern is promoting their own agenda.

So, why should we care? I did say I would be taking a skeptical view of this issue. Well as Ethan has mentioned many times on the show before, his favorite CBC show…I suspect maybe one of his top 10 favorite show currently on, is Marketplace. Market place has taken some very tough stands that annoy corporations.

Now, as the CBC becomes more dependent on advertisers there will be pressure put upon shows like the CBC now airs to not ‘agitate’ its funding base. It is common operating practice for CTV and Global which has no show like Market Place or the Nature of Things…they know who pays the bills and jump to that master.

There is more than the independence angle. The CBC will be shedding almost 700 jobs. These are the people who do the interviewing and investigations around the world…or who will not be soon. The CBC’s ability to be a source of international independent (that is independent of other agencies like FOX news or CNN) is being destroyed. Soon the CBC will be a re-tweeter of news from other agencies or worse. Lacking the manpower to produce news, they will rely on a practice common in the USA now (and I suspect on our corporate news channels) where corporate press-releases and faux-news videos are broadcast as real news simply to fill the space and cut down on cost.

The loss of jobs also means whole regions of this country will lose their CBC presence, notably the Maritimes this time, after the prairies were decimated in previous budget cuts. We are a large county and one of the things that bound us together…created a Canadian identity was the CBC. As more and more of our voices are silenced, regionalism will grow and Canada will cease to be a culture but merely a warehouse repository for American/Asian raw materials.

And of course, let’s not forget the support the CBC gives to the Canadian arts. Regional programing like This Hour Has 22 Minutes…the Red Green Show…artist like the Barenaked Ladies, OLP, Nickelback would likely have never been if it were not for the CBC.  Now most ‘young’ people don’t think of the CBC as a cultural incubator…when was the last “hit” show produced by the CBC?

This is part of the fallout; the cutting of the CBC has been occurring since the Mulroney years…to live up to its mandate of serving public interest, the CBC first strangled its child “the arts”…in the hopes of keeping the rest of the broadcast family alive. Kids today don’t think of the CBC as entertaining because that role has already been cut to irrelevance; now the Harper government wished to finish the job…and it may well succeed if we remain silent.

Part of the problem is unreliability of the funding. The CBC never knows what its budget will be year to year. The CBC MUST play politics to ensure, or more often limit loses to, its budget. We could adopt a funding scheme like they have in the UK for the BBC.

In the UK every household watching TV must pay a licence fee…about 230$ a year. Canada, does not have the cultural history of such a licence, but a simple guarantee of a certain percentage of tax revenues as little as 0.08% or even a surtax could suffice. This would allow the CBC to know what it could expect long into the future and plan expenditures and development accordingly. It would also free it from both playing politics and being a target of politicians.

Why should we as skeptics care? As skeptics we rely on factual information from a variety of reliable sources. As Canadians we take pride in our culture. This is why we should care…why we should remember when the time comes to elect a Canadian government.


4 Responses to “Starving CBC to death”

  1. I wish you would apply some of your scepticism to the economics and politics you cover.

    The primary reason that “austerity” isn’t working is that it hasn’t actually been tried. Of the 9 OECD countries that gave out numbers for 2011, only Norway, Slovak Republic and Spain spent less in 2011 than they did in 2010… but that 2010 budget was a record high for Norway and the Slovak Republic while it was only slightly off the 2009 record for Spain.

    All the OECD countries have released their 2010 spending so let us compare that year to 2004. Every single country spent more in 2010 than 2004 with a 37% increase as the average. While Greece did decrease spending from the peak in 2009, it still increased spending 21% over eight years before. Seriously, the poster child for failed austerity spent more in each of the last three years than any year previously.

    If you start from a point where you are spending far more than you are taxing and then you increase spending 5% annually- the only way to call that austerity is if you have 7% baseline increase built into it axiomatically. The math shows that it is not possible for this monotonic increase in overspending to continue.

    Actual measures taken to lower government debt and deficits will not deliver prosperity in the near term but they are needed to stave off the collapse from an unsustainable economic model designed to buy votes with borrowed money.

    Keynes based his stimulus agenda on the expectation that the economy would pick up and the stimulus could quickly be ended. He believed the recovered economy would allow increased taxation to swiftly pay down the debt incurred in stimulating the recovery.

    Hayek said that borrowing money from a future boom was counterproductive and that it would only appear to work if the economy was going to recover despite the stimulus. The expected outcome from delaying a market correction with a false economic bubble is stagnation with a subsequently larger correction. This would drag out for years after the stimulus ends; the larger the stimulus debt, the deeper the recession and the longer the recovery.

    Don’t take this as a defence of Harper or the Conservatives, the right is wrong every bit as often as the left- just on a different vector. Please look at the actual numbers rather than let the ideologues of either stripe lead you with their particular noble lie.

    As for the crux of the piece, the CBC? The only moral option is to completely defund and privatize it. A public broadcaster can be only one of two things; a mouthpiece that delivers propaganda for the state or a taxpayer subsidized vehicle to deliver personal views from the boardroom. I think both of those options are abhorrent.

    The CBC can no more be an “independent source of news and promotion of the uniquely Canadian culture” than can Sun News Network. They are both completely dependent on the individuals producing the news and the orders they receive from the individuals at the executive level. It is simply not possible for the content to be independent from those individuals producing the content.

    The CBC is the voice of twelve appointed individuals on the board of directors and the handful of programmers and producers that answer to them. I am no more fine with the CBC being tax funded than I would be if it were going to Sun News Network. Wanting the government to force everyone to pay for one or the other of those networks because your political agenda aligns with them deserves some introspection.

  2. ebrandonx said

    Hi Don
    Enjoyed your interview with Seth Klein, I found it quite enlightening and straight forward. Having read the comment from Clint Johnson re: Austerity, I do believe your interview nullifies his position…every budget that has trimmed jobs, social programs etc. is an exercise in austerity. To say “The primary reason that “austerity” isn’t working is that it hasn’t actually been tried” is ludicrous. As you posted in your blog the repetition is insane. These measures serve only the top 10% and further denigrate the power of the working class. As well to compare CBC to Sun Media is equally uninformed. Were it not for the CBC, in my case radio, I would not know half of what is going on, I dare say the reason the CBC ( and again I clarify radio, as radio seems still,to bare a resemblance to its former glory)is under such attack from the Harper conservatives is primarily because of the unbiased airing of the state of affairs in this country and on a broader scale the world! CBC television has been showing signs of unconstrained onslaughts by this and previous governments “austerity measures “sometimes better known as ” leave not one standing” budgets. CBC radio rallies on as best it can, without compromising it’s obligation to Canadians. Fight on CBC, Fight on!
    Great show…RFT

  3. […] Starving CBC to death […]

  4. […] Starving CBC to death […]

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