Discover more from Michelle Rempel Garner
The CBC is defunding itself.
The broadcaster’s executive team, and ironically the Liberal government, are the greatest threats to its survival.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) recently trial ballooned plans to end its traditional television and radio broadcasts with plans to shift to entirely digitally streamed content.
Unfortunately for the CBC, it was Liberal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland who inadvertently gave the best argument against this as a winning strategy for the broadcaster's long-term viability. Last November, Freeland made headlines when she suggested that cutting Disney+ subscriptions was an excellent way for Canadian families to deal with inflation.
In her statement, Freeland considered Disney+, a streaming service with an endless library of some of the most beloved content of all time, an excessive expense. If that's true, how can the CBC, with comparatively little library or attention-grabbing content, hope to compete for the hearts, minds, and dollars of viewers?
The answer to this is simple - it can't.
And this is squarely the fault of the hapless, visionless, and significantly better paid than their journalists, executives who have presided over the CBC's race towards irrelevancy. It's also the fault of the federal Liberal government, which has rewarded this behavior with increased levels of public funding.
For over a decade now, the CBC's senior management has struggled with setting a course for the broadcaster that would maintain its relevance. As content demand shifted from traditional print and television media to digital content, the CBC has yet to leverage new media platforms into its operations to the extent necessary to be competitive with its competitors. It also failed to use these platforms to capture new generations of viewers or to use these platforms to produce content that is popular with and relevant to a broader swath of Canadians.
These facts alone should stand as an indictment against those in charge of the institution and the government, which continues to fund this incompetence.
But even more damning is what the crack executive team at the CBC was busy working on instead of adapting to a rapidly changing context for its operations.
In the last decade, the CBC lost at least $2 billion when it failed to maintain the rights to its arguably most popular content, Hockey Night in Canada. An inquiry into the Jian Gomeshi scandal found that the organization condoned harassment in its workplace. It became embroiled in a fiasco that led to accusations of racism within the broadcaster and a potential dilution of its journalistic standards and practices. It retroactively gave its former CEO a 10% pay raise five years after he left. And now, its CEO - who must be above partisan reproach - is engaging in open, partisan warfare with the leader of a Canadian political party.
The CBC’s executive team has bumbled and navel-gazed the broadcaster into desperate financial straights, hemorrhaging viewers and ad revenue for years. Its foray into streaming with the launch of CBC Gem, without a library to compete with more popular streamers, has primarily been a flop. So the CBC now finds itself at a point where it can neither survive as a solely private entity and has largely lost its business case with a majority of the Canadian public.
However, instead of addressing this failure head-on, the CBC's executive team seem to have employed a different strategy. That is, to vilify those who question the sufficiency of the broadcaster's plans for the future and to relentlessly hound the Liberals to pour more money into their status quo.
On this front, the Liberal government has only been happy to oblige, with no requirement to change course attached to future funding. However, more than any Conservative lamentation, this approach could be the kiss of death for the venerable broadcaster. That's because unfettered public funding won't force the organization into the introspection it needs if it wants to restructure and refocus itself into something seen as above reproach and relevant to all Canadians.
The current state of affairs at the broadcaster makes it clear the Liberals and the CBC's board haven't asked hard questions central to the broadcaster's future, let alone put any effort into addressing them. For example, why isn't the broadcaster universally regarded as a trusted, unbiased source of investigative journalism? Is it necessary for the public to fund the CBC to produce copycat American programming in Canada? Is it right that the public broadcaster can accept ad revenue? Why are ratings at record lows? How can the CBC improve its strengths, like French language radio programming? What is the CBC's value proposition in creating Canadian content when there are millions of Canadians already doing so without public funding on other more accessible media platforms?
The collective lack of action from both the Liberals and CBC executives has hastened the broadcaster's loss of trust and relevance with millions of Canadians, most of whom can no longer readily state the corporation's value proposition. An entire generation of Canadians has grown up without the CBC having a significant presence in their lives. Failing to bring them on board after tens of billions of tax dollars have been spent to do so should weigh on the souls of the CBC's board of directors.
I don't expect the powers at the CBC or within the government to act constructively on any of these problems. It's far easier - both politically and operationally - for them to continue demonizing those who question the broadcaster's operations than to effect real change.
But this means that the CBC will continue its slide into irrelevance and have few - if any - non-partisan champions ready to come to its aid in the future. If anything, I expect thousands of content creators and freelance journalists who have found relevancy and homes on new platforms to strongly argue that future funding should go to support their endeavors, not a flaccid CBC.
In that, I fully expect the CBC will continue to successfully defund itself, with no help from the Conservatives required.
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