CBC under fire

Two events left the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation looking silly this week. First, a questionable decision was made to preempt its flagship national newscast program by an U.S. American Idol copycat called The One. This comes after Peter Mansbridge’s nightly newscast has been bumped around by Hockey, the Olympics, a lockout and even Figure Skating. A little too perfect in its accidental timing perhaps is the latest event that has embarassed the CBC this week. A Senate report has stated reservations about the very same type of behaviour just mentioned; the Senate committee on Transport and Communications has expressed its sage opinion that the CBC should not be competing against the private sector, to which one would allude, with reality television shows with mass-appeal.

Indeed, there is an argument to be made that a crown corporation should not be competing with private companies that put both CTV and Canwest Global on the air. The committee also recommends that CBC stop televising sports since coverage is available on private networks. The Olympics has already migrated to CTV, Brian Williams has left (and was reportedly fired by fax when he informed the Corpse of his intentions), and will it just be a matter of time before we see Don and Ron migrate over to either CTV/TSN or Global?

So, what does the committee recommend instead? The committee suggests that the state-run broadcaster stay within the realm of cultural television and programming that does not compete with private outlets. Also, the committee recommends that the CBC do it ad-free and that the taxpayer pick up the $400 million tab in lost revenue.

Reaction has come from a variety of sources.

Margaret Wente offers an interesting solution, a reality tv news show!

Last fall, CBC boss Robert Rabinovitch swore the network would never sacrifice its principles for ratings. “There are certain types of programming that we don’t have to do,” he said. But that was then. And now, The National will be bumped on Tuesday nights by something called The One, in which aspiring singing stars (American ones) get voice coaching and try to make it to the big time.

There is an obvious solution for CBC-TV’s perpetual dilemma over ratings. Turn The National into a reality show! Of course, the news already is real, in a way. But it lacks the crucial elements for ratings success. Where’s the behind-the-scenes drama? Where are the real-life stories about real people trying to claw their way to stardom? Where’s the youth appeal? Where are the cute young babes in bikini tops?

Wente also offers this funny (imaginary) exchange between CBC reporters Neil MacDonald and Nahlah Ayed:

Nahlah: You are so obnoxious. You’re just an apologist for Hamas.
Neil: Get real, babe. The Israeli army should be tried for war crimes.

Gerry Nicholls of the National Citizens Coalition offers this letter in the National Post today:

So the CBC will bump The National to make room for an American reality program. Has it really come to this? Is the self-proclaimed guardian of our culture going to scrap its dignity in a mad grab for ratings? If so, then I have a suggestion for the next CBC reality show.

It would be called The People’s Network and it would feature a bunch of CBC brass going around explaining how they squander millions of taxpayer dollars to produce shows nobody wants to watch. In the final episode, the host would point to them and declare: “You’re privatized!”

Now that would be must watch TV.

Again in the Post, Parliamentary scribe notices that the cheerleaders of the CBC have put the state-run broadcaster between a rock and a hard-place given the current political climate. After quoting Stephen Harper’s opinion from the 2004 election (“I’ve suggested that government subsidies in support of CBC’s services should be to those things that … do not have commercial alternatives” — Harper), Martin muses:

That does not bode well for the promised review of CBC’s mandate. It suggests the only way its annual subsidy of $683 million will go is down. It would take a vivid imagination to see a Harper government giving the CBC a $400-million boost to replace commercial revenue”

The full Senate committee report is available here:

Volume I
Volume II