In his column “CBC displays keen sense of self-preservation” last week, Tom Korski cites a 1967 assertion that the public broadcaster risks being “obsolete,” states that it “suffers from “dwindling viewership,” and suggests that it “opposes any change in mandate.” I thought your readers should have a more up-to-date picture of the state of CBC/Radio-Canada.
First, far from opposing any change in our mandate, since at least 2005, CBC/Radio-Canada has, at every occasion possible, persistently called for a formal review of its mandate. Mr. Korski need only have referred to repeated appearances in front of the Heritage Committee of Parliament to confirm that we are more than ready to talk about the role that the Public Broadcaster should play in the 21st century.
That research would also have enlightened him as to why we wish this review. Repeated studies of numerous Parliamentary Committees have been consistent on one thing. Technological and societal trends are not making the public broadcaster obsolete; they are making it more relevant and important to achieving the country’s goals in the media and multimedia space.
With more media options than any other citizens in the world and a cultural giant next door, Canadians more than ever need a space in the media landscape that they can call their own. A space that brings an increasingly diverse nation together, that helps people form their individual, social and political identities. A place where Canadians can connect with each other, this country and the world. That is the space that CBC/Radio-Canada exists to create.
Next, audience. Mr Korski will be surprised to hear that CBC television is, as far as I can determine, the only conventional broadcaster in North America that is increasing its market share in an apples-to-apples comparison. In fact, for the last five years running, with an overwhelmingly Canadian schedule, CBC’s prime time share has increased annually from 6.7% in 2005 to 9.7% so far this year. For the last two years, CBC television has beaten – for the first time – Global's American prime-time schedule to become the second-most-watched network in Canada, and it’s on track to do it again this year. Radio-Canada’s prime time television share is just under 20%. Our radio services are enjoying historic highs. And our websites are amongst the most popular in Canada, hosting four million visitors monthly. Audiences are downloading close to two million of our podcasts every month.
There is a certain irony to Mr. Korski’s comparing CBC/Radio-Canada’s position to the recent announcement that the BBC would volunteer “$155 million in cuts and closure of two radio stations”. On one hand, CBC/Radio-Canada cut $171 million last year. And more to the point, the BBC is proposing to curb its activities because it is accused of being too powerful and having too much funding. Sadly, everyone who has studied the Canadian situation in the last decade has come to the conclusion that CBC/Radio-Canada has too little funding to fulfill its mandate.
In a study published in 2009 of 18 major countries, the average annual funding for public broadcasting was $76 per person. The BBC got $124 per capita. At $34 per person, Canada, in two languages and six time zones, ranked third from the bottom. That’s exceptional value for money.
I thought the quirkiest part of the article was when he described as “gratuitous”, the reference in the federal budget that stated that CBC/Radio-Canada’s services were “aligned with the priorities of Canadians.” That’s not gratuitous. It’s just a good read of the country.