We sent the following letter to the Ottawa Citizen editorial pages editor in response to David Krayden's August 29 column about CBC/Radio-Canada. Although the newspaper never published our letter, we've decided to make it available here.
There has been a noticeable uptick recently in public discussion about public broadcasting. That is a good thing. CBC/Radio-Canada, in fact, advocated for a public review of its mandate for most of the past decade. Earlier this year, having carried out a review of our own, we launched a five year plan to guide us into the digital age and have since sought every opportunity to discuss it with Canadians.
We were even pleased this week when we saw, in these pages (The Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 29, 2011), a piece by David Krayden, who hates the very idea of public broadcasting. Why were we pleased? It makes for a healthy debate. And it gives us an opportunity to deal head-on with some whopping misconceptions about what we do and why. And Mr. Krayden’s article had some doozies.
Let’s address some of these. First, the accusation that CBC/Radio-Canada’s employees have “inflated salaries” from “junior reporter to senior bureaucrat” with which “the private sector cannot compete.” His assertion was not backed by figures, because it’s simply false. Bench-marking analyses demonstrate that our employees’ average salaries are equivalent to private broadcasters’ and that our senior executives earn significantly less than their private sector colleagues, for similar jobs.
Second, writing that “CBC has broadcast far more American programming than it has created Canadian classics” is nonsense. For the last 20 years, our television schedule has been at least 85% Canadian. Today, CBC Television’s prime time schedule is more Canadian than ever, with 100 percent Canadian content airing between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. in high season. Many programs regularly have more than a million viewers, including Republic of Doyle, The Rick Mercer Report, Dragons’ Den. Mr. Krayden may not like these programs but, evidently, Canadians do. For the last five years, our Canadian schedule has actually grown its share against the private broadcasters’ American ones. We are now the second most watched broadcaster in the country – because of our Canadian programs, not despite them.
Third (only sticking to three for lack of space), “there is no shortage of Canadian perspective on your set.” This too is better in theory than in practice. If you removed CBC/Radio-Canada from the scene, almost 30% of the annual investment in Canadian television programming would disappear. CBC/Radio-Canada invests more in it than all the private conventional broadcasters combined – $696 million compared to $681 million. This investment helps to ensure a diversity of voices and cultivate Canadian talent. It also sustains and strengthens the independent production sector and local economies.
Earlier this year, a Deloitte study revealed that every dollar that Canadians invest in their public broadcaster creates almost four dollars in economic value – $3.7 billion in total value – supporting thousands of jobs and businesses, many of which are in the private sector. The model for public broadcasting in Canada is efficient and productive. So suggesting that CBC/Radio-Canada become more like PBS is arguing for the marginalization of Canada’s public broadcaster, without revealing that PBS gets close to half its funding from different levels of government. It has as big a budget to run one television network as CBC/Radio-Canada has to operate 28 services (English, French, radio, television, web). And it has a prime time share of less than 2% compared to CBC’s 9.7% and Radio-Canada’s 18.7%.
The errors contained in Mr. Krayden’s article aside, the basic and legitimate question it raises is: does a country as diverse and geographically dispersed as Canada need national vehicles to share experience, celebrate its heroes and debate its issues in English and French and eight aboriginal languages? If we decide we do need those vehicles, then the economics of the media business dictate that the government, one way or another, will have to invest in it. Our digital age has not changed that. Every country in the western world, with the exception of the United States, has concluded that the most efficient and effective means to that end is public broadcasting.
For 75 years now, the heart of what we do has been to provide Canadians a place to share the culture and democratic life of the country. With our strategy, 2015: Everyone, Every way, we have renewed our commitment to be one vehicle of national identity open to all Canadians and to make that space as inclusive and objective as possible. This five-year plan commits us to provide even more Canadian content, to improve and expand our regional services, and to double our investment in digital platforms, with no additional money from government. It also commits us to being efficient, transparent, accountable and to welcome serious debate on what we do and how we do it. As much as I wish Mr. Krayden’s opinion was based more on fact and less on ideology, I applaud him for engaging and encourage him to continue.