Last week, while Postmedia’s CEO was advising that, “everyone in journalism should be doing a victory lap around their building right now,” National Post reporter Tristin Hopper was responding to the Government’s support for media organizations by blaming CBC.
“Stop the CBC from undercutting us,” he wrote. “Stop subsidizing a competitor that is viciously undercutting independent print media.”
This claim is made by private media in every country where there is a public broadcaster. It pretends that if there were no public broadcaster, then people would be forced to pay for their news, and all would be well, for private media companies, who presumably would also get all the digital ad revenue. This has never been true. Anywhere.
In the case of newspapers, the revenue from classifieds, flyers and ads disappeared to the Internet decades ago. Today, Google and Facebook alone take 75% of all Internet advertising revenue in Canada. Two global companies. It is not Canada’s public broadcaster that is “viciously undercutting print media.”
During this digital transformation, while these digital companies have grown and Canadian newspapers have consolidated, closed or cut to pay debt from acquisitions, we continue to serve Canadians and have moderated the worst effects of the upheaval on their news and their culture.
Public broadcasting has maintained a connection between people across every region of this country, offering them Canadian choices for the things they value: trusted Canadian news from their community and around the world; services in French and English as well as Indigenous languages; Canadian stories; and support for Canadian creators. A 2014 Nordicity study found that each dollar invested in CBC/Radio-Canada creates two dollars in economic activity for Canadians.
This is why we invest in public broadcasting. For Canadians. To inform, enlighten and entertain them, as our mandate goes. Countries around the world have recognized how vital this is.
CBC/Radio-Canada does all this with a parliamentary appropriation that, while generally static for two decades, has been steadily eroding with inflation. Canada now ranks 16th out of 18 OECD countries in public funding for public broadcasting. This is why CBC/Radio-Canada relies on commercial revenue on television and on its digital platforms. To do without it would mean cutting programs and services to Canadians.
Let’s be clear. Making CBC/Radio-Canada smaller or weaker won’t make private Canadian media more profitable. It won’t increase services to Canadians. It won’t improve journalism in this country.
Hopper claims CBC has become “the country’s largest newspaper,” an odd claim considering his article was distributed through the National Post’s digital website as well as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. He also posted an accompanying video on YouTube. Is the Post a newspaper? Or is it a modern media company trying to reach Canadians where they are?
Canadians need a healthy media environment: diverse viewpoints reflecting all regions of the country; public AND private media. The Government’s recent announcement may help. We believe it’s also time for Canadian media companies to start working together, to ensure Canadians continue to have Canadian sources for their news content in the face of a flood of foreign content. In the UK they’re calling it “collaborate to compete”. That’s how we will serve Canadians. The public broadcaster isn’t undercutting journalism in Canada, it’s helping to ensure it survives, for Canadians.
EXECUTIVE VICE-PRESIDENT, ENGLISH SERVICES, CBC