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You don’t have to hate the CBC to demand transparency

Keeping the public looped in on spending could be a guarantee of quality


 

Ash Mishra/CP Images

The Globe and Mail reports:

“Spurred on by recent controversy over the CBC’s compliance with Access to Information laws, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is launching a satirical, wrestling-themed campaign in support of the CBC.”

The thing is, you don’t have to be an enemy of the CBC to want them to comply with the law and open up their books. Many of us who listen to the CBC and support the mission of public broadcasting would also like some transparency on how they spend the public’s money.

Unfortunately, the call for disclosure originates with the CBC’s rival, Quebecor. Quebecor is no friend of the CBC, and its demand to see their spending is a petty campaign to create scandal and to discredit. Quebecor’s obvious goal is to arm itself with proof that the CBC is irresponsibly wasting the money we give them- ammo for their argument that the CBC should therefore be deprived of funding completely.

Quebecor is probably half right–the CBC’s spending habits are likely shameful. The public broadcaster’s secrecy over the documents in question suggests that they do indeed have something to hide. Their rationale–that to disclose Strombo’s salary or the budget of their 75th anniversary self-promotion campaign would be a violation of journalistic sources–is ridiculous. If profligate executives are hiding behind journalistic ethics, then journalists themselves–CBC journos included–should be leading the charge to pry the documents from their fingers.

What about the second part of Quebecor’s campaign? If (when) wasteful spending at the CBC is revealed, then what? Will it mean we should cut off funding to the CBC, privatize it and sell it off to an ugly American wrestling tycoon? I don’t think so, and most Canadians agree with me.

Instead, clarity on how the CBC spends our money would present a wonderful opportunity to build a better CBC. Consider the case of CBC Radio One. Free from the ads and game shows that complicate CBC TV’s place in our hearts and minds, Radio One is a beloved service with an enormous audience. And yet it has been razed. Tune in during the day and you will hear repeats, archival programming from the 1940s, and repurposed regional content where news and current affairs used to be. (I like a good cod fishery report as much as the next guy, but why am I hearing it as I drive the on the DVP?)

As a former employee and occasional contributor to CBC Radio, I know how much these cancelled programs cost to produce (one radio show might have a staff of just three producers). What I don’t know is how much the network spent on episodes of Little Mosque on The Prairie, while it was simultaneously closing foreign news bureaus.  And why do the salaries of on-air hosts matter? Because the CBC has chosen to pay them while sacrificing crucial journalistic resources.  That might make sense when a famous host pulls in huge audiences.  But when these “celeb” hosted TV shows play to smaller audiences than cancelled radio programs, there are questions that need to be answered.

Revealing the numbers behind these decisions won’t change the past, but a new era of CBC transparency will certainly affect the future. As the next round of budget cuts approaches, and the CBC brass once again sharpen their cleavers, it will be good for them to know that their real friends–the audience–will be watching closely.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown

 

 

 


 

You don’t have to hate the CBC to demand transparency

  1. Nobody was scrutinizing the CBC before Quebecor came around, because the CBC has partnerships and incestuous relationships with every other news organization in Canada, essentially placing themselves above scrutiny until now.

    So you would have to give Quebecor credit.

    The CBC cannot have it both ways.  If they want their billion dollars in taxpayer money, then they must allow scrutiny from the taxpayers.  If they don’t want scrutiny, then they should not take the money and they should compete on their own like every other network.

  2. “But when these “celeb” hosted TV shows play to smaller audiences than cancelled radio programs, there are questions that need to be answered.”

    Strombo has grown such a big ego he is unwatchable – swag rooms, expensive TIFF parties.  As a Crown Corp. they should be held accountable. 

  3. Right on. CBC radio is awesome, but now sadly a shadow of its Gzowski glory days. I listen to CBC North alot and depend on it. As for much of CBC tv, the National, documentaries and the odd programme notwithstanding you can dump it in the ocean. CBC made a huge error going head to crap with private stations – they should stick with quality Canadian programming if possible and for god’s sake drop the in house advertising on continuous loop feedback. I spend more time watching APTN for some relief whenever i feel a need to watch tv, and i’m not native. The APTN perspective news and historical/human interest programming is often superb. I’m definitely in CBC corner, and yes i feel they’ve handled this badly – who cares if strombos salary is made public. What possible advantage  could that be to those a’holes over at Quebecor?

    • I assume that no matter what the numbers are Quebecor will claim to have found a smoking gun of public waste.  If the CBC can say “you actually don’t have the information you just said you did” it might make some people think twice about believing them. Just some, of course – I mean, this is Levant’s audience, here.

      • I doubt it. Levant and Lilley seem to operate best in the dark sans facts. Surely the reality can’t be that bad…i mean it’s not like they’re going to find out Mansbridge has a score of paid mistresses on the side is it???…that might help the ratings actually.
        As JB says the worse that will happen is that the loyal audience will disagree where the money should be spent. Given some of the horrible management decisions over the last few years that’s hardly a bad thing. The best that could happen is for Quebecor to look exactly like what they are, opportunistic vultures with no interest in the cultural needs of this country at all.  

      • That’s my only problem with the whole charade (and the opening up of any books, really) is that it won’t be used for enlightenment, understanding, or accountability in the adult sense. It will be used for the usual howls of the usual sources for such complaints. 

        It won’t be about transparency, it will be about whining by armchair accountants. With the red faces and spittle-drenched computer monitors, you’d think the entire budget came from one or two wallets.

  4. ” its demand to see their spending is a petty campaign to create scandal and to discredit. “So when Journalists pry for details of government spending, is that also petty. Or is it only petty when questioning the CBC? When journalists were going on about torture in Afghanistan was the media trying to create scandal and discredit?

    • Are you seriously comparing the two? One the admittedly self appointed[ with much public support and historical precedence] guardians of the public right to know what our govt is up to ; the other the petty, pathetic mewling of a private corp[ who also takes the Queen’s shilling] who only “pretends” it has a duty to rake in the  muck on the public’s behalf, when a child of ten knows the difference.

      • How dare a private corp be critical of a beloved public broadcaster ?

        You are living in the past. Learn to survive without depending on your government to support your access to news and entertainment.

        • So, i take it you don’t think we live in one country then? Because the Quebecor’s of this country don’t give a toss what you and i think. Whereas the CBC is mandated to offer a voice to the country. No argument from me they aren’t doing it nearly well enough.

  5. as I said on FB, “Fuckin’ eh!”
    I hate to hear that soppy propaganda killed real journalism. Disgusted.

  6. ”…Unfortunately, the call for disclosure originates with the CBC’s rival, Quebecor…”

    Yes, unfortunate indeed.
    One would have thought that those who bravely brought us ‘Quebec, most corrupt Province’,
    and write continuously about the loss of democracy and transparency in Government,
     would have what it takes to hold the CBC to account too.

    Perhaps now that Sun News has broken trail,
    the fine journalists at Macleans will not hesitate to bring us ‘the rest of the story’.

    • “Broken trail” you call it…now that really is pathetic.

      Did you guzzle a quart of koolaid before you typed that one? 

      Broken trail to what end exactly? Quebecor,CBC – they’re both monopolistic, but only one has a mandate to tell Canada’s stories to Canadians. You obviously don’t like the way they do it. So, let me guess you think Quebecor does a better job? I know they don’t get a billion a year, but neither are they a disinterested bystander. It is none of their freaking business period.  

      • “mandate to tell Canada’s stories to Canadians”?

        Jeopardy? Coronation Street? Endless reruns of pseudo documentaries from Al Gore and Michael Moore? Some fictional mosque in some fictional town that could just as easily be in Iraq for all the “Canadian” culture it has?

        • “As for much of CBC tv, the National, documentaries and the odd programme notwithstanding you can dump it in the ocean. CBC made a huge error going head to crap with private stations – they should stick with quality Canadian programming if possible …”

          What’s the matter Fred? There’s is a scroll function ya know.

      • ”Broken trail to what end exactly?”

        SunTV broke trail to make the Liberal sacred cow accountable,
        this blog subject is a result of another media taking a stand and sticking with it.
        The CBC has been in court against Cdn taxpayers since 2007, 4 years ago. 
        Not until Sun TV took to the airwaves, were Canadians informed of this.

        CBC is the ONLY Crown corp, since the Federal Accountability Act was passed, to refuse to follow the rules set out for it.
        Curious how the LibDippers go after Minister Clement to be accountable for $50 Million spent in his riding,
        but attack CPC MPs for demanding the same from CBC spending of $1.1 Billion of taxpayers money..

        • SunTV broke trail to make the Liberal sacred cow accountable,

          That Koolaid has quite a kick, doesn’t it?

  7. You don’t have to hate the Conservative Party of Canada to demand transparency….

    • And the most demanding Canadians, demanding Government transparency and accountability, are we old Reformers.

      The Federal Accountability Act, 2006.
      PMSH tried also to bring First Nations in under the FAA in 2006,
      but the majority Opps banded together to exempt First Nations from the FAA.

      Today all pundits and journos are screaming accountability on Native Reserves.
      Where were they when the coalition of losers used their majority to exempt First Nations from the FAA???

      • anyone legitimately worried about transparency and accountability would hold harper & co in utter disgust.

  8. No one knew that CBC was taking in Billions of dollars plus many million more on top of what the Government was giving them.  I have no doubt whatsoever that the CBC has a lot to “hide” or they wouldn’t be putting up the fight that they are putting up. 
    I understand the money they are receiving surpasses what we are spending on the new jets and then some.
    I am sure we will find a trunk full of Scandal once the investigation discloses the spending habits of the CBC.
    I can recall years ago when the CBC was located on Yonge St. (where the Masonic Hall) is now located.  There was a scandal about child molestatiion and satin whorship.   What are we going to find now.
    Thank you Quebecor for making the public aware that they should be concerned with what is going on re CBC
    I thank Quebecor for bringing this to the attention of the public.

    • Huh. You could exchange CBC with CPC through-out that message and it’d still all apply.  Other than the satin worship of course. Polyester is more their style.

  9. The premise of the post is completely false. The activites of the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting were not “spurred on by recent controversy over the CBC’s compliance with Access to Information laws.” They were spurred on by indications CBC will need to cut its budget by 5% on top of previous cuts even though the Conservatives (James Moorre)  promised they wouldn’t do that during the election. You don’t have to quote mind readers at the Globe and Mail, you can just look it up at the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting web site.

    • 5% cut? Horrors!

      • I think the complaint is less with the size of the cut so much as it’s with the government doing something that they explicitly campaigned on NOT doing.

        • So times change. I seem to recall Chretien/Martin cutting them by $450 million or so – after they campaigned on cutting the GST…

          • I seem to recall the Tories being apoplectic when the Chretien/Martin governments used to do stuff like that, and specifically calling on Canadians to “Demand Better”.

            It seems a bit hypocritical of the Party that told us to demand better to so often get annoyed that we’re demanding better of them.

            It’s shocking to me how fast “Demand Better” morphed in to “This is the way things are done!”.

        • CBC was not singled out for cuts to please the CPC base.
          Promise kept.

          • I believe the Tories’ promise was “We’re not going to cut the CBC” not, “We’re not going to cut the CBC just to please our base”.

            They didn’t say “We’re not going to single out the CBC for cuts”, they said “We’re not going to cut the CBC”.

            Though I suppose one man’s “doing the opposite of what you said you’d do” is another man’s “promise kept”.

  10. What about the argument that revealing production costs and talent contract details would give advantageous information to competitors?  I’d like to know what Quebecor is paying Ezra Levant.  When will Quebecor discolose this information to the public?

    • Ezra’s doing it for free, cuz he’s a prince, or a dink or something.

    • ” When will Quebecor discolose this information to the public?”

      When Ezra becomes a CBC employee and YOU start paying Ezra’s salary,
      which means, never.

      What don’t you guys get about ‘taxpayer funded’ corp vs. private corporation? 

      • Meh. I threw the Ezra demand in as a humourous throwaway.  If competitors have to start sharing salary information, let’s start with the most overpaid and least talented!  (Ezra and Strombo)

        I notice you don’t touch the competition issue.

  11. Tell ya what, I’m all on board with CBC having to release the documents so long as we no longer allow them to solicit private advertising and make up the difference in our taxes.

    Alternatively, CBC has to tell us how the public funds were spent, and not a penny more than that. 

    Or, alternatively, the private industry can allow itself to be subject to FOI requests as well.

    Just so long as the private funding is all on an equal playing field.

  12. “You don’t have to hate the CBC to demand transparency”

    True.  

    “Unfortunately, the call for disclosure originates with the CBC’s rival, Quebecor. Quebecor is no friend of the CBC, and its demand to see their spending is a petty campaign to create scandal and to discredit. “

    You don’t have to love the CBC to be a credible critic of its arrogance and waste.  

    Quebecor is pointing things out that have been true for years.  Yet somehow the rest of the journalistic community has refused to get into it until now.  I can tell you for whom I have more respect, and hence more trust.

  13. But why is anyone complaining about the CBC’s (mal)practises? As it is, the CBC faithfully reflects Canadian smugness. As some Canadians like to say, “We may be smug, but then, we have much to be smug about.”  Too painfull? Then look in on CBC public affairs programmes.  

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