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CBC's funny phone-in

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Today’s edition of the CBC Maritime Noon phone-in would have been hilarious if the topic hadn’t been so serious. For one thing, the question of the day — How should we fund public broadcasting? — seemed spectacularly beside-the-point given the fact that Maritime Noon itself will soon lose about two-thirds of its funding and half its air time. Maybe the question should have been: How can we save CBC?

CBC Vice-President Richard Stursberg, one of the phone-in guests, pointed out that the Corporation hasn’t received a significant budget increase for 35 years. “If I were to compare what it [CBC] has in real dollars now to what it had in 1990, it’s down about $400 million in terms of its current purchasing power,” he said. The failure of Liberal and Conservative governments to fund CBC adequately, combined with a drastic drop in ad revenues, triggered this latest round of job and programming cuts, including the elimination of Maritime Noon’s daily hour of current affairs programming,

Stursberg dropped a clanger however, when he claimed that CBC management tried to make cuts to programs “that were the least being listened to.” Maybe he wasn’t paying attention earlier when the phone-in’s other guest, Philip Lee, director of the St. Thomas J-School in Fredericton observed, “This show that we’re on right now is probably the most popular CBC show in the history of the Maritimes.”

Lee made a gaffe of his own however, when he argued self-servingly that CBC should spend less on TV arts programming, such as prime-time drama, and concentrate on journalism instead. “We should be protecting the journalism that the CBC does,” he declared. “This is really what sustains democracy.” Stursberg shot back that CBC’s all-Canadian prime time TV schedule “clobbered” Global's all-American shows in the ratings this year — the first time that’s happened in Canadian television history.

“We are the only country in the industrialized world that prefers somebody else’s television shows, somebody else’s entertainment shows, somebody else’s drama, somebody else’s comedy,” Stursberg said. He argued this is the country’s “number one cultural problem,” and CBC is finally solving it.

Many of the phone-in’s callers (eight men and one woman) seemed singularly uninformed, a likely reflection of the CBC’s own persistent failure to cover public broadcasting issues. One caller accused CBC of wasting money on a big headquarters building in Ottawa that the Corporation moved out of years ago.

Another called on CBC to abandon TV altogether. “Television is more of a luxury while radio is more of an essential service,” the New Brunswick caller declared only to fall silent when Stursberg reported that CBC Radio attracts four million listeners a week compared to CBC Television’s audience of well over 17 million.

Perhaps the most telling piece of information came when Stursberg said that CBC spends about 38 per cent of its budget on regional programming. That means that nearly two-thirds of its money goes to the network programs that originate mainly in Toronto and Montreal. That explains why regions such as the Maritimes are so thin on CBC staff to begin with. It also explains why we’ll notice these cuts all the more.


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