Reimagining the CBC for the 21st century, we can be certain that Canada does not need a low-rent clone of its commercial rivals. But it does need – now more than ever – a strong, innovative and commercial-free public broadcaster that provides Canadians with what the commercial media marketplace is unwilling to produce.
In poll after poll, the majority of Canadians have indicated they want a strong national public broadcaster. They want groundbreaking news and current affairs journalism, and distinctive Canadian drama and entertainment. But if we were inventing a new CBC for this century, it would likely look very different from what it is today. In an exploding digital environment, conventional broadcasting is losing its lustre, and Canadians are increasingly turning to other sources – such as the Internet and on-demand services such as Netflix and Apple TV – for information and entertainment.
A new commercial-free CBC needs to be radically reinvented to thrive in this new era. In the absence of any direction from Parliament, the CBC needs to initiate this process itself. A reinvented CBC requires a dramatic narrowing of what its mandate is. It needs to ditch those activities that are secondary to its core mission. And it needs a totally new funding formula.
As a starting point, there are countless ideas already on the table. The only thing missing now seems to be the will to do it. But as recent events have shown, clinging to a fading status quo is no longer an option.
Stéphane Dion, Liberal heritage critic
The CBC deserves and needs stable funding in order to plan because they have difficult challenges in a world in which many people don’t watch TV any more because of digital access. They have to adjust; they need what the BBC has: stable funding. All these ideological cuts one after the other are preventing them from having the strong approach they need.
I would prefer both [a niche service and a broadly popular one]: niche because you are in market where it is more and more specific what the people want, but at the same it is good in a society that in the evening many people watch the same show, the same movie or same event on TV and in the morning they discuss it together. We have that more on Radio Canada than on CBC in English because of the competition of the American networks. And it’s something we like in Quebec; the day after Tout le Monde en Parle we all go and discuss the same interview. It is something good in a society and worth protecting.
Robert Lantos, film producer
CBC has been stumbling around looking for an identity for a long time and has managed to hurt itself significantly along the way, by misguidedly trying to compete with the private sector, Global and CTV, by putting the same shows on the air that they would put on as opposed to sticking to its own niche and its own identity and its own kind of programming – programming that is strictly about Canadian perspectives and Canadian point of view, Canadian news and Canadian stories, Canadian perceptions, whether its world events or national events, whether its fiction or news or children’s. CBC has instead over the years become a mishmash, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a carbon copy of programming that could just as well be on one of the other networks.
There has to be a future for the CBC – I can’t imagine Canada without one – but the future has to be restabilizing a culturally important and relevant network that makes no attempt to compete with the private sector and proudly sticks to its mission which, summarized in one word, is Canada.
The overwhelming majority of CBC funds should be spend on programming, not on infrastructure, not on staff, not on equipment but on what goes on the air. Anything that the public doesn’t see is really secondary. It’s about what is on the TV set and the radio, not what is in the building and having a fully staffed department of this and department of that. Even after the cuts, look how many employees the CBC has.
Wade Davis, author and professor at the University of British Columbia
I see the CBC as being a place where neither polemics nor politics nor the whims of fashion are allowed to dominate the discourse. I see it as a place that stands above the whiplash of daily political conflict. I see it as a place that speaks to mythic threads of memory that is our country. It’s a place that invokes the very best of those who have inspired us – from the great poets to the great writers to the great signers to the great politicians. I see it as a place that every single day taps into the essence of who we are as a country; what Gzowski always did… Whatever this big messy thing called democracy is, it needs both those who generate great economic growth and those who reflect upon the poetics of landscape to come together in this great dream of Canada. And the CBC should be the voice piece. It’s the podium; it’s the pulpit of what we are as a country. It’s the most incredible institution that our country has.…That’s what it should be. What it’s become is this kind of monolith which is constantly fighting for its own survival.