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Television John Doyle: A new and better CBC must start from within

Neither the Senate standing committee report on the future of the CBC, nor Senator Art Eggleton's minority report in response, is much use in figuring out where the CBC goes in the immediate future.

Blunt opinions on the CBC come as part and parcel of Canadian citizenship. So a passel of grumpy senators hardly has a monopoly on ideas about the CBC's future. The Senate report, often livid with resentment and obsessed with salaries and money, is far from a series of reliable signposts about the public broadcaster's best possible future.

In his dissenting view, Eggleton states: "Simply put, the CBC is starved for cash. At $29 per capita, the CBC is well below the average of $82 per capita invested in public broadcasting in other industrialized countries." Well, we know that. Even the cats and dogs of Canada know that. But stabilized or increased funding for CBC is seriously unlikely to happen under another Conservative government or indeed a Liberal government.

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Eggleton also makes this suggestion: "As much more content continues to be consumed online, the CBC should launch a direct streaming service similar to Netflix. This should be a free service for Canadians so they can consume CBC's content on the platform they desire." Nice idea, but far from easily done. CBC-TV has formidable archives that would find an audience in a streaming service but faces huge and expensive problems in releasing that material. Royalty and technical issues thwart that idea into out-of-reach territory.

In the finger-wagging, often outlandish 22 recommendations from the Senate report, one stands out: "The Board of Directors of the CBC/Radio Canada implement stringent restrictions on the external activities, including outside paid-employment, of all senior staff and on-air talent to prevent any possible conflicts of interest."

There's the nub of things. The Senate report, like the views of many Canadians on the CBC, is tarnished by recent scandals and revelations that undermine the CBC from within. Sympathy and support for the CBC are not easily mustered when the broadcaster appears to suffer from a culture of arrogance and indifference to the accepted rules.

The through line of the CBC narrative, from the row about Peter Mansbridge's and Rex Murphy's paid speaking engagements, to revelations brought up by the Ghomeshi scandal, to the accusations about Amanda Lang's allegedly compromised reporting and interviewing, to the departure of Evan Solomon, to the recent, temporary participation by Mansbridge as a patron of the controversial Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation project, is this: hubris, pretension and disdain for journalistic discipline.

Anyone who appears on TV, to a national audience, and with regularity, is liable to be infected by smugness and self-importance. The CBC is, regrettably, and in my experience, rife with all that. There's an ill-discipline. It's as if the bosses of on-air talent are simply averse to instilling discipline and, in some cases, mere good manners, into people who have the privilege of some fame and high earnings thanks to the CBC.

The ill-discipline and hubris extends beyond the CBC news arena. While most people who work on CBC shows I cover are thoroughly professional, there's a small group involved with CBC programs that behave with an emphatic obnoxiousness. I've never had to contact Bell Media, Rogers or Shaw to point out that the behaviour of people connected to their shows was unacceptable. But I've had to speak to the CBC about that. As recently as June, an evening I attended was ruined after being hijacked by a guy with a CBC show. The rude, roaring, attacking conduct was unspeakable.

It all matters, and CBC fails to see how it is perceived. A lack of discipline and outbreaks of arrogance among on-air staff suggests to outsiders, from senators to the skeptical public, that there's a larger lack of discipline in spending taxpayers' money. Hence the Senate report's obsession with money, from salaries and speaking engagement fees, to the future funding models for the CBC.

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The CBC as an institution can forge its own signpost to the future and it best start by getting its house in order. Curbing the culture of arrogance and indifference to the accepted rules, from within, is paramount.

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