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CBC chief slams 'false dichotomy' in public funding debate

CBC headquarters, Toronto.

Louie Palu/Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

Critics of the CBC often rely on a "false dichotomy" to distinguish the broadcaster from private media enterprises, the head of the CBC says.

Speaking at a conference on international communications in Ottawa, CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix said the CBC isn't alone in receiving public funding for its work.

"The current debate suggests there is a subsidized state broadcaster in one corner and unsubsidized private broadcasters in the other corner," Mr. Lacroix said. "That is quite simply a false dichotomy."

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The CBC, which receives $1.1-billion dollars each year from the Canadian government, is facing intense criticism over the cost of its programming and its accountability for the money it gets.

Mr. Lacroix cited the Canada Media Fund and the CRTC-run Local Programming Fund as examples of funding packages that are available to all broadcasters.

"CBC Radio Canada, CTV, Global and yes, Quebecor, receive support," Mr. Lacroix said.

Quebecor owns dozens of newspapers across Canada, the popular TVA network in Quebec and Sun News Network, and its outlets often portray the broadcaster as a waste of taxpayers' money.

Sun TV pundit Ezra Levant said the CBC was likely relevant in the past, but that it no longer serves the public in a way that is distinct from other broadcasters.

"There's enormous talent at the CBC. I don't think anyone would disagree," he said at the same conference. "I just think that talent should own the CBC itself… and get out of bed with the government."

He said the government has spent enough money on the CBC since it began funding the broadcaster to pay down the federal debt, sparking laughter from the audience.

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Mr. Lacroix defended the subsidy as necessary to maintain Canadian content, adding Hockey Night in Canada, local news and election night coverage wouldn't exist without public funding for the CBC and other Canadian broadcasters.

"If we want to have any substantial television outlet for Canadian voices, then we will need to subsidize the Canadian broadcasting sector," Mr. Lacroix said.

The corporation has come under fire in recent weeks over its handling of sensitive Access to Information requests, many of which were made by Quebecor. Last week, the broadcaster said it would accept a ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal that compels it to hand over documents to the federal information commissioner.

Mr. Levant said Quebecor's pursuit of its Access to Information requests from the CBC are about the public interest, not corporate rivalry.

"It's not a commercial thing, poking at the CBC," he said. "It is our duty as public interest journalists … to ask questions about where our $1.1-billion is going to."

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