The CBC has rejected an advertisement criticizing the influence of the Conservative government's budget bill over the public broadcaster.
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a non-profit group that says Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is encroaching on the CBC's independence, produced an ad in which a journalist is seen questioning a prime minister who bears a resemblance to Mr. Harper. After suggesting the government "has taken control of the CBC," the ad's journalist is tossed in the back of a trunk and carted away.
The ad is an attack on Bill C-60, an omnibus budget bill – since passed into law – that gives the federal government new powers over the CBC, including a seat at contract negotiations. That power could undermine the CBC's journalism, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting says. "Who is going to ask the tough questions now? Join the campaign to free the CBC from political inference," the ad concludes in the English-language version, which was approved as an opinion ad by the Television Bureau of Canada.
But the CBC rejected it, saying it was a matter of neutrality.
"This advocacy advertisement targets CBC/Radio-Canada and could imply an endorsement on our part of the [group's] campaign," CBC spokesman France Belisle said in an e-mail. "This is why it was refused."
The CBC has raised its own concerns about Bill C-60, telling the federal government's finance committee in a letter two months ago the changes would strip the board "of its two fundamental responsibilities: To ensure responsible supervision of the corporation's activities and its independence from the government of the day."
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is now, essentially, hoping to cash in on the CBC's rejection. It launched an online fundraising campaign on Monday with the debut of the ads in English and French, in 30- and 60-second versions – hoping to raise cash to buy at least $60,000 worth of airtime on other networks.
"Our ability to pay for that will depend, in part, on the generosity of our supporters," the group's spokesman, Ian Morrison, said at a press conference on Monday in Ottawa. The group hopes to run the ads on CTV and TVA, a French broadcaster owned by Quebecor Media Inc., beginning next week. The ads cost "mid-five-figures" to produce, and were funded by donations, he said.
Mr. Morrison contends that Bill C-60's provisions are another tool for any prime minister – regardless of political stripe – to influence the CBC, which many Conservative MPs frequently criticize.
Bill C-60, this year's budget bill, has passed the House of Commons and Senate and received royal assent last month.