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Flubbing the case for CBC

Dave Gordon - Friday, 17 April, 2015

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To cut, or not to cut – should the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's federal subsidy continue to shrink?

In light of the Conservative government's removal of about ten per cent of CBC's $1 billion budget, one might think that if the funding were important enough to CBC supporters, those supporters would galvanize and stage a massive protest.

Though there hasn't been anything of the sort - at least not yet -  one recent case of grassroots CBC support left me wondering: is that all you've got?

Lately, one advocate of CBC approached Joe Oliver, Canada’s Finance Minister, at an Economic Club of Canada luncheon in Toronto, in an attempt to change his mind about the millions of dollars the CBC has had cut from its budget.

Naomi Robinson, a pro-CBC activist, posted a Facebook note about the encounter, adding that she was armed with petition signed by what she says were “thousands of people from across Canada”.

In her online note, she insists the government “return the $115 million in annual public funding” for the CBC. [emphasis mine]

The rest of her online missive left me with more questions than answers.

How many people signed the petition, exactly? In twenty years of journalism, no editor I’ve met would tolerate the vague “thousands”. They’d demand to know precisely how many, or at least to nearest thousand.

“Thousands” could mean two thousand or ten thousand. But what’s clear in the language is there aren’t “tens of thousands” or even “hundreds of thousands.”

According to reports, the CBC has cut 1,500 jobs. If each of those laid off signed the petition, along with their spouses and a friend, there are 4,500 signatures. That’s hardly impressive, especially when CBC services 34 million Canadians.

Shouldn’t a petition then reflect a fairly large cross section of Canadians?

Especially when each taxpayer ponies up about $69 per year (or $34 by another estimate) for the privilege of having the CBC, whether they watch it or not?

And what about the“return” of the $115 million? You’ll note this kind of language throughout, such as “restored public funding”. It’s as if she believes the government took what didn’t belong to them, or that the CBC is entitled to the money.

In itself, not a compelling case to keep the CBC on the taxpayer’s teat.

Many of our Canadian Media Guild members (both current & retired) have been busy advocating for restored public funding for Canada’s public broadcaster, and a proper arms-length relationship between the CBC and government.”

Again, how many is “many”? It could be six or it could be six hundred. The language is careful here: it’s not “most” -- or even a guesstimate.

“Starting last month we’ve been circulating a petition online, and asking people to sign our Dear Joe postcards. These postcards also request that Finance Minister Joe Oliver restore the $115 million to CBC’s public funding in the Federal Budget that he’s about to table on April 21.”

So what these CBC supporters have done is launch a month-long initiative to gather signatures. The problem?

The final draft of the budget was already prepared weeks prior, in order that MPs become acquainted with it, and prepare adequately for question period.

Irrespective, the budget won’t change because of “thousands” of petitioners.

This, alone, is insufficient. By this rationale, the government might fund the Blue Jays, if everyone who attended a game lobbied for it.

“I suggested to [Oliver] that it would be possible to still balance the budget … by using just a very small part of the billions of dollars the federal government has recently raised by auctioning off a portion of the broadcast spectrum.”

The first implied argument is this: if there happens to be extra money, the CBC is owed it.

Response: Is there a particularly good reason why? None is stated.

The second implied argument is: The government found a resourceful way to infuse more money into the coffers – and the CBC should have some.

Response: The CBC, in contrast, doesn’t need to find a resourceful way to develop more income for itself.

The third implied argument is: Unlike the across the board belt-tightening of other government subsidy recipients, the CBC must maintain the status quo

Response: This, despite Mother Corp’s wasted tax dollars, and an ever shrinking viewership. Forty per cent fewer people watch CBC than two years ago.

“I also made sure that he knew, as a sitting MP from Toronto, about the economic impact job cuts are having on the families of CBCers here in Toronto - and indeed across the country.”

The answer, for Robinson, is for the government to subsidize CBC jobs. But only these jobs.

The privatized Canadian media landscape, in comparison, has lost hundreds of millions of dollars, and laid off thousands of journalists in the past decade. None of them have signed petitions to the government asking for a hand-out to bankroll another job.

“With about 1200 jobs gone from CBC in the past year alone, that’s a lot of domestic spending not happening, and truthfully, the effects are even bigger when measured on a personal scale.”

It is irresponsible that the government should simply give money to people, so they can have it to spend. But if they did, why would the CBC staffers enjoy special status, over the seven per cent of Canadians who are also currently unemployed?

Overall, Canada is currently facing a $1.2 trillion debt that is climbing – cutbacks are inevitable for a balanced budget.

But let’s suppose for the sake of the argument that CBC is a national treasure, and it’s a moral imperative to fund it.

Any time one makes a moral case for funding for a particular cause, it isn’t enough to simply extol the virtues of that cause.

One must balance other moral imperatives, and explain why CBC should be prioritized.

In the face of this reality, so many other valued institutions have been scaled back or suffer financial gaps:

So Robinson should be answering a bigger question: why, for example, is it important to forego funding a year’s worth of First Nations’ elementary school, in favour of...  underwriting another season of Schitt’s Creek?


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