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I want my, I want my, I want my CBC

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

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For a columnist who writes on Sunday night for publication on the following Thursday and Saturday, there’s always the possibility that what I’ve written will be overtaken by events before readers get a chance to see it. This week, however, something happened that was completely unprecedented: events overtook what I was writing while I was writing it.

Notwithstanding the fact that I needed to rework significant parts of what I’d already written, I couldn’t be happier to learn about the apparent end of the CBC lockout. Starting on August 15 and continuing for seven long weeks, the CBC lockout affected over 5,500 employees (journalists, technicians and other staff working across Canada, except for those in Moncton and Quebec, who are represented by a different union) and millions of CBC viewers and listeners.

To my mind, the issues in the latest lockout revolved around employees trying to preserve what is good about the CBC and management wanting to reshape the corporation into a private sector modeled media empire. Fewer and fewer permanent positions and little job security – as proposed by management – would have made it increasing difficult for the CBC to attract and keep the best journalists and to air the best programming. It’s appalling that CBC management has locked employees out on nearly every available opportunity in the past five years. Even in the private sector, that would be an atrocious labour management record, but the CBC is supposed to serve the public interest rather than the bottom line. It can and it should do better.

I’m in love with the CBC. There’s really no other way to describe it. That means that I’m willing to put up with its growing number of flaws (television “series” that last for six episodes, an increase in repeat radio broadcasts, diminishing local coverage, etc.) just so I can be around it. It means I’m regularly thinking about how much I miss it when it’s not around (or only around in an unrecognizable, unsupportable format). It means that, even during the lockout, I would still sometimes forget and instinctively hit the CBC preset button on my car radio.

To Senator Marjory LeBreton – former patronage czar for Brian Mulroney and still one of his staunchest defenders – all of this gushy sentimentality over the temporary loss of our public broadcaster is proof that the CBC is biased in favour of the Liberals and the NDP. Citing numbers from a Decima poll that showed that NDP and Liberal supporters missed the CBC more than Conservative supporters, LeBreton wrote in a letter published in The Hill Times that this was because “the lockout has deprived them of their biggest cheerleaders on the national scene.”

Of course, this is such an absurd understanding of causal relationships, that I truly hope that Stephen Harper decides to rely primarily on LeBreton to analyze polling data (then again, given some of the disastrous political decisions that he’s made over the past two years, maybe he already is). It’s just as likely (even more likely) that CBC viewers and listeners just happen to be smarter and better informed than the rest of the population. Therefore, it only makes sense that they’d be less likely to support the Conservative Party of Canada. Yes, I know that’s a self-serving argument and one that’s not necessarily supported by the polling data, but it does serve to illustrate how ridiculous LeBreton’s conclusions are. Mind you, given that Mulroney thinks that he had worse press than Hitler, perhaps she learned her media analysis skills from him.

If LeBreton had her way, there likely wouldn’t be a CBC. Since her old boss didn’t quite finish the job of killing public broadcasting in Canada, she says she would have settled for a lockout that went indefinitely. “As far as I am concerned, I hope it takes months to settle the CBC lockout. The thought of going through a national election campaign inconveniencing those Liberal and NDP supporters who rely on the CBC is truly something to look forward to.”

Personally, if I “relied on” the CBC to do cheerleading for the NDP, I’d find myself to be very disappointed. What I expect and get from the CBC is information, insight and a chance to connect with the stories of Canadians from all parts of the country and from all walks of life (all that, and a ready supply of candidates for Governor-General). There’s something undeniably Canadian about watching Mark Kelly interview a cattle rancher in Southern Alberta during the last federal election campaign; or listening to Tetsuro Shigematsu reading a letter from someone recounting everything that went wrong during their first job interview; or wondering what Barbara Budd is going to say at the beginning of As It Happens (e.g. “Radio that knows its way around the solar system.”).

And, where else but Canada would there be a petition campaign supporting the contract demands of a sports show host whose primary job it is to prevent Don Cherry from spontaneously combusting while on the air? Indeed, after the tentative deal was announced, The Toronto Star reported that “the upcoming NHL season – set to start on Wednesday – may have been an impetus behind the agreement, a season eagerly awaited after the league locked out its players last year.” I don’t really care why the dispute is settled; I just care that it is.

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