January 30, 2017
In November, CBC proposed to withdraw from advertising in exchange for increased government funding. This is a significant move for the corporation because the broadcast-television advertising market, once lucrative, is fragmenting as advertisers shift to digital platforms on televisions, computers and smartphones. Both private broadcasters and the CBC are facing a huge challenge, but CBC’s special status as a taxpayer-subsidized Crown corporation substantially shields it from market turbulences. Private broadcasters don’t have the luxury of public funds to replace declining revenue.
Both the CBC and private broadcasters are responding to this challenge by expanding their current affairs presence on new digital platforms, which adds to the competitive pressure on the financially hard-pressed newspapers, now investing heavily in digital editions and new business models in a frantic struggle to reverse advertising declines.
The traditional argument for taxpayers subsidizing public broadcasters is the challenge of creating television content in a relatively small Canadian market. But an important question remains: is the digital market where we fund public broadcasters? Do we want CBC competing for digital advertising dollars with the Winnipeg Free Press and other papers across the country? Is the CBC’s expansion into this sector a threat to Canadian newspapers adapting and surviving in the digital era?
While the CBC claims “Canada Lives Here,” many Canadians do not feel that the public broadcaster represents their views and values. A left/liberal point of view is reflected in virtually all its news, comedy and dramatic programs. CBC news stories are all too often: “here is issue x, what is the government going to do about it?”
Increasingly, CBC is almost obsessively focusing on identity/grievance politics, especially LGBT, gender and race issues. There is also its fixation with catastrophic man-made climate change and expensive, radical green solutions. Those obsessions helped U.S. President Donald Trump win key swings states such as West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where former president Barack Obama’s anti-energy policies were progressively destroying blue-collar jobs in coal mining, pipeline construction and other heartland industries.
Why does the CBC back these anti-working-class ideas from the green echo chambers of downtown Toronto and Vancouver? Simple. The public broadcaster is not well-positioned to address local heartland issues across the country. Most CBC cuts over the past 20 years have occurred at the local and regional level, preserving the main headquarters in downtown Toronto.
But even those who like CBC’s politically correct current affairs programs must be challenged to come up with a rationale for using public funds for a competitor to private local news outlets. These services are already provided by Canadian newspapers and private television stations, at a decided disadvantage, with strong roots in their communities.
Many Canadians are fans of the closest American version of our CBC — PBS — which is more narrowly focused on programs not provided by private media outlets. PBS relies on a mix of public funding and private donors, including charitable foundations, companies and individual subscribers.
There are various models for funding the CBC that don’t rely on government. Research foundations, non-governmental organizations, charitable endowments, educational departments, universities and colleges, corporations and individuals could provide needed funds to produce programming as PBS does.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPC) in the U.S. is the subsidizing vehicle for PBS. In 2015, it received US$445 million from Washington and spent roughly that amount to assist PBS financially and less than US$30.5 million to help National Public Radio (NPR).
Here, the CBC receives $1 billion to serve a population that is one-ninth the size of the U.S. The CBC spends a good amount on entertainment and news replicated elsewhere or that could be quite easily provided by private stations and newspapers. Maxime Bernier, a federal Conservative leadership contender, has advocated for something resembling CPC to fund the CBC in Canada, with the bulk of other supporting revenue to come from non-government and individual sponsors and contributors.
Trump, who is presently a source of exploding chattering class apoplexy, is now seeking to end government funding to PBS and NPR. This may be a sign of what lies ahead for the CBC if it continues to seek more government money to pursue other avenues to keep itself alive, hurting viable independent businesses, such as newspapers, television networks and Internet services in the process.
Originally posted in the Winnipeg Free Press.