We need the CBC—badly. But they certainly didn't do themselves any favours playing Princess Warrior in Rob Ford's driveway.
For an organization that’s supposed to be filled with experts on communication, the CBC really blew it with the This Hour Has 22 Minutes debacle.
I’m not joining the line of CBC-bashers. The corporation provides a vital function to Canada, especially with its journalism. CBC-haters will never admit it, but none of the private broadcasters will ever set up news bureaus throughout the world or build a network of reporters across the country that could replace the CBC’s presence.
In the next decade or two, the world media landscape is going to go through another revolution. The borders are coming down. Your computer will be your TV, your telephone, your radio, your movie channels, just as it already is your newspaper and music store. Your internet hookup will be the only communications line coming into your house. Licenses for TV and radio stations will be pretty much irrelevant. Same with satellite radio. Cars are now coming with wi-fi, giving listeners the option of choosing almost any station from anywhere.
Canadian content rules will be irrelevant. Content will be judged by its quality, not inflicted on people who have no other choices. And the world’s countries are getting ready for this borderless world. They want media that carry their message and see the world through their eyes.
China has launched an expensive, though still rather rough, worldwide satellite news service in a number of languages, including English. Al Jazeera solidified its reputation with its coverage of the Arab Spring and the troubles in Europe. The BBC, still publicly funded, remains the most prestigious electronic news service in the world.
Private American networks are being torn apart and remade. Creativity is gone from the three old networks and, in the near-term, expect to see at least one, and maybe two, die. ABC will survive as a mouthpiece for the huge Disney empire, which still generates a sea of often dismal content. Creativity has shifted to HBO, Comedy Central, Cinemax, and Showtime, companies that realize people will pay for high-end content. CNN and the American news-financial networks, including Fox, have a growing worldwide grip on fast-breaking news, though their analysis is still miles behind their counterparts elsewhere in the world.
So we need the CBC. Canada’s private networks will not spend money on anything but the cheapest, most unimaginative and tedious news and entertainment programming, even if they do get to pick the CBC’s bones for its advertising portfolio. The CBC is the only organization that has any hope of creating innovative content that people, with all these choices, might want to watch. Clapped-out comedy shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes come nowhere close to meeting that threshold.
If the CBC is gutted by the Tories, we’ll lose a window on the world, and the world will lose a window on us. For a country with pretensions as a G8 power and a need to show the world that we’re not simply a disenfranchised American backwater, the CBC is crucial.
Which brings us to the Delahunty mess. Enemies of the CBC could not have scripted it better. Here was a comedian chasing Rob Ford around his property, accusing him of having a closed mind and telling him to take the cotton balls out of his ears and stick them in his mouth. Then the CBC reinforced failure with an anonymous allegation that Ford swore vehemently at 911 dispatchers when they didn’t send the cops fast enough. The CBC didn’t have a tape, and both Ford and police chief Bill Blair carefully denied the more scandalous parts of the CBC’s claim.
Maybe the Warrior Princess schtick was a funny moment for people in Toronto who hate Rob Ford. But it seems the CBC’s downtown hive-masters don’t realize most Canadians don’t know Ford at all and don’t despise him. Those of us who live outside Toronto saw a woman in a silly costume chasing a man around his lawn, heaping scorn on him and stopping him from getting in his car. Not exactly Jon Stewart–level comedy.
So when the score is tallied, we have some downtown Toronto people enjoying seeing their mayor on the run in his own front yard. But for CBC haters, moments like these help generate a most convenient fog, one that hides everything of value that the CBC does. And they—the haters—are winning with most Canadians.
Rob Ford handled the situation perfectly, at least as far as Quebecor’s stable of CBC-slaggers, and those in the Tory caucus who want to kill the CBC, are concerned. Decisions on the CBC’s future will be made in Ottawa, not in downtown Toronto, and in Ottawa the world is upside-down. Smart people are eggheads, government services are waste, and Rob Ford is a victim.
Mark Bourrie writes from Ottawa. He’ll be covering the intersection of federal politics and urban affairs; this is his first post for Torontoist.