It was a tough week for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Another round of layoffs and the release of a brutally honest report into how poorly senior management handled the Jian
Many emotional pleas were made this week to save CBC and it does need to be saved. To do that, however, the existing model for the public broadcaster needs to go. CBC needs to die so that it can live in the 21st century.
I love CBC. I grew up in a small, remote community in the Northwest Territories. As a child, the only voice on the radio was CBC and the only picture on the TV was CBC. I grew up on a steady diet of The World At Six, As It Happens, Cross-Country Checkup, The National, Marketplace, The Nature of Things, Front Page Challenge and Hockey Night In Canada.
Yet that is not the experience for residents of Canada's far north any longer. The Internet, satellite radio and television has connected Hay River and every other Canadian town both south and north of 60 to the world. CBC, however, continues to operate as if it's still 1975 and it is the only voice in the wilderness, instead of one of many.
The job losses at the national broadcaster sadden me only because I'm deeply aware of the personal costs. In my journalism career, I have been laid off twice and, as a manager, I've also had the horrible task of telling good employees that revenues no longer justify their continued employment. The cuts happening at CBC are simply a reflection of what has been happening at all Canadian media outlets for decades, thanks to the fragmentation of audiences brought on by technology.
Yet technology is a blessing, not a curse, particularly for media consumers. It has allowed audiences access to the world of news and entertainment in an instant, regardless of their geographical location.
That access to diverse voices and views has been delivered by the private sector, making CBC irrelevant in the 21st century. Furthermore, its very existence actually poses a threat to journalists and members of the media working in the private sector. As a government agency, CBC is competing with private sector media outlets for audience and those audiences have value or CBC would not be able to sell advertising on television or on Radio 2. Every audience member and advertising dollar CBC takes hurts the viability of local media outlets across the country (and the good-paying jobs those outlets provide), starting locally with the Prince George Citizen and the four local private radio stations and one local TV station.
I get why people hold deep and powerful sentiment towards CBC but put it this way: if the federal government decided to set up a department that mirrors the work you're already doing in your industry, putting your job and your employer at risk as a result and then called it "in the national interest," how would you feel?
That's the reality journalists and other media professionals, not to mention their corporate owners, working in the media sector across Canada live with every day.
There are already existing examples of what the CBC should be. Prince George has not one but two community radio stations - CFUR at UNBC and CFIS, a local station broadcasting out of Studio 2880.
Both provide alternative programming not available on commercial stations, using government grants, private donations and a steady stream of passionate volunteers to reach listeners. The Citizen partners with CFIS, providing news content and on-air volunteers for its talk show programming.
There is no reason why CBC could not operate in the exact way, under the auspices of a not-for-profit foundation to garner in-kind and financial support from private citizens and the business sector, along with grants from various levels of government.
This model has been highly successful in the United States with PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) and NPR (National Public Radio). Both broadcasters deliver diverse and informative programming, including some outstanding journalism, thanks to the active engagement of many Americans.
The same model is already at work in the arts sector, where paid professionals work side-by-side with volunteers. Theatre North West and the Prince George Symphony Orchestra are two good local examples.
The CBC served Canada and Canadians well for many years and it helped connect this nation from coast to coast to coast.
Time to retire.