Conservative leadership hopefuls take aim at CBC

The public broadcaster is currently facing growing dissent over advertising competition, with leadership candidate Kellie Leitch proposing scrapping the corporation all together.
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The funding future — or the entire future — of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation may be the subject of much debate next election season.

Conservative Party leadership candidates Maxime Bernier or Kellie Leitch have both made the status of the CBC pillars of their respective platforms. Bernier has proposed removing advertising from the CBC and having it operate on a PBS/NPR model with charitable contributions from individuals, while Leitch proposed dismantling the CBC all together.

Leitch laid out her goal to dismantle the CBC with the exception of the part that provides emergency services to remote and rural parts of Canada. “Taxpayers should not have to subsidize the CBC to keep it afloat,” she wrote. “Just like in the private sector, if a company isn’t competitive and isn’t profitable, it shouldn’t be in business.”

Bernier’s approach was not to strike down the CBC as a whole but to no longer enable the corporation to run advertising in order to level the competitive playing field against privately owned newspapers and broadcasters.

In a Nov. 23 speech outlining his position, Bernier acknowledged that the CBC’s original mandate made it relevant at the time it was established. “It worked very well for several decades and had a profound influence on how we see ourselves and the world,” he wrote in his speech, posted online.

He argued that the CBC produces low-quality programming that is unnecessary, such as game shows, cooking shows and “bad Canadian copies of popular American shows,” and said that low quality is reflected in poor ratings.

“It tries to occupy every niche, even though it doesn’t have and will never have the means to do so,” he said.

He proposed that the CBC scale back operations on “three quarters of what it does” and focus on quality documentaries, programs about science, history and religion. He also said that under his leadership, the CBC would be removed from the advertising market and rely instead on outside donations, and that the Conservative government would rescind the additional $150 million of government funding pledged to the CBC and reduce the amount back to $1 billion, as it had been under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration.

And politicians aren’t the only ones weighing in.

The corporation has been the subject of growing dissent for, among other things, its mandate, which Globe and Mail publisher and CEO Phillip Crawley called “pretty loose” in a recent interview with MiCciting the CBC’s new “Opinion” section online as an example of the CBC competing with traditional newspapers.

Crawley and others have questioned whether or not the CBC’s growing digital presence is taking away from its competitors at a standing committee on Canadian Heritage hearing on Nov. 15.

Criticism against advertising on the CBC has also come from former producers and execs with the broadcaster itself. A group of former CBC employees calling themselves Public Broadcasting in Canada for the 21st Century submitted a series of recommendations to the Canadian Heritage Committee on Nov. 23 calling for the corporation’s operations to be “completely non-commercial.”

“In recent decades, CBC/Radio-Canada has adopted the operating models, the business practices and the broadcast styles of commercial media in an effort to “level the playing field” between the public and private sector broadcasters… this decision manufactured a false competition between what should be Canada’s discrete public and private broadcast sectors, to the detriment – and confusion – of both, and to all Canadians.”

CBC did not respond to requests for comment at press time. The CBC’s most recent response to the growing dissent took place Nov. 21, with a public statement crafted by CBC CEO Hubert Lacroix online.

In the statement, Lacroix pointed out that of the CBC’s $600 million self-generated revenue in 2015, $253.2 million came from advertising revenue, with just $25 million of that ad revenue coming from digital advertising.

“To put that in context, total digital advertising in Canada generates over $4.6 billion a year, three quarters of which goes to Google, Facebook and Yellow Pages,” he wrote. “It is difficult to believe, as some media have suggested, that if only CBC/Radio-Canada was prevented from earning $25M, their problems would be solved.”