The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Research Paper Example
Words: 4025Research Paper
The current operation, as well as the future, of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is a matter of more urgency to the nation than may at first be realized. The reality is that most other industrialized countries enjoy a wide variety of media infusions, typically generated by their own production facilities and creative sources. In the United States, for example, there is an array of product reflecting every medium, from the U.S. film industry to vastly popular satellite radio programming. European nations, despite reduced abilities to produce media content, have industries devoted to distribution of imported media. The situation in Canada, however, is markedly different, as it has been throughout the country’s history in this regard. In terms of magazines, books, film, radio, and television, Canada imports most of the product from the U.S., chiefly because it is less expensive to bring in content than produce it. In Canada, the vast majority of all cultural product as put forth by media is of an external nature (Dyck 119). Consequently, the CBC, in its radio and television enterprises, is the most crucial and significant agent in the creation of media reflecting a nationalist culture.
For long years, the CBC has existed in a kind of limbo between government support and its own potentials. In basic terms, a new and comprehensive Communications Act is necessary to give substance to the essential reasons for the CBC’s presence. As will be noted, past funding has been notoriously of a fluctuating nature, and this factor of inconsistency continually hampers CBC objectives, and prevents long-term project planning. The CBC is an integral and vital part of Canadian life, and even more important due to its singular status as the only true “voice” of Canada itself. For Canada to move forward in today’s world, and provide its citizens with the unique media presence every nation must evince to reaffirm its own identity, the Canadian government must seriously reexamine the existing support structure, devise a plan to encourage CBC progress, and legislate the Act proposed in the following pages.
Not unexpectedly, the birth of the CBC as a media presence began with radio. More importantly, and very much in keeping with today’s concerns, this origin reflected a perceived and substantial concern: American culture, already coming through the airwaves, was eclipsing the Canadian. The first, private radio licenses were issued in 1922, yet American radio programming was increasingly tuned into as the decade progressed. This influence led to the formation of a Royal Commission in 1928, to look into how Canada might counter this factor and generate its own, nationalist audiences. By 1929, the Aird Commission urged the formation of a national radio company, and the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) was born in 1932 (CBC Radio-Canada). That the external elements, particularly of U.S. influences, were already creating a conflict would mark much of the future struggles of the CBC.
The CRBC’s life was short; by 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Act dissolved it, and the CBC was in place. The content, while available nationally, was chiefly composed of local farm reports, soap operas, and coverage of British royal occasions, such as the visit of King George and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 (CBC Radio-Canada). What greatly boosted the CBC’s range and popularity was World War II, and the public demand for war news led to the installation of powerful transmitters in previously vacant regions. In the 1940s and through the 1950s, Canadian Radio enjoyed success. At the same time, however, privately owned media companies were sharing the stage with the CBC, and this duality only escalated; the CBC network, substantially funded by parliamentary grants, faced intense competition from stations supported solely through advertising. Meanwhile, all major stations still imported a great deal of American content, including the major independents in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal (Vipond 40-41).
Aside from the persistent presence of American media as detracting from Canadian content, another major factor seems to have haunted CBC progress in the 20th century, and it is one that goes back to the Aird Commission’s original recommendation in 1929, for a wholly government-supported Canadian media. Essentially, the dual components of government and advertising support have permitted successive Canadian governments to alter levels of funding based upon political implications and perceived priorities. For example, in the 1960s and in regard to the television medium, the CBC was not viewed by the government as adequately assisting in the promotion of federally sponsored Ottawa celebrations. The government was, in a word, unhappy with the CBC’s not placing enough emphasis on the projects for which it was paying. Then, a greater lack of “patriotism” in the CBC was perceived by the government with the organization’s producing of its television specials without consulting government interests first (Allen, Robinson 179). In the next few years, there would be intense governmental pressure on the CBC to fully cooperate in the production and broadcasting of a variety of national celebrations, all funded by the government.
Other pressures would arise. In the 1950s, in fact, the Conservative Party government began hearings which led, in 1961, to the creation of the Canadian Television Network, a privately owned competitor to the CBC (Tinic 65). Then, as the decades passed, there was vocal opposition from Western provinces, which saw the Montreal and Toronto capitals as dictating content. These territories strongly resented that federal funds, inherently generated from the entire nation, were being used to promote specifically Eastern, metropolitan concerns (Tinic 65).
These factors, combined with the persistent presence, and programming need for, American content, have continued to create enormous tensions within the operations and strategies of the CBC.
The most essential fact to be considered regarding the history, as well as the future, of the CBC is its foundation as a public service medium. Originally, the CBC was initiated in 1936 on the model of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and the governmental support was especially vital for Canada. The reality was that private broadcasting could not generate the funding necessary for national transmission in so vast and sparsely populated a nation (Hoffman-Riem 192). This reality, however, has been perpetually addressed in a self-defeating and minimalist fashion. Once the benefit of licensing fees was abolished in 1953, the CBC has had to rely on parliamentary appropriations, and augment these through advertising revenues, which average thirty percent. Most obstructive of all is the fact that no Canadian government has ever agreed to establishing a five-year budget plan for the CBC; instead, budgets are constructed on an annual basis, which completely prevents the CBC from engaging in any long-term production planning (Tinic 66). This ongoing situation, in place virtually since the conception of the CBC, is severely limiting to Canada’s standing in an increasingly media-driven world. The persistent unwillingness of the government, under any party sway, to determine and follow a budgeting plan that would accommodate the needs of the CBC in performing its task as the national broadcasting organization is unfathomable. As will be seen, current funding remains doled out in a manner inefficient and obstructive for the CBC, and this in turn weakens the presence of the government providing it.
Acts, and Existing State of the CBC
In modern times, the CBC lacks sufficient political and public support to generate federal funding at the levels necessary to make it a competitive media presence. The reality, in fact, is that government funding for national media in most European nations is substantially greater than that provided for the CBC (Vipond 138). This has, of course, been known to Canadians for some time. It is more that, as technological advances are vastly empowering other nations in regard to media, Canada and the CBC is left further behind, and largely due to the lack of commitment on the part of the government.
This failure, bringing with it an inevitable rise in tensions between the CBC and the Parliament, may in fact best be observed in the government initiative set forth to address it: the Telecommunications Act of 1993. It is, in many ways, an extraordinary document. Primarily, it establishes beyond question that the Canadian government insists upon all telecommunication services, which may translate to all media, as being representative of, and beholden to, governmental authority. The Canadian media, the Act declares, is acknowledged as a principle instrument in the maintenance of Canadian identity and sovereignty. The policies it suggests are uniformly geared to promoting media growth and encouraging competition. Above all, the Act insists on the absolute need for national ownership of these media entities. A nod is made to the Internet, only just emerging as a potent force in 1993, as a media presence best left to market determinants (Media Awareness). In other words, the Act was unprepared to even venture into so new and unforeseeable a terrain.
What the Act conspicuously lacks is any mention of the government subsidy necessary to create this national media entity. It is, of course, unreasonable to expect that a legislative act should incorporate in its statements actual budgets, or even estimates of specific financial plans; these things must inevitably vary by existing economic considerations. Nonetheless, there is no outline of any kind in the Act that points to even the process by which a budget may be devised. On one level, and emphatically, the Act asserts an essential need for a national media as embodied in the CBC. On another, it employs no language whatsoever regarding how this media is to be supported. Further obfuscation, or a continuation of similar ideologies and weaknesses, may be seen in the Canadian Broadcasting Act, amended in 1991. Standards are set forth, particularly stressing the need for cross-cultural representation in all Canadian media product. There is as well the reiteration of the Canadian broadcasting as being a completely nationally owned entity. This Act does, however, contain a financial section, which makes clear that the “Corporation” (CBC) is obligated to abide by the Minister of Finance’s policies, and cooperate in negotiating determinations on what constitutes limits of artistic freedom, journalistic integrity, etc. Most importantly, and as noted earlier, the 1991 amendment expresses the yearly funding parameters: “The Corporation shall annually submit a corporate plan to the Minister” (Dept. of Justice). In the following, this policy will be examined as deemed necessary by the government, yet wholly at odds with that government’s own agenda.
Point and Counterpoint
It is not difficult, when due consideration is given, to comprehend the Canadian government’s strategies in regard to the CBC. First and foremost, it must be remembered that the two entities largely share a common goal, that of promoting a vital, nationalist identity. In 1975, when A. W. Johnson took on the role of CBC president, he adamantly stressed this urgent need, and in complete accord with governmental feelings. There was, and remains, a strong resentment toward the immense influences of American media, even as the Canadian public turned to it. Johnson believed that only a third of television viewing time of Canadians was spent in watching
Canadian programming; it was American media that was commanding the greater share of the viewing market. In full accord with the government, Johnson believed that the only solution was to produce more, and better, Canadian content (Raboy 247). That this CBC president so echoed the governmental views greatly goes to a better understanding of the Canadian governmental involvement.
Moreover, in defense of Canadian governmental policies and controls of the CBC, it had a responsibility of which the CBC was, and is, free: the immense obligation of justifying expenditures in media. This reflects the complex, and often conflicting, character of the key participants in the CBC/Canada arena. The parliament is an elected body, representative of the public, and it is this public that both the CBC and government serve. Arguably, then, the government may assert that it is speaking for the people when it restricts funding for the CBC, or doles it out in carefully measured amounts. What this has translated to, unfortunately, is an increased defensiveness on the part of the CBC (Raboy 396). Both major organizations, in ostensibly seeking to serve the same interest, are in inevitable conflict simply because the one – the government – decides on the funding.
It may be reasonably said that the Canadian government is completely within its rights, in restricting financial support to the CBC as it deems best. As noted, it is beholden to the tax-paying, voting public, and even a public keenly desirous of media is likely to object when tax dollars are not carefully watched in regard to funding it. The CBC has no such weight on its shoulders. Then, there is the inescapable issue of creative control, which may lie closer to the heart of the conflict than it seems. It is one thing for the CBC to aver that it shares the governmental objective of promoting Canadian interests and art, and in fostering a stronger national identity; it is quite another for a government, burdened by pressing needs elsewhere, to write checks and trust in a certain type of content emerging from this media.
Nor can it be reasonably claimed that the Canadian government has a lax attitude regarding the CBC, or within its sense of obligation to it. At various points over the years, there has been direct requesting of information from the media organization, as in the 2008 inquiry from the Minister of Canadian Heritage. In this instance, the Minister made an appeal on behalf of the government for the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to make recommendations for the Canadian Television Fund (CTF). There was also a voiced commitment to participate in working together, to create and sustain media excellence (Armstrong 237). While the ongoing situation may indicate minimal governmental support, and consequently interest in, the CBC’s activities and goals, the reality is that the government has also consistently sought to solve the dilemmas facing Canada’s media.
With regard to the CBC’s stance, and as will be further expressed in a proposed act, the organization has endured ceaseless conflict and frustration due to an ultimate lack of real commitment on the part of the government. This goes, inevitably, to the crux of the matter, which is the governmental insistence upon annual funding decisions, rather than any long-term model. In virtually every type of media, a multitude of variables exists to endanger, thwart, or drastically shift agendas. Opportunities for radio broadcasts or television programming are subject to many potential obstacles, from union difficulties to quickly changing circumstances which render the planned content inappropriate and/or pointless. As American media networks and cable companies would attest to, planning a programming strategy is invariably a tenuous process at best. Then, even after production is complete on a media presentation, there is the powerful factor of audience reaction, which may well go to aborting a project originally foreseen as long-term. Media is intrinsically a perpetually shifting arena, wherein costs, resources, ambitions, and reactions continually play off one another. In such an arena, the last thing a media presence needs is a further limitation, as in having no knowledge of what support will be forthcoming in the following year from a primary source, as the government is.
On a more creative level, the conflict as perceived by the CBC is even more unreasonable, in that it may be stated that the government seeks to promote contradictory agendas. As noted, Canada has long espoused the need for its media to reflect and encourage nationalist identity and pride. The CBC has consistently supported this ambition. However, the unfortunate reality is that a governmental perception of what best reflects Canadian identity may be at variance with one emerging from the private sector, and/or creatively originated. It is not outrageous to view a governmental agenda in this subject as likely being inherently more conservative in nature. The Canadian Parliament, after all, is obligated to represent the majority of the citizens, and all such governmental formations, and within most nations, invariably adopt a non-controversial approach to national identity. Values shared by the masses are typically what is desired. Regrettably, media has another job to do: it must capture interest and generate excitement in audiences, and this is not usually achieved by the means of traditional expression. Whether the Canadian government actually pursues a propaganda-driven goal, albeit of a democratically-inspired nature, the reality is that the CBC risks substantial credibility in complete compliance. For a media organization of this scope to be of value, it must be endowed with creative freedom in its productions, and creative freedom, or the autonomy to make all creative decisions, is not ordinarily gladly given by any government providing the funding.
Given the gulf dividing the CBC and the Canadian government, it is necessary that a new Communications Act be written and agreed upon. This matter is all the more urgently required by the fact of this division of interests having been in place since the beginnings of the CBC. Efforts to compromise have failed, and decades of wavering have produced no effective solutions. The following Act, while necessarily devoid of actual dollar amounts, may serve as a template which addresses the needs of the government, the CBC, and the Canadian people.
To begin, it is essential that administrators from the CBC meet with the Ministry responsible for funding, and agree upon a system beyond that of the annual budget determinations. It must be understood by the government that, given the parameters of production strategy, some forecasting is necessary, and annual allotments eliminate vast potentials for reaching Canadian audiences with Canadian content. A five-year outline of a budget should be implemented, as that range both takes into account media market variables and the need to strategize long-term media projects. This budget should be based on a realistic appraisal of how past budgets have worked, in regard to limitations and advantages, and the scale of it should be commensurate with current economic considerations. To that end, the onus is on the CBC to present valid and extensive research and documentation on existing costs, as well as foreseeable economic influences. Most importantly, the CBC must be resolute in its conviction that the annual budget system has failed for all concerned parties.
In reference to this chief component of the Act, it must be understood that, in gaining a five-year budget outline, the CBC is not given free rein for that period of time. Clearly, and fairly, the government has the right to expect that its interests be considered in programming, just as any advertiser typically funds programming in keeping with the audience is seeks to reach. In order, then, to accommodate all interests, reduce the influence of the funding, and assure equitable consideration all around, an advisory committee must be in place, to act as a liaison between the CBC and the government. This committee will serve as an arbitration device, impartially determining that no organization’s interests overstep that of the other. It is urged that this committee be composed equally of government and CBC representatives, as well as a removed presence from the private sector. This combination, essentially of three entities, is best likely to promote fairness. Moreover, should disputes arise from a governmental objection to content, the committee’s conclusions must be viewed as final.
The Act is to be written with another proviso. Over the years, the CBC has both enjoyed and suffered under various governmental party policies, as Conservative and Liberal factions have alternately dominated. It is crucial that these states of government ideology not interfere with the agreement between the CBC and the government. That is to say, the language of the Act in this regard must reflect a willingness on the Canadian government’s part to acknowledge varied agendas as evinced by party position, and a commitment to maintain an unalterable, nationalist presence as put forth by the media. The lack of this provision must translate to a system wherein overt propagandizing, deliberately in place or otherwise, is likely. Consequently, the CBC must be permitted to exercise a degree of authority in regard to reflecting the interests of the government apart from party politics. As the Act is to be fully enacted as legislation, so too must this component be within it.
It is also understood that this Act be implemented under the auspices of, and in accord with, the CRTC. This commission, in fact, should be extended to act as the liaison referred to earlier, for it already has standing as being empowered by Parliament to act in such a manner (CRTC). It is urged that this commission be streamlined, to better fulfill this role, and that its powers be better defined to represent the interests of both the CBC and the government. Thus far, the CRTC has acted as more of a governmental watchdog; with the new Act in place, it can assume the more correct function as intermediary, and arbiter.
Lastly, the Act will read to allow the CBC to seek revenue from other sources, as it deems necessary and has thus far proceeded. Unlike the BBC, the CBC does sell advertising time on its public broadcasting, to generate support (Armstrong 113). Advertising, donations, and other other source of programming funding may be accepted by the CBC, except when the source is clearly of a questionable nature, such as that of a racist or militant organization’s. The government understands that the CBC is aware of its ethical and legal responsibilities, and will not challenge its decisions in regard to other forms of support.
If any, single aspect has marked the presence of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, it has been that of a frustrated dependence on government support, which has inevitably translated to restrictions and conflicts of interest. Most importantly, this has been actually enhanced by a continual governmental policy of funding the CBC on a strictly annual basis, which greatly goes to hampering production strategies. Both parties have consistently expressed a shared ambition: that of promoting Canadian nationalism, solidarity, and cultural interests, which equates to diminishing potent foreign influences, such as that of the U.S. It is beyond time that these ambitions be allowed to be fully realized.
The new Act proposed will greatly facilitate this. A five-year budget will permit the CBC to plan productions on a scale it has not yet been able to, a factor which will also go to better control of costs. Then, the commission within the CTRC that acts as a liaison will ensure that no single interest is permitted to unfairly dictate to the other. Finally, with the government’s absolute consent written into it, the Act will prohibit distinct party influences from unduly influencing CBC activities and productions. Fully legislated, the Act will set in motion the objectives of all concerned, which have long been hampered by its absence: a united and mutually desired promotion of Canadian culture and interests, with freedoms on the part of the CBC to produce media as it sees fit, and governmental interests being served in that very process. Ultimately, the Canadian government must accept that the only means to enhancing Canadian identity is through a greater freedom of expression, and the Act allows this while still keeping in place governmental input. For Canada to move forward in today’s world, and offer its citizens the unique media presence every nation must offer to reaffirm its own identity, the Canadian government must seriously reexamine the existing support structure, devise a plan to encourage CBC progress, and affirm the proposed Act.
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