April 15, 2023
Pierre Poilievre just can’t quit the CBC.
This week he chased after the Elon Musk parade that began when Twitter gratuitously relabeled the US National Public Radio’s account as ‘state-affiliated media,’ later scaled down to ‘government funded media.’ It ended with Musk tweeting ‘defund NPR.’
Our Leader of the Official Opposition asked Musk to slap the same ‘government funded’ warning on the currently unlabelled CBC because, in his words, “government funded media is defined as outlets where the government provides some or all of the outlet’s funding and may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content.”
As every school-kid knows, our federal government has no involvement over CBC editorial content, varying or otherwise, other than to appoint the CBC President (not the Editors-in-Chief though) every five years.
Never mind, that’s not the point. The point is that there’s a mission to be accomplished, as the National Post’s Tristin Hopper reviewed blow-by-blow this week.
Putting aside political theatre, there can be no doubt that Poilievre is deadly serious about ‘defunding’ the CBC and is not merely recycling years of Conservative threats.
The Liberal government is partly to blame, but maybe not in the way you think.
Audience and popular support for the CBC-TV in English Canada has been flagging over the years, to put in politely (radio services and French-language Radio-Canada TV are doing just fine).
The Liberals responded with a $150 million boost to the Corporation’s Parliamentary grant in their 2016 budget, growing the funding to $1.2 billion per year. They made an unfulfilled promise in the 2021 election to boost funding again and wean the Corporation off its $400 million in advertising revenue.
But other than money, the Liberals have kept a barge-pole length away from the CBC’s governance, audience strategy and its eternal identity crisis as a public broadcaster.
That’s despite another election promise, restated in the Heritage Minister’s Mandate Letter, to “update CBC/Radio-Canada’s mandate to ensure that it is meeting the needs and expectation of today’s Canadian audiences, with a unique programming that distinguishes it from private broadcasters.”
Richard Stursberg says we’re overdue to think hard about the CBC and then act upon it. A former head of English-language CBC TV, Stursberg was a bottom-line advocate of eyeballs over palettes. He has some opinions worth reading in two recent posts.
There is also a well put together news piece from Canadian Press discussing the legal barriers in the Broadcasting Act (even without C-11 amendments) facing a government wishing to selectively defund English language services.
Fox News proprietor Rupert Murdoch had a bad week. His dump-you-by-email jilting of his fiancé went viral. [Correction: the e-mail jilting story refers to Murdoch’s split with his fourth wife last year. He broke off his engagement this week to his new fiancé.]
Then the judge overseeing the libel suit against Fox for trumpeting false claims of election fraud sanctioned his lawyers for withholding evidence of inculpatory tape recordings.
Finally a shareholder filed suit against him for exposing the publicly traded company to liability in the libel proceedings.
And how was your week?
Rumour has it that the Senate will vote on the revised Online Streaming Act C-11 next week.
If the Bill is approved, the National Post has explained the ensuing sequence of events beginning with Royal Assent and followed by the Heritage Minister’s Policy Directive to the CRTC instructing the Commission to hold hearings and make rulings on a list of detailed regulatory issues.
Members of the public can request to participate in CRTC hearings although the Commission is typically choosy about accepting citizen-at-large requests. Instead, the Commission has a history of funding the appearances of public interest groups that offer expertise on broadcasting matters as advocates for the Canadian audience.
In the past that’s included the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications (FRPC) who can be counted on to file detailed briefs, grill powerful industry players and take on the Commission itself.
The expenses for those public interest group appearances have been dispensed by the non-profit, non-governmental Broadcasting Participation Fund (BPF). The BPF was created in 2012 and its financing enabled from the Commission ordering Canadian media companies to make one-off contributions to the BPF as one of its conditions of approving corporate mergers in the industry.
But BPF administrators announced this week that cash is running out. That scenario was predicted at least three years ago by the government’s blue-ribbon panel of advisors on the creation of Bill C-11. With no prospect of replenishment, the BPF is facing the possibility of running out of money before regulatory hearings are complete on Bill C-11, the Online News Act Bill C-18, or the Liberals’ anticipated Online Harms Bill.
That same blue-ribbon committee —the authors of the 2020 ‘Yale’ Report—-recommended that Bill C-11 direct the CRTC to set up a permanent and sustainably funded public participation fund. Section 11.1(1)(c) of Bill C-11 does just that. [Note: an earlier version of this post inaccurately stated that Bill C-11 rejected that recommendation. MediaPolicy.ca has published a correction, here.]
But here’s another issue: the BPF forked out $500,000 in grants over several years to Laith Marouf’s CMAC consultancy company. As Mark Goldberg has pointed out in his Telecom Trends blog, anyone conversant with Google Search could have discovered Marouf’s racist and anti-semitic tweets as part of a standard screening process. Neither BPF nor the federal government did so.
There is a delightful set-up piece in the Globe and Mail for the Canadian Screen Awards that airs Sunday night April 16th at 8 p.m. on CBC TV and CBC Gem.
The ‘25 Most Influential People in Canadian television’ has short bios on producers, actors and directors making Canadian content happen in a Bill C-11 world.
The list includes the Canadian leads from the Hollywood streamers’ newly established true north headquarters, reminding us of both the potential and pitfalls of Bill C-11 conferring responsibilities for CanCon movies on Amazon, Netflix and the rest of the Californian crowd.
The award show is not live: it’s a curated entertainment package of clips and presentations. The winners were announced this week, so spoiler alert if you click on that story.
Here’s the recommended read of the weekend, although it’s not just a media issue: a New York Times story about the blow-up at the Stanford University Law School over campus speech.
It’s a familiar sounding story. A conservative jurist with controversial views is given a speaking platform. He is shut down by student heckling. The law school’s associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion tries to mediate and ends up getting suspended for her efforts. Et cetera.
It reminds me of my second year at the University of Toronto law school in 1985 when a conservative student group with invitation privileges gave a platform to the ambassador of the white supremacist state of South Africa. The University administration let the speaking engagement go ahead. It left everyone pretty raw and probably not better informed.
South African apartheid still met its ignominious end in 1991, no thanks to that student group.
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