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and I can't do a thing about it

CBC: Failure at the top

It is all too clear that no matter what you think of the cuts to the CBC in last week’s budget, the people who run the Corpse have been missing in action in the process. Sure they will tell you how hard they have been working behind closed doors in offices and boardrooms across the country for the past while to figure out how to cut $200 million from their budgets over the next three years. The problem is that the real work they should have been doing was never done.

It seems, and this is according to CBC President Hubert Lacroix, that the government came to them a few weeks ago and asked them how they would cut 5% or 10% of their budget. I want to first say that this should be none of the government’s business. Yes, they can cut the CBC’s stipend any way and any amount they want to, but there is supposed to be an arms-length relationship between the national broadcaster and the government. The purpose of this is to make certain that there’s no political interference in the running of the CBC. By asking the Corpse how they would make the cuts the Finance Ministry and the Heritage Ministry crossed a line that should never be crossed for the protection of all Canadians.

Just as important though, the President of the CBC should not have provided the government with the answers they asked for. This was the time for Hubert Lacroix to take a stand, in fact many stands, against a government that recognizes no rules unless it suits them.

The first thing the CBC president should have said to the government was that the CBC could not deal with any cuts at all. The broadcaster is already underfunded and cannot do the job it has been mandated to do with the money it is already getting. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but it doesn’t matter. Lacroix is there to protect the CBC’s budget and mandate not to give it away whenever the government comes calling.

Certainly the Harperites would have cut anyways, but at least Lacroix should not have made it easy for them.

Second, Lacroix and company should have appealed publicly to all Canadians. He should have held a media conference to say that the Tories were planning to cut the CBC budget. He should have explained the consequences to his organization and to all Canadians. In other words, he should have put up a fight. It’s his job to make it difficult to hurt the organization he runs, not to make it easy.

Third, Lacroix should have told the government it is none of their business how he will make any cuts if they are forced on him and the CBC. Once again, that’s his job, to protect the CBC not to help the Finance Minister balance his budget.

In the end Lacroix committed the biggest crime of all. He told CBC staff and all Canadians that CBC could not only absorb the cuts, but that his 2015 plan would still be able to go ahead. He made the cuts look like it was no big deal to the average Canadian. He gave Canadians no reason to protest, no reason to care.
If you don’t believe me, just check out what the Heritage Minister, James Moore, said when he was questioned about the cuts in question period. He said:
“I would encourage my honourable colleague to look at the speech that was given by Hubert Lacroix, president of the CBC, that outlines it in greater detail, and as a matter of fact the member opposite has it exactly wrong,” he said. Moore then used his time to explain that the budget allows for the “funds necessary for the CBC to fulfill their obligations under the Broadcasting Act.”
The network will still be able to fulfill its 2015 plan which, he said, includes maintaining coverage in all areas, maintaining its official language “footprint,” more “digitization,” and to become “leaner”. The plan “serves the interest not only of the cultural communities but also of taxpayers.”

Talk about an easy out. Thank you very much Hubert Lacroix!
From the performance I have seen over the past week from CBC brass I find it near impossible not to believe that Lacroix, Kirsten Stewart and French V.P. Louis Lalonde appear to be far more interested in keeping their jobs by making the government like them, than they seem to care about the future of the CBC.
It’s too bad really, just when the CBC needs strong leadership most, it becomes obvious that the folks running the corporation are petty bureaucrats whose only interest is self-preservation. Past CBC presidents have resigned their posts over far less.
As far as the actual cuts are concerned, there is little specific information available at this time. Lacroix and his hench-people promised more information soon. What is clear is that $43 million is going to be cut from English programming. Kirsten Stewart refuses to say, at this time, whether that will come from entertainment, sports, or news. We do know that the doc unit is gone, at least as far as making documentaries is concerned. CBC will basically become a buyer of docs in the future.
We were also told that 10% of managers will be cut. We were not told whether this referred to salary or numbers. CBC is still massively over managed. Few managers have been cut over the years. I, and almost anyone who has ever worked for more than one network in Canada, am amazed that CBC honchos can’t cut far more from management to protect programming and the people who actually make the shows.
Lacroix estimates that 81% of the cuts will come from the networks (French and English) and 19% from the regions.
All-in-all a sad time for the national broadcaster: unloved by government and un-led by it’s bosses. If there is any justice in the world, Lacroix will not have his contract renewed. Nobody likes a suck up, not even the folks he’s sucking up to.

Filed under: Media Commentary, Political Commentary, , , , , , ,

Free Press

Sorry for the long layoff, I have just returned from China. This was my fifth or sixth trip to China, and the second in just over two years. The country never ceases to amaze. The rich in the country appear to be super rich. A walk along Nanjing Road or in the French Concession reveals half a dozen auto dealerships. I saw an Astin Martin dealership, a Maserati dealership, a Jaguar dealership, and the cheapest car I could see to buy in downtown Shanghai was a Land Rover.

In the big cities the people you see on the street are for the most part very smartly dressed. There are far fewer beggars than I would see on the Danforth in Toronto.

According to the people I met and talked to, mostly guides and middle class family people, things are just terrific in China. Yet on two occasions I had conversations that amazed me. They were both about the same thing. I was asked what I do for a living in Canada. I said I was a retired journalist. The people asking the question seemed overly interested in this fact. The next question I was asked is whether as a journalist I could write the truth. They wanted to know whether I could write about what I see or whether the government tells me what to publish.

Interestingly, the Chinese were actually surprised that the press was basically free to tell the stories they wanted to tell, and more important to them, the truth. It is a concept that they can get their heads around logically, but something they have never seen, or at least believe they have never seen.

When asked to describe their television news or their newspapers, the Chinese people I spoke to said there was no point in watching or reading. There was too little truth in their media and everything was censored. They went on to describe their news media as a propaganda arm of the government, telling me that Chinese journalists garner no respect from the populace at large. Of course they are correct.

I was not surprised by the lack of free press in China. Heck we all know the regime is tyrannical and controlling. What did surprise me was the fact that everyone seems to know the situation. I have never lived in a totalitarian nation so I have nothing to compare it to. Hey, but most Chinese have never lived in a democracy with a free press. So how did they become so savvy to their own situation? This is a question nobody could answer. I got shrugs and remarks like: everyone knows what’s going on. I guess it is the equivalent of an underground economy, in this case an underground information system that passes on the truth to better informed citizens.

What this experience and these discussions raised in me was the strong realization that we in Canada and the West take our press freedom for granted. We seldom give it a second thought. Perhaps that’s a good thing. It speaks to the freedoms we do have. But it also makes me wonder when outlets like Fox News in the U.S. and now Sun TV in Canada play fast and loose with the facts. How much does this demean our system and worse how does it affect the perception of the people who were raised to believe in the facts presented by a free press. And to be fair, it’s not just the Fox’s and the Sun’s. The Iraq War was a textbook case of the major U.S. networks refusing to report the facts of both the political and the military situation leading up to and during the conflict.

The bottom line question all journalists should ask themselves is whether we are killing a good thing and where that will lead in the future. While I was away I actually got to see the now infamous Sun TV interview that Krista Erickson did with the Tory Heritage Minister James Moore. The minister made minced meat of Krista mostly because she would not let the facts get in the way of her story idea. The best line for me in the interview was when Moore said to Erickson that she had very different ideas when she spoke to him as a CBC employee and all she could do was blubber for 20 seconds about where she works today. Had she had her facts right, she might have been on the way to making a reasonable point about the CBC’s dumbed down programming initiatives, but she was far more concerned about spreading misinformation to make a stronger point. It reminded me of Donald trump and the “birthers.”

Two things are happening at the same time and neither one is good. First, journalism is being subverted and dragged down by manipulative practitioners who are only interested in using the media to spread a point of view. If this continues it will bring all journalism into disrepute. Second, an increasingly ignorant population is being fed false information and accepting it as fact. This results in a vicious cycle of increasing ignorance that allows the purveyors of misinformation to be more and more effective.

I wish all of those so-called journalists who refuse to cherish fact based reporting could spend a little time in places like China and Cuba. If they could see how valuable and important free journalism is, perhaps they would be less inclined to subvert it.

Filed under: Media Commentary, Political Commentary, , , , ,

About the Author

Howard Bernstein is a former TV producer. He has worked at CBC,CTV, Global and has produced shows for most Canadian channels as an independent producer.

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