Monday, 17 November 2014

Don't Believe Everything You Read About CBC Cuts

Much of what is written about the CBC contains erroneous information. The latest cuts to the CBC are a case in point.
The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Sun and several other news outlets are fixated on the CBC to varying degrees and with equally varying editorial stances.
But they often provide readers with misinformation about CBC. The Globe, for example, reported that the Conservative government had cut CBC's Parliamentary grant to "much less the $1 billion," a figure that has become a rallying cry for those who think CBC is a drain on taxpayers. The truth is that the CBC's corporate plan shows that for years to come the government operating and capital grant (used to buy and maintain equipment and facilities) will remain at more than $1 billion. The journalist, when challenged, tried to defend this claim on Twitter by saying he was referring to CBC English services but the English services have never received $1 billion from government.
Another Globe reporter said that CBC did not breakdown the necessary data so she said that "outsiders" put the cost of the main CBC French TV network at $400 million. A quick check of the CRTC web site would have revealed it was $476 million in 2013. The CRTC publishes the data annually, which are provided by CBC.
The Star ran an editorial saying the budget of CBC after the latest cuts would be reduced to $913 million, which is off by about $800 million. The total budget of the CBC is about $1.7 billion. The Star ignored not only government funding for equipment but also all advertising revenues and the many millions Canadians pay to receive CBC News Network, etc. through their cable bill. The editorial proclaimed that in the past five years CBC had cut 2,100 jobs. Again, a check of CRTC data would have revealed that the correct number was about one-third that.
An opinion piece in the National Post included those same staff numbers, adding that it represented a quarter of the workforce. The Post also ran a commentary saying CBC seemed incapable of reinventing itself, which may be true, and concluded that it didn't matter since TV viewing was in decline and the television industry, that is, networks, cable, etc. wouldn't exist in its present form in "maybe two years." This blissfully ignores the fact that TV viewing and cable/satellite subscriptions have shown no decline, according to CRTC.
The Sun, which has always taken an aggressive stance when it comes to CBC, echoed other outlets, saying government funding would decline to $913 million in 2014-15, also forgetting government funding for equipment, etc.
The Globe and the Post have reported on the losses CBC TV will incur when it no longer has ad revenue from NHL hockey. The Post put the number at $200 million, while the Globe put it at $225 million. Both estimates were based on hockey representing half of CBC ad revenues but used the total of CBC English and CBC French ad revenues to arrive at their estimates. One Globe reporter was closer with an estimate of $175 million but in the same article said Rogers wasn't a likely bidder for Saturday night hockey. The CBC recently revealed NHL ad revenue was $125-$150 million and, contrary to earlier claims, said it wasn't making a profit. The number was probably $100 million in 2013, a year when the NHL locked out players for the start of the season.
So where does this leave readers of these news outlets?
Thing is, the public who read all these stories about CBC and its crisis need to have the correct facts about its funding, staffing and audiences. After all, the public will eventually shape the future of the CBC. The CBC should be totally transparent about its operations so that journalists of all stripes can report on the CBC accurately. Make no mistake, the CBC is facing a crisis and its networks, especially the CBC English TV network, do not have the funding to offer Canadians what they ask for and deserve.
But it is not just a question of more money, it is also necessary to define the role of CBC TV.
CBC TV and private English TV in Canada compete in an environment that is dominated by U.S. television. The U.S. industry in 2011 had revenues of $165 billion dollars compared to total revenues of all English TV of about $5 billion. Canada's TV revenues are lowest among the G7 countries, while the U.S. is bigger than all other G7 countries combined and 33 times larger than the Canadian English TV industry. CBC TV, the main network and the news channel, have revenues of roughly $800 million, from all sources, or less than 0.5 per cent of U.S. TV revenues.
To be a real public broadcasting service CBC should be funded like public broadcasters in the U.K. or France. As a service to the public, it should be commercial free and like HBO, it should make programs for viewers, not advertisers. A small tax on all cable TV, satellite TV, Internet, mobile services, etc, that is, all the services that provide video to consumers should be used to properly fund CBC (and private TV services). Such a tax could generate as much as $3 billion dollars annually.
This would put CBC and private Canadian television on somewhat equal footing with the U.S. and allow for programs of sufficient quality to compete with U.S. television and the rest of the world. Cable executives would be aghast but I believe the public, evidenced by the insatiable appetite for cable TV, Internet, Netflix, smartphones, etc., would not resent paying for quality Canadian programming on CBC and private TV.
Now that is a story that Canadian journalists could be exploring and, after getting the facts straight, writing about for their readers.

(Originally published in Huffington Post)

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