Karsten Erzinger: Revisiting the CBC’s purpose

CBC recently announced more cuts to the organization, with 1,000 to 1,500 jobs being eliminated by the year 2020. This news has been met with the usual lamenting from the chattering classes and once again begs that this questioned be asked: do we still need the CBC?

The CBC essentially came into existence to prevent the radio airwaves from literally being drowned out by stations from the United States. Over the years the role of the CBC changed in response to technological advances such as FM radio and television. Today, CBC is seen as the last bastion of Canadian cultural output, its absence dooming us to becoming de-facto Americans. Regardless how insecure and silly this opinion is, it remains the ingrained conventional wisdom of many. However, in the age of the smartphone, widespread internet access, and digital cable with its hundreds of specialty channels, is there really a need for a seldom viewed state-funded multimedia corporation?

While many Canadians may support or have positive feelings towards the CBC, those feelings don’t actually translate into viewers. The network routinely gets trounced in the ratings department, a problem that will continue to fester since they’ve lost the rights to broadcast hockey. People prefer to consume their media from sources other than the CBC; the only way to change this is if CBC finds a way to be relevant again (which is unlikely) or if the rules and regulations of the telecommunications industry become even more distorted to favor the CBC. Assuming that the internet will eventually displace traditional forms of media, that road will eventually lead to the internet being regulated in some sort of way to favor Canadian content and the CBC.

I think this is the perfect time to examine its funding model and to explore a fundamental transformation of the corporation. What good comes of dropping $1 billion a year into a multimedia company that most Canadians ignore? Two things, if undertaken, would transform the CBC and lead to better results; changing its mandate and funding model. Changing CBC’s mandate so that it strictly focuses on producing Canadian content will ensure that Canadian cultural output continues to thrive, while changing the funding model will force the CBC to become a leaner, more responsive and more relevant organization.

One thing is certain – without drastic changes, CBC will continue to struggle to find its purpose and its relevance to everyday Canadians.

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