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A Goal for National Survival:
50% Canadian TV Content by 1990

By Barrie Zwicker

Barrie Zwicker

The Tories are emasculating the CBC. They must be stopped. The CBC in fact must be substantially strengthened.

"The CBC is Canada's most important institution, outside of Parliament," says former CBC president Al Johnson. I disagree. I would reverse the order at this time when the Tory majority has made Parliament a trojan horse.

I seriously believe that destruction of the CBC would be the greatest disaster to befall Canada in her history.

It's not the corporation itself, nor the individuals on the air or behind the scenes (talented as most of them are) that alone make the CBC Canada's central nervous system. It's the kaleidoscope of people and issues and impressions electronically woven from White Haven, N.S. to Long Beach, B.C. that make the CBC the daily manifestation of Canada-- not just its nervous system but its heartbeat.

The gutting of the CBC - taking place now - is a greater emergency than the War of 1812.

It's a greater emergency because much more is at stake today. Because the suffocation of Canada taking place on so many fronts is an insidious, subversive process, unlike a shooting war. Because the fight is so complex. Because the cards are increasingly stacked against us. Because the enemy doesn't fight fair, doesn't even know fair. Because so many of the enemy are us.

The neo-conservative Tories and their supporters do not in fact represent the majority of Canadians, 80% of whom believe there is either the right amount of Canadian TV programming or too little (Paul Audley & Associates, 1984). They are accomplishing this national wrist-slashing because not enough of the rest of us stand up to their tired and bogus arguments, especially the one that privatization is the answer for everything. As Edmund Burke wrote: " For evil to prosper it is only necessary for good men to do nothing."

(By this point in any defence of the CBC it is supposedly compulsory to engage in a purifying act of CBC-bashing oneself and declare that of course the CBC is far from perfect, is riddled with bureaucracy, can't put its own house in order etc. As Gerald Caplan told Sheri Craig of Media Magazine in November 1985 after the Task Force on Broadcasting completed its public hearings ":... we have heard two main (messages) - one is that all the CBC lovers can stop dumping on the CBC..." I have better use for this space.)

The plan and the reality is not to execute the CBC overnight. A firing squad approach would galvanize the victim's friends into massive politically-relevant support. Very bad.

Better to carry it out the way it's being carried out before our doltish eyes, through execution in stages. Oh, sure, send out a death squad to get Juneau, but do the Big Contract through suffocation, starvation and dismemberment.

In this way the rifleshots victory of the War of 1812 is being reversed into a blue-flickering defeat in today's undeclared War of the Airwaves. Canada has already lost more than any other country on earth.. We are beginning to resemble the knight in that Monty Python movie who keeps on talking fight as his limbs are chopped off one by one. Finally he's a bloody stump. Outside of a screen play such a creature is deceased.

Prominant among the fifth columnists are indeed columnists and many other journalists who will have to shoulder a big part of the blame if this sordid act of national suicide is successful.

Just one example. On Sept. 24 of this year, the lead editorial of The Province of Vancouver was headed: "Do we really want a national culture?" The heading reflects the two-faced evasiveness of the editorial, a fault-riddled commentary on the Caplan-Sauvageau report on broadcasting. (The editorialist managed, throughout, to mispell Caplan as "Kaplan".)

"...Canadian viewers or listeners aren't particularly interested in national culture," the editorialist states, proving he did not even glance at the report itself, which lays to rest once and for all that Canadians don't watch, nor want, Canadian TV programs. The Province refuses to see, let alone share, evidence that conflicts with its hoary anti-Canadianisms. Ho-humbug.

How many entertainment writers have written: "For once, the CBC has (done something right/produced a truly excellent program etc.)"? Add up all those "for once's" and you have a consistent pattern of excellence and creativity, recognized everywhere in the world except Canada.

If more of us in the media would grasp - and then, in stories and commentaries, use - facts in place of the tired and bogus innuendos, we would be better journalists, never mind how obsequious-minded we may be about this country.

Just a few of these facts:

1.The CBC costs nine cents per Canadian per day to run. Nine. One-thirtieth of the cost of a pack of cigarettes.

2.For this demeaningly paltry (and declining) investment, which amounts to controlled fiscal starvation, the CBC provides more than 156,000 hours of programming, most of it recognized around the world as being of superior quality.

3.Televison is the most powerful cultural instrument in today's world . And TV drama vies with news and public affairs as the most powerful component of TV programming.

4.Of the 17,600 hours of drama programming on Canada's English-language TV in 1984, only two per cent was Canadian. Of that, 66 per cent was provided by the CBC. (In 1960, the CBC produced more live productions that any other broadcasting organization on earth.).

5.The total CBC drama budget for the current year - including all overhead and distribution is $4-million less than the $44-million ABC is spending on its Cold War propaganda masterwork mini-series Amerika.

6.CBC-TV's drama is consistently high quality as measured by critics inside and outside Canada and as measured by audience response. Anne of Green Gables attracted 5.8 million viewers - the largest audience ever to watch a TV drama in this country.

7.Canada could increase to 800 from its current 300 hours a year the amount of its drama production and to 50 from its current 20 the number of low-budget films, for an investmentof $250-million. The Conservative government that actually is further drastically reducing CBC's drama budget spent $53-million changing the military's uniforms, $1 billion to bail out a bank and $300,000 to cart the Prime Minister's private camera crew around the world to record His Utterings, as Jack Gray has pointed out. Mr. Gray is chair of the Council of Canadians' research network on broadcasting and film.

8.In spite of intense competition, years of fiscal strangulation and the rest, the CBC has retained a share of the Canadian viewing public equal to that reached south of the border by any of the three major American commercial networks.

9.Despite their extreme profitability (50% average annual return on investment) private broadcasters' investment on original drama programming is abysmally low. And that's putting it kindly.

10.Private broadcasters have consistently and brazenly lied in their promises of performance before the CRTC and its predecessors. For instance in 1961 CTV to get its original licence promised that it was "...dedicated to wide-spread origination of programs." It lied. And the government did not enforce the promise. In a later application for re-licensing it repeated the lie. It was not until April of 1982 - 21 years and hundred of millions in private profits later - that the Supreme Court of Canada told CTV it actually had to keep its promise.

11.Sixty-one per cent of Canadians believe more should be done to develop a separate cultural identity from Americans, according to a 1985 poll by Environics Research Group. Only five per cent of Canadians felt less should be done. Other polls turn up similar numbers. The dinosaur Tories are startlingly out of touch with public opinion.

In Canada public broadcasting is a cultural national defence, as the Friends of Public Broadcasting have put it. Americans, always totally self-absorbed (except for those who work in agencies such as the $25-billion-per-year CIA), are unaware of the battalions of cultural soldiers they dispatch daily across the border, led by showbiz generals from the A Team or such as Johnny Carson.

Because our Little Boy Prime Minister is so anxious to please his Daddy Ronnie with a so-called free trade deal, Canada's soul - her culture - is clearly being put on the table, contrary to Mulroney's doubletalk. This fits the Americanized mentality of his sellout caucus.

The task of saving the CBC - our chief bulwark of national consciousness - is in the hands of those in every party or no party who see the time is now to stand up simply and clearly for a strong - indeed a much strengthened - publically-owned national broadcasting network.

And a simple policy such as "50 per cent Canadian programming by 1990."

There's a great deal to this. Each of us has to re-evaluate his or her role and responsibility.

In my view this is not an issue about which journalists can maintain a posture of non-involvement . Besides initiating the fairest and most comprehensive possible stories and broadcasts at every opportunity, journalists can and should also speak out as individuals.

Pierre Berton, David Suzuki, Mark Starowicz (executive producer of The Journal), David Crane of The Toronto Star, Peter Newman, Peter Herrndorf (of Toronto Life) and John Macfarlane (publisher of Saturday Night) are some journalists speaking out and organizing. The argument that journalists cannot or should not be activists in great issues is both impossible and wrong.

One of the issues involved is the question of the proper role of capitalism in Canada's traditional and unique blend of public and private enterprise.

As a capitalist entrepreneur I strongly support capitalism where it is appropriate and public investment where it is appropriate (and a blend where that is best). To examine the Canadian experience both theoretically and practically is to find it blindingly evident that big capitalist media by and large fail the test of patriotism which in Canada's case means national survival. As Alexander Cockburn wrote in The Nation (Oct.25): "...the central radical message is that capitalism is inherently unstable and unjust and ... vigilant public control over market processes is essential."

A major problem in Canada is that persuasive, repetitive, politically-relevant criticism of capitalism, let alone radical criticism, is stifled to the point of absence. It is a Catch-22, the same one that stifles politically-relevant criticism of the tenets of Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet media. It is because our media are almost all capitalist-controlled or -influenced. This poses a terrible danger for capitalism, as is suggested by The Toronto Star's Diane Francis in her new book, Controlling Interest: Who Owns Canada?

We can keep our mixed economy generally and still have Canada. We cannot allow our cultural industries - especially the CBC - to be destroyed or privatized (the same thing) and still have Canada.

If the CBC goes, we all go.


Barrie Zwicker is the publisher of Sources.


This article originally appeared in Sources, Winter 1986/1987 issue.


Organizations Dedicated to Protecting and Strengthening Canadian Public Broadcasting Include:
*The Council of Canadians, 10560--105 Street, Edmonton, Alberta T5H 2W7. Call toll-free 1-800-661-6464.
*The Friends of Public Broadcasting, 29 Prince Arthur Avenue, Toronto, Ont. M5R 1B2. (416) 964-0559.
*Alliance for Canadian Broadcasting, PO Box 220, Station A, Toronto, Ont. M5W 1B2.

Sidebar: Cuts, Canadian Culture and the CBC

Sidebar: Public Broadcasting is Cultural National Defence

Sidebar: Tories are Suffocating the CBC, the Country


See also:

Inside Seven Days

Are We Manipulated by TV?

The Decline and Fall of Public Service Broadcasting





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