A Goal for National Survival:
50% Canadian TV Content by 1990
By 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
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
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
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
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
One of the issues involved is the question of the proper role of
capitalism in Canada's traditional and unique blend of public and
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
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.
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