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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Time to sell-off the CBC?

The CBC announced it will cut $130-million from its budget this year because of “funding shortfalls and revenue losses.” Consequently, CBC/Radio-Canada plans to cut 657 jobs and no longer bid for the rights to broadcast professional sports. The announcement came yesterday from CBC’s president and CEO Hubert Lacroix at a town hall meeting with the public broadcaster’s staff.

The shortfall in revenues comes largely from loss of revenue from Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts, but the corporation also has been dealing with a loss of $115-million in federal government subsidies over the past three years.

My immediate reaction to the announcement was to wonder why we even needed a publicly-funded broadcaster in this day and age. Is there really a place for publicly funded broadcasting in Canada when our free-market economy provides choice enough, what with private networks like CTV and Global and a slew of independent and corporate-owned radio stations and cable channels? For me, government funding of the likes of the CBC is anathema to a free enterprise economy and a waste of taxpayers’ hard earned money.

In his 2012 budget, then finance minister Jim Flaherty reduced CBC funding by $115-million over three years, over which there were howls of disapproval from those who seem used to CBC’s high capacity for overspending, including Liberal heritage critic MP Scott Simms (Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor) who said how concerned he was about the impact of the cuts on the CBC's ability to create programming and to reach far-flung rural areas.

“The wolves are at the door and circling when it comes to the CBC,” Mr. Simms reportedly said at that time. Was he unaware, I wonder, that following their victory in 1993, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals cut CBC funding by more than $400-million—about 33 per cent—over four years? Those cuts exceeded the Reform Party’s 1993 pledge to cut $365-million, and they far exceed Jim Flaherty/Stephen Harper’s current reductions in the CBC subsidy. The CBC coped back in the 1990s and it can cope now.

It is astonishing that the CBC receives over $1.1-billion a year in government funding in addition to revenues from commercials, etc., and still can’t make ends meet. How do the private networks do it? And, by the way, according to last Thursday’s Toronto Star, the CBC currently has 6,994 permanent employees, 859 contract employees and 329 temporary workers.

To start with, private networks don’t waste nearly as much. And they do much the same jobs with fewer staff than does the CBC. Over the years I’ve heard ex-employees of the CBC give examples of mismanagement, over-staffing and waste.

One report I saw claimed  22 CBC staff covered a professional sports event when other networks used an average of three. And there’s the criticism of the number of CBC delegates to journalism conventions, sometimes several times that of competing news organizations.

Moreover, the waste is everywhere. For example, QMI Agency obtained through Access to Information a report prepared for CBC’s board of directors, which shows that CBC workers were absent almost twice as often as private sector workers in fiscal year 2010-2011. This alone cost the broadcaster $17.7-million for that year.

Nonetheless, Liberals and New Democrats and their media cheering section like to cast the Conservatives as a boogeyman and the CBC as a hapless victim.

If the Conservative government is a boogeyman, what does that make the Jean Chrétien’s Liberals? And, if the CBC is a victim, it’s a bloated, over privileged one—one that will still have over 6,000 full-time employees and about $1.5-billion in revenues. Wouldn’t you think that with that in hand one could stop the whining and hand-wringing and get on with the job.

Or is the answer to close down the whole operation and sell off its assets?

3 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. Sell,sell,sell.....

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  2. I don't have a problem with significantly reducing funding to the CBC (I don't mind a little bit of funding going their way). But selling it off? It's a public broadcaster. I would never support selling it off.

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  3. I am sort of on the fence here. When looking at privatization, I don't just look at my own views, but also look elsewhere to see if its been done and how it worked out. Interestingly enough despite the fact many state owned enterprises have been privatized globally, it seems almost every developed country has a public broadcaster. Margaret Thatcher who privatized just about everything didn't bother to touch the BBC, so while this doesn't mean the CBC should be privatized, its enough to at least pause for a moment to ask why. Interestingly enough if you look at other crown corporations, there are far more examples of successful privatizations. Postal service is government owned in most countries, but Britain, Germany, and Netherlands have successfully privatized theirs while when it comes to passenger rail like VIA Rail, there have been relatively few privatizations, but two that come to mind are Britain and Japan. Britain was largely a disaster whereas Japan was quite successful thus a good example of where you can learn what to do and what not to.

    At the provincial level, plenty of places have privatized their electricity, while liquor stores were never government in the first place in most jurisdictions, but you do have places like Alberta, Washington state, Iowa, and West Virginia who successfully privatized theirs.

    Otherwise the point is, it helps to have a few examples since you can know what works and what does not. While its true we already have private broadcasters as do almost every developed country, I cannot off the top of my head think of one that doesn't have a public broadcaster. Perhaps looking at Alberta privatizing ACCESS might be the best example. Nonetheless its definitely an issue that should be discussed whether its done or not.

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