Google funding can’t go to CBC
WADE ROWLAND CONTRIBUTOR WADE ROWLAND IS PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF MEDIA AND COMMUNICATION AT YORK UNIVERSITY, AND AUTHOR OF SEVERAL BOOKS ON THE MEDIA AND ITS TECHNOLOGIES INCLUDING, “CANADA LIVES HERE: THE CASE FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING.”
The idea that CBC, the national public broadcaster, would take money from the $100-million fund provided by Google under Bill C-18 is simply outrageous.
It flies in the face of the purpose of public service broadcasting and will only amplify the calls for defunding one of the nations’ most venerable and valuable cultural assets. It is scandalous that the idea is even being considered at senior management levels of the corporation, and in the federal Liberal cabinet.
The CBC was set up early in the last century to provide a fully independent source of news and information, entertainment and educational programming to serve the needs of the Canadian public. And, not incidentally, to provide a counterweight to the deluge of American content on the airwaves.
An early mistake was made in permitting the broadcaster to accept commercial sponsorship to supplement its government funding. There may have been some justification for this in remote locations where the public broadcaster was the only advertising vehicle available to businesses, but that had ceased to be the case anywhere in the country before mid-20th century.
From that time onward, commercial sponsorship on the public broadcaster was chronically corrosive to the public service ideals of the medium. Programming had to be shaped to appeal to advertisers and the audience demographics they sought, and for CBC marketers to ignore that imperative was to behave irresponsibly as corporate employees.
That led to conflict of interest within the corporation between marketers serving advertisers’ interests and programmers dedicated to the public interest. And, especially in television, that bred a cultural schizophrenia reflected in programming that sought to mimic commercially successful American models at tiny fractions of their budgets.
CBC Radio was made ad free in 1975 and since then has flourished, maintaining a loyal and appreciative audience that is the envy of the industry. (A brief, ill-considered attempt to reintroduce advertising on the CBC Radio Two network in 2013 was shouted down by the public and abandoned.)
What does all of this have to do with Google’s Bill C-18 fund? Among the most telling arguments made by those who advocate the diminishment or dismantling of the CBC is that, as a taxpayer-subsidized broadcaster, it competes unfairly with a struggling private media sector for desperately-needed advertising revenue. The private industry’s owners and advocates are angry about that, and with just cause.
Imagine how they will react to the CBC’s scooping up a majority of the Google media fund. Cries to “defund the CBC” will be louder and harder to resist than ever.
But beyond that there is a more fundamental issue, and that is that this national public broadcaster should simply not be reliant on funding supplied by a foreign corporation.
Advertising income was perhaps tolerable as a fee-for-service arrangement, and the vast majority of sponsors have been based in this country. The Google fund is another matter altogether, a kind of charity funded as payback for monopolizing the nation’s commercial media market and crippling many of its participants.
In this world of misinformation and disinformation and conspiracy-mongering across media platforms, a robust, reliable publiclyfunded public service broadcaster is a strategic, even existential, necessity for this country. To have it financed, even in part, by a foreign corporation makes about as much sense as subsidizing the military with handouts from SpaceX or Meta. It’s undignified, and deeply irresponsible.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited