Don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone– Joni Mitchell
“Frankly, my dear, we don’t give a damn.”
According to mainstream media, that’s how most Canadians felt about the silenced voice of their public broadcaster.
Citing the influential pollster Decima, the most repeated message of the CBC lockout was that only ten per cent of Canadians were inconvenienced by the absence of CBC radio and TV.
How fortunate that the remaining 90 per cent of allegedly indifferent Canadians are to be free of the mighty burden of a national broadcaster, free to pay instead for satellite radio with limited Canadian content, free to tune into canned FM stations that all sound alike, free to support an endless loop of American cable television or Canadian networks featuring recycled American content.
Ten per cent of the population – roughly three million people – is a constituency big enough to matter, especially when you consider which three million Canadians comprise that loyal following. Audience research suggests the CBC now reaches the country’s most influential people – educated, mature, often professionals with a strong sense of their citizenship. It matters also to Canadians isolated by geography – northerners, rural, Aboriginal and new Canadians, all of whom find them-selves reflected there more and more.
The country’s elite publishing class has used numbers to skew the CBC story. Much worse, they don’t seem to know what the story is. Profit and popularity are the corporate media’s reason for being. The public broadcaster has more urgent responsibilities.
The CBC imports the events of the world in its superb newscasts. Unlike the corporate news chains, it is “unem-bedded”; it does not tell Canadians what to think, offering instead diverse opinion that encourages Canadians to think for themselves. It remains also the most reliable source of infor-mation about this country for the rest of the world’s media.
The CBC explains parts of this country to the rest of it. Manitoba and Saskatchewan, for example, unless experiencing flood or drought, are black holes of indifference in the national daily press. Regional CBC radio and TV correspondents compensate for that.
Media analysts maintain that about 65 per cent of today’s “news” stems from press releases, little more than unchallenged reports based on spin. The CBC remains a place where original journalism and accountability are not just possible, but expected. The privates deliver content designed to equip their audiences as mere consumers; the CBC packages and delivers information designed to equip Canadians as better citizens.
Given all these facts, why does only a modest 10 per cent care about the CBC while the rest ignores it?
With a modest, under-a-billion-dollar annual budget, the CBC doesn’t reach much beyond those who come to it through heritage or hearsay. Its leadership – largely political appointees who appreciate their appointments more than they appreciate the concept of broadcasting as a public service – rarely show a will to protect it.
Ironically, its only champions are listeners and viewers.
And then there’s this: Canada’s elite media owners, the ones who identify not with Canadians but with profiteers in the U.S., who believe that Canada’s future lies in complete integration with that country, will not rest until the CBC and its nationalist message are deleted. Dumping the country’s 5,500 public journalists and technicians is a large step in the surrender of the national identity.
The famous ninety per cent of Canadians who are indifferent or ignorant of the CBC will perhaps be the last to notice that they have been disappeared from the global landscape; that the idea of Canada has come and gone.
Try to imagine what a proud moment that will be.
This article appeared in the November/December 2005 issue of Canadian Dimension (Will the WTO Survive Hong Kong?).