Thursday, September 28, 2006

Should the CBC adopt the BBC model?

Yesterday, the CBC was grilled at the House Heritage Committee for some pretty stupid programming decisions the last year or so, plus the possibility that the Mother Corporation just might lose out the bidding war for Saturday Night Hockey to CTV. If it does, it would lose about $100 million dollars a year in advertising revenue just at the English network, and require a major rethink about the role the public (read: state) broadcaster plays in our lives.

There are two things that need to be considered. One is the fact the Board of Directors are all appointed by the Prime Minister and accountable to the PMO and them alone. Yes, they do testify before Parliament from time to time, but the real power lies in the Executive Branch. It can ultimately decide whether the networks within the CBC family even has the right to exist. It can simply do away with it with an Act of Parliament, if it chose to do so. Two, it's the Executive that decides the annual allocation it gets from the Treasury. If it's seen as friendly to the government, it gets more money. If not, its funding is cut. Therefore, while it is technically independent of the government -- its sole shareholder -- it really isn't.

Perhaps it is time to look at whether the CBC needs another method of funding. But the CBC is finally willing to discuss it, and its been quitely discussed in some circles for years. It's considered an almost sacriligious concept in Canada, but I think we should at least debate whether it's time to move to a system of TV licensing, as exists in most EU countries.

The most famous of these, of course, is the BBC. Its principal source of revenue for programming is not advertising, as it's commercial free. It comes, instead, from licences. The fees are collected via cable or satellite bills for those who get their programming via that method; or directly for those who get their programs off-air. Subsidies are provided for lower income people and senior citizens, but the fact everyone pays into the BBC creates a sense of ownership -- that it's their network. The trustees of the network, while still appointed by the government, are actually forced to be accountable -- and at times they've often resigned en masse when they've been caught screwing up. (What are the chances that would happen in Canada?)

This model also allows for rather innovative programs, which raises the bar for private broadcasters to make even better shows. The result: British TV shows and news programs are usually excellent.

We ... get crap.

I'm not saying we definitely should go the licensing route. What I am saying is that we talk about it.

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