Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Should CBC lose 10 per cent of its funding?

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The knives are out for the CBC.

The Conservative federal government is looking to pare costs and, with a newly minted majority, it has put the CBC on the block with every other federal agency, asking for scenarios that would involve cutting five per cent or 10 per cent from their budgets.

The move has delighted many Conservatives, who see the public broadcaster as a haven for leftwingers.

It has dismayed others such as the Liberal party, which has vowed to "fight to ensure our national broadcaster receives the support and resources it needs to continue to do its vital job."

I'm a great believer in much of what the CBC does and I have little time for critics such as the Sun Media chain, which has launched both a new TV service and an all-out attack on the CBC in the past several months.

The anti-CBC campaign is about as blatantly self-serving as you can possibly imagine.

It is hard, however, to argue that a public broadcaster should be immune from overall government austerity measures. In fact, the review process actually provides a good opportunity to talk about what the network should and should not be doing.

My own beef about the network is not that Terry Milewski may have it out for Stephen Harper, that there is too much airtime given to David Suzuki or even that Rick Mercer's show has become stale and formulaic.

Instead, it is that the CBC insists on continuing to do things that it no longer needs to do.

Hockey is a good example. Yes, I know, Hockey Night in Canada is a national institution, and Foster Hewitt's radio broadcasts buoyed the spirits of Canadian soldiers overseas in the Second World War, and all that.

But the time has long since passed when a public broadcaster was needed to ensure all Canadians had access to broadcasts of NHL games. A multitude of private broadcasters do the same thing, so why is the CBC doing it?

The simple answer is because it means advertising money, big money, for the network.

But then why are taxpayers subsidizing the CBC so that it can compete with private broadcasters for game rights and advertising?

Local news is another good example.

The supper hour show on CBC Winnipeg is essentially identical to the shows put on CTV and Global. That's not surprising given that the anchor person and weather person originally worked at CTV.

Presumably CBC is trying to have a more popular, chatty format to gain an audience. But why try to do the same thing private broadcasters are doing, only better? (By the way, CBC's supper hour news audience rarely exceeds 10,000 viewers, compared with 70,000 over at CTV, so the efforts at becoming more popular have had little success.)

There was a time when CBC was needed to provide local news because no one else was doing it.

That time has passed.

I could go on. CBC Radio offers a great deal of strong, original programming. But it also fills hours every morning and afternoon with repetitive happy talk about traffic and the weather, making it sound like, well, every other private radio station that fills hours with repetitive happy talk about traffic and the weather.

There is no need for such redundancy in the Winnipeg market, or in any other market CBC serves.

The people looking at how the network could trim costs would do well to start by looking at the things that the CBC just doesn't need to do any longer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2011 A18

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About Bob Cox

Bob Cox was named publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press in November 2007. He joined the newspaper as editor in May 2005.

"Rejoined" is a better word for it, because Bob first worked at the newspaper as a reporter in January 1984. He covered crime and courts for three years before getting restless and moving on to other journalism jobs.

Since then, his career has spanned four provinces and five cities. Highlights include working in Ottawa for the Canadian Press covering Prime Minister Jean Chrétien during his first term in office, and five years at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, first as national editor and later as night editor.

Bob grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario, but has spent most of his adult life in Western Canada in Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton.


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