Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CBC needs a fresh mandate

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In the last five years, the CBC has laid off a total of more than 2,100 workers, including the 657 full-time jobs announced Thursday.

The latest cuts were blamed in part on the corporation's loss of its flagship Hockey Night in Canada, but federal neglect, perhaps even contempt, is also a factor.

The government seems to believe, as do many critics and pundits, that the CBC must change if it is to survive. Hear, hear!

Unfortunately, there is this little thing called the Mandate, a sort of religious prime directive that says the CBC must serve every conceivable Canadian constituency, all its cultural values and just about every jingoistic icon of Canadiana.

The Mandate, for example, says the CBC should "reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada," it must "be predominantly and distinctively Canadian, reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions."

And if that's not enough, the Mandate also demands the CBC actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression, reflect the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, contribute to a shared national consciousness and identity and so on.

The Mandate made sense when Canada was a sparsely populated dominion, unsure of its identity and confused about what it meant to be Canadian.

In today's rapidly changing broadcast universe, however, the CBC must become more focused. It must do fewer things better.

The job of reinventing the CBC should not involve dumbing it down. There's already enough of that on commercial TV.

There is an audience for intelligent programming and quality current affairs, but it's debatable if the CBC needs to operate in local markets, unless there is a business case. In Winnipeg, for example, CBC-TV's contribution doesn't significantly enhance what is provided by the private sector.

Before talk of real change and innovation can begin, however, Ottawa has to terminate the Mandate. And instead of allowing the CBC to die the death of a thousand cuts, the government should launch a national dialogue with Canadians about the future of public broadcasting.

If the current trend continues, the CBC will eventually fade to black, leaving Canadians to the mercy of the big cable providers and their 500-channel universe. That's not an outcome anyone wants, but the dialogue must begin now.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2014 A8

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Updated on Monday, April 14, 2014 at 9:29 AM CDT: Corrects typo

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