Archives for posts with tag: public broadcasting

Please stand by.

I’m a strong supporter of public broadcasting. If done right, and adequately funded, public broadcasting can inform, engage and reflect a country back to its citizens.

Without having to worry primarily about ratings – and therefore revenue – public broadcasters are focused on their mandate to offer programming in the public interest. The CBC’s mandate, for example, says that it should “provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains.” Its programming should, among other things, “contribute to shared national consciousness and identity… be predominantly and distinctively Canadian, reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions… and, actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression.”

There is no doubt that better-informed citizens make better-informed decisions about everything from public policy and voting to financial and lifestyle choices. Good public broadcasting helps both citizens and the rest of the news media to hold governments to account. You only have to look south of border to see the impact a weak public broadcaster has on the quality of public knowledge and political debate.

So I was quite interested in a recent article in the Globe and Mail about a study done to measure citizens’ knowledge of current affairs in six countries with strong public broadcasters. Canada, despite what you may think about the CBC, is one of the six countries. The study’s general finding is that public broadcasters have a positive impact on public knowledge.

Here’s another finding from the study cited in the article: “Canada sits somewhere in the middle range. Citizens who rely on the CBC for news score only marginally better on current-affairs indicators. The bang for your (public broadcasting) buck is much better in the U.K., Japan, and Norway. Not coincidentally, in these countries the levels of funding and independence from government are much stronger.”

So we can expect the Harper government – which prefers Canadians fearful and ignorant – to continue to cut funding to the CBC. The result will likely be the continued erosion in quality journalism and programming (overdone news coverage of the new pope, the cringeworthy Jack Layton biopic and the continuing presence of Don Cherry and Kevin O’Leary being a few examples) at the public broadcaster, particularly for English TV. Well, at least we have CBC radio. I should also single out TVO for the quality of its current affairs programming.

The next post will further explore what happens when news consumers don’t like what’s on offer – from public or private broadcasters.

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I have yet to read, hear or see any reasonable justification of why I am subject to a barrage of news coverage on the new pope.

Of particular concern to me is the CBC, and the National (full disclosure: I worked for the National for several years as a writer), which has sent Peter Mansbridge to Rome. Why is the CBC spending newsgathering money hosting the top of the show from the Vatican? I can see the private broadcasters decamping to Rome, but this reflexive blanket coverage – “CBC News was first on the scene with coverage of this historical event!” – has no place at the public broadcaster. At the very least, host it from Toronto and save your limited budget for a real news event.

Breathless accounts of the conclave, the machinations of backroom negotiations and the devout assembled at Vatican are not relevant to me as a viewer. I could not care at all whether the guy from Quebec threw his support to the South American delegation. I am not remotely interested in vague speculation on whether the new pope will suddenly transform the Catholic Church into a service organization for the world’s poor. The media village at the Vatican? Not a story.

Tell me why the new pope is important to me. Tell me why it should matter to me. Tell me what you know about the new pope or what he will do that is relevant or different from past popes – without speculating. If not, please move on and get to some real news.