End the CBC
Another day, another scandal in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, this time involving Evan Solomon, the host of Power & Politic. Following the publication of some rather sketchy art deals, the former broadcasting star was hastily shown the door by the executives of Canada’s public broadcaster, and with that the star talent of the CBC grew that much thinner.
To say that it has been a bad few years for the organization would be an understatement on the scale of musing of how the Titanic was a tad bit short on lifeboats. Scandals have engulfed its star journalists, ratings are down, and Hockey Night in Canada, the CBC’s long-time lucrative ace in the hole, has been lost to other competitors along with all its revenue. The solution I would propose to these ills is a simple one, end the wretched thing altogether and put it and ourselves out of misery.
I say this not out of any enmity towards the idea of a public broadcaster. Unlike many of my colleagues on the right I have no objection to the idea of such an institution in principle. In fact I rather support the concept. The key question, however, is what is the purpose of a public broadcaster? I would argue that it is the same purpose of any other public institution, to provide a desirable public good that cannot be provided by market economics. PBS in the United States is an excellent example of how this can be done well. It features documentaries on American history, cultural programing, art, music, and children’s educational shows, all of which could not be reliably generated by private television networks. Just as roads are the public infrastructure necessary to knit together a nation’s economy, so too is literature and music necessary to knit together a nation’s soul. Promoting this is hardly far from the conservative principle, however much anarcho-capitalist types on the libertarian fringe might protest otherwise.
The problem with the CBC is that it does none of this. News delivery, its main feature, could easily be provided by its private sector competitors. Personally I’ve always found Question Period, CTV’s equivalent of the recently departed Evan Solomon’s Power Play, to offer far superior analysis and commentary. On the cultural front, the CBC offers practically nothing equivalent to the programming produced by PBS (the historical documentary Canada: A People’s History, which was broadcast during my high school days, being one exception that comes to mind). By all the standards by which we should judge a successfully purveyor of public television content, the CBC gets failing grades or doesn’t even bother showing up.
Its defenders would doubtless argue at this point that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation serves as an invaluable source of Canadian content on television. To this I would respond, why is that even important? In what way do shows such as Little Mosque on the Prairie, Being Erica, or The Border add anything of value to us as a country. Does a crappy drama such as Being Erica really provide some national benefit because it featured the occasional screenshot of the CN Tower or made the occasional reference to “U of T”? In what way did the fact it was set in Saskatchewan (as the characters repeated endlessly to drive home this sole rationale for existence) make the joyless comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie any less dull? Did the poor man’s 24, otherwise known as The Border, somehow make us stand taller as a nation because it happened to feature a fictional Canadian intelligence agency fighting terrorist plots and organized crime? Other than allowing us to engage in the occasional bout of smug, moral superiority by having the characters all but wag their fingers at the overbearing caricatures that were their American counterparts what did The Border offer that could not have been provided by other any intelligence drama on any other network.
And that is precisely the problem with the CBC. With some notable exceptions much of what it does produce could come from any private network and not be noticeably different. Bad sitcoms, average news coverage, and sports are not the rationale for public broadcasting yet these are the main features that the CBC provides. By failing to carve out a unique, niche market for itself based on television coverage and content that could not have come from any other broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has effectively undercut its own rationale for existence.
So I say just end it. Dissolve this sad little station and go back to the drawing board. As an old fashioned Tory of the Old Right, I will argue in favour of the public provision of broadcasting but only if that broadcaster provides a social good to the public. This is the same reasoning behind my advocacy of funding for the arts, theater, symphony and other such ventures. It’s a proud tradition that can be traced back to the days of old when the aristocracy provided patronage to philosophers, poets and playwrights because they added something to the society that they all inhabited. The same can be said today of such organizations as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra or the AGO. These are services we need more of in society, for they enrich us as a people and promote a more cultured and refined mentality among the public. Do we really need more of content such as This Hour Has 22 Minutes? Certainly not, for if you were to turn on twenty different private networks you would find twenty different variations of the same classless drivel, and slapping a Maple Leaf on the cover does not make it any less intellectually dead or soulless.
Let us bid goodbye to the CBC then, and instead turn our minds towards creating a replacement that will actually grow our minds, and contribute something back to the society whose tax dollars go towards funding it. Let us start demanding a real Canadian broadcaster that will produce content of real worth to Canadian society, and in doing so make us all the richer for it.