A part of the ongoing public discussion over what can be done as traditional news media are weakened in their ability to do public interest journalism. The answer, according to CBC executives, is: Let’s have more CBC! But the solution to the disrupted news media scene in Canada is not for taxpayers to shell out more to a public provider of news, no matter how high-quality or how high-minded.
The CBC has rapidly become the 800-pound gorilla in news media in many communities across Canada, not just because of its own increased resources but also because of reduced revenues at private media outlets. The result is a distortion of the marketplace that undermines the ability of private firms to transition and to continue to report the very same news and information that CBC executives say it should be publicly funded to provide.
Over the past year, the Winnipeg Free Press has found itself in bidding wars with the local CBC station trying to hire away reporters and editors from the newspaper. The journalists were hired not to do innovative work that was not being done by private media, but rather to report on areas like city hall, the very beats that they covered for the newspaper.
These weren’t journalists shed by indiscriminate layoffs. They were the most valuable resources the paper had in its continued comprehensive coverage of Winnipeg, and the paper had spent considerable money over the years developing their knowledge and skills. In most cases, the CBC won, offering greater security backed by taxpayer funding.
Bob Cox is publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, also responsible for the Brandon Sun and eight community newspapers in Manitoba. He is currently chair of News Media Canada, the association representing daily and community newspapers across the country.
(Note: The CBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, is funded in a large part by the government of Canada. Total funding when adding some advertising revenue and cable subscriptions is almost $1.6 billion per year. The government portion is $1.1 billion of the total.
At this point the funding gets very hazy. The CBC will broadcast a special program produced by someone in Canada. Costs related to the program are not included, except for royalties paid, in the overall CBC cost. In almost every case the extra programs receive their funding from several government fully funded sources. Government funded Canada Council for the Arts is one of the big players especially for those who know the application process. The recent Liberal government budget allocated $1.9 billion to it an various other arts funding.)