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CBC Needs To Stop Jian Ghomeshi Sideshow And Talk About A Service In Jeopardy

11/09/2014 02:25 EST | Updated 01/08/2015 05:59 EST
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You ever have one of those vague -- almost trance-like -- naps? I'm thinking about the kind of sleep where you feel as if you are floating over yourself. You are aware of other stuff, even other people in the room, but you're still -- disturbingly -- asleep.

This whole messy imbroglio with Jian Ghomeshi was like that for me -- until today. The nasty breakup between CBC and its radio star was a world away in a place I love, inflicting pain on people I know and care about.

I knew the details -- but I refused to really let them sink in. I could see the thick fog enveloping the venerable organization I care so much about. My Twitter and Facebook feeds fill endlessly with salacious and disturbing details. I read them, but I remained detached -- academic -- for the last two weeks. I am, after all, removed, separated by many time zones and an ocean.

Mostly, though, I think I was suspended in perpetual disbelief. I was incredulous. I couldn't believe this tsunami of bad news was crashing over the CBC, especially now in the wake of recent cuts and more impending bad news for the beleaguered broadcaster.

I was also overwhelmed by it all. There is just no end, it seems, to the pernicious bile, oozing its way through digital media.

Friday's highlight was different: the fantastic -- truly fantasy-like -- inelegant speculation by a senior public broadcaster about rough sex.

What? Man alive! The crudeness of it all woke me up with a start. Now, I'm awake, and I'm grumpy.

It all became very real for me this week, seeing CBC exec Heather Conway sitting with Peter Mansbridge in a dark room. Excuse my reductionist analysis -- but let's be clear about what happened: the executive vice-president of English services, with all the aplomb of a media-trained politician, offered a mea culpa of sorts about what she and the other bosses at corporate HQ did this past summer to "assure ourselves that there was nothing in the workplace. And that we had nothing outside of the workplace," concerning Ghomeshi's alleged brutality.

Critics will say the corporation is trying to get ahead of the story, to spin it. I'm not criticizing what the CBC did or did not do. This is a tangled sticky web. I can't imagine the minefield bosses are walking through right now. They have a hard job.

Managing the public broadcaster, one of my old bosses once quipped, is like telling the two grumpy old men on the Muppets what to do. "Waldorf" and "Statler" are always going to resist and shoot back with an acerbic retort. (I feel compelled to stress: I am not minimizing in any way the allegations levelled against Ghomeshi. Sexual abuse is abhorrent.)

What's really woken me up is what Conway et al. are not talking about -- at all. Instead of discussing how she plans to inform and entertain Canadians, the executive vice-president of Canada's biggest cultural institution is confessing to the CBC's chief correspondent that BDSM is out of her "comfort zone."

French philosopher Michel Foucault once argued that what's absent is just as important as what is present. Conway, and all the other bosses at CBC, are not talking about the looming cuts. They are not offering a full-throated defence of public broadcasting and its crucial -- and tireless -- service to Canadians. There's no insightful and passionate argument permeating the Internet and traditional media about the importance of CBC's public service coming from Conway or president Hubert Lacroix.

The CBC is a service! It is an important service. It is like our schools, libraries, and hospitals. "Everybody who is smart in bureaucracies and governments around the Western world," argued philosopher John Ralston Saul, "now knows that public broadcasting is one of the most important remaining levers that a nation state has to communicate with itself."

No one at the CBC is echoing Saul. Not a peep. No, Conway and others are tap dancing about their role in Ghomeshi's supernova implosion. The sideshow needs to stop.

Conway -- and everyone who works at the CBC -- needs to be shouting that the CBC is a service in jeopardy. There should be no doubt: the recent cuts have been punishing. I fear future cuts will completely eviscerate the indispensable service.

Polls show that Canadians care about the CBC. They want to see it thrive. A majority of them want to see Parliament give the public broadcaster more money so it can fulfill its legal obligations under the Broadcast Act.

CBC Radio -- once home to Ghomeshi -- continues to hold a commanding audience. Canadians care about the CBC!

The CBC is on life support and Canadians need to hear that from Conway and everyone who works there.

Enough with the Ghomeshi carnival of the absurd. Everyone who cares about public broadcasting needs to wake up and start YELLING about why we need to save an important public service -- a fundamental part of Canada -- before it's too late.

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