In recent days there has been much focus on the CBC and the government's intentions to control it. Provisions in Bill C-60 will effectively change the way the CBC is run and funded.
But why should we care? And what does it mean for us as Canadians?
First, it's important to understand that public broadcasting is an international phenomenon. That means that public broadcasters exist and are funded by citizens' taxes and license fees (along with other increasingly necessary funding) in countries around the world. Japan has the NHK, Britain has the BBC, Germany has the ARD, Australia has the ABC -- and we have the CBC.
Why did these institutions come into existence in the first place and how do they differ from private broadcasters? Public broadcasters developed alongside technological advances -- first in radio, then in television -- and were created along national lines with the purpose of informing the people. They exist to serve the public as citizens rather than as constituents or as consumers.
Public broadcasting was based on the idea that neither the market nor the state can adequately meet the public-service objectives of broadcasting and act in the public interest. The public interest coincides neither with private interests nor with the interests of the political powers that be.
Access to information is vital to a functioning democratic society. Public broadcasters should be publicly funded and independent of government interference. Presentation and framing of information is vital to the formation of informed opinions. If those processes are controlled by the presiding government, or by commercial sponsors, then the entire system is broken. If our information is carefully selected based on what the government wants us to think or based on what companies want us to buy, then we are only informed in a limited and controlled way.
If we are to throw public broadcasting out the window, then we risk limiting ourselves to commercial or government influenced information. And although we can benefit in consulting a multitude of information sources, particularly those stemming from independent media and citizen journalists, we would do well to continue supporting our national public broadcaster.
Recently described as the "last best hope" for socially purposeful media acting in the public interest, public broadcast continues to serve an important function. However, due to private and state pressures, public broadcasting currently faces a crisis on an international level.
Why should we be worried? Recent scholarship on news consumption concludes that an evolving media landscape and the changing nature of journalism has had major implications for democracy. As newspapers and broadcasters now operate primarily on the internet, we see transformations in online public participation. As the public voice grows louder, it is increasingly important that news consumers are offered the most accurate information upon which to base their opinions.
Public broadcasters must continue to fulfill their duty to inform, educate, and entertain at the service of citizens, culture and democracy. They must work towards developing a sense of national, local and global community. Their duty extends and transforms in an increasingly globalized world where borders and loyalties are no longer fixed. In the European Union, for example, public broadcasting may yet have an important role to play in forming new transnational and multinational identities.
Sadly, it now looks as though Canada will take the lead in walking away from public broadcasting as it has taken the lead in walking away from its environmental and humanitarian commitments. Should we care? I argue that we should. The CBC must be strengthened, improved, and given the freedom and opportunity to serve us, the people, who depend on it to help us make decisions about our community, our country and the world around us.