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05/30/2014 12:38 EDT | Updated 07/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Why Is the CBC Trying To Crowdsource Its Own Vision?

Recently there have been a few posts about the CBC. The CBC is a perennial source of debate, hated by right wingers, ignored by left wingers, decried as too urban and dismissed as too rural. A lot of people do feel it has a place in Canadian life (supposedly books talked about on the Canada Reads competition enjoy noticeable bumps in sales) -- but even those who support the idea of the CBC are cynical about how it's run.

Struggling to deliver big ratings programs, the recent loss of its decades old flagship Hockey Night in Canada, and a seeming unending number of budget cuts while facing a future -- like all broadcasters -- of technological changes has led to even more uncertainty.

And so, as CBC president Hubert Lacroix explains here, the CBC wants the public to suggest what they want from the CBC.

The problem is, is that democracy at work? Or is it an abdication? The captain of a floundering ship suddenly tossing his hat to the passengers and saying "Catch!"

I'm all for the CBC brass stepping out of their ivory towers and walking among the people, but I'd also like a sense they have a vision themselves. A vision that can be shaped by public feedback, perhaps -- but a vision nonetheless.

Because if you ask a hundred people what they want from the CBC, you'll get a hundred different answers. And most of those responses will be driven largely by narcissism and self-interest. The news junkies will say the CBC should scrap entertainment entirely and the radio listeners will say shut down the TV network. The CBC needs the support of the majority -- but it has an obligation to serve the minority, too.

What I want to know is what those in charge of the CBC think. What do they believe is the CBC's purpose? What are their goals? Their ambitions? And what are their personal tastes and interests? What TV shows do they enjoy watching and think the CBC should emulate?

And how seriously will the CBC take any suggestions they receive -- or is this just an attempt to look like they are paying attention? The CBC doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to self-examination -- or fiscal transparency.

After all, though the CBC is the victim of outside factors (which I'll get to in a moment) are some of the problems the result of internal decisions?

What if the public consensus is the top brass of the CBC should resign? Is that on the table? What if a frequent suggestion is upper management salaries should be capped and redundant executive positions be eliminated? Will that be included in any final report? What if the general opinion is the best thing for the CBC is to hire decision makers who don't need to ask other people for their opinions?

Or what if it's suggested the government increase the CBC's budget, but in return the CBC must open its books so the government, and the public, can keep track of what they are doing with that money, from salaries to working lunches and business trips?

Put another way, if Lacroix and others are serious about saving the CBC, what sacrifices are they, personally, willing to make? Are they willing to take a few hits? To fall on a few swords?

I'm not necessarily saying they need to resign or take pay cuts or reduce their expense accounts or what have you. I'm just curious as to what options are on the table if they're going to ask the public their opinions on what should be done.

It would be nice if the CBC became a genuine political issue, parties coming out with policy platforms (complete with price tags attached). Unfortunately, what the CBC -- and Canadian arts -- get from politicians is usually general suggestions of support but few concrete commitments. Not that the Arts is unique in that regard. Look at Veterans, or The First Nations. The Opposition righteously berates the government for its neglect of certain portfolios -- then the Opposition becomes the government and the indifference continues unabated.

It'd be nice if Justin Trudeau or Tom Muclair came out with a policy on the CBC, but, sadly, it's just not seen as a sexy political issue. There aren't enough votes in scrapping the CBC (or the Conservatives would promise to do that) but there aren't a lot of votes in boosting it, either. It's there, seem to say the politicians -- isn't that enough?

Now the CBC is in a difficult, almost impossible situation, and maybe the first step to figuring out what to do is to recognize that.

Most countries in the world have public broadcasters. But the CBC is actually underfunded by comparison, apparently receiving considerably less per capita than, for instance, the BBC. Yet the CBC has far greater demands on its resources geographically (the BBC services an area smaller than many Canadian provinces) and in two languages (more, actually, since the CBC also offers programming in various third languages, including First Nation languages). So if you wonder why the BBC has produced global hits like Doctor Who and the CBC hasn't -- funding might be part of the answer.

As well, English-Canada is in a unique situation. Not only does it physically border the United States, but it shares the language and a similar accent with the U.S., a country with 10 times Canada's population and which recognized the commercial, cultural, and propaganda potential of mass entertainment when film and radio was in its infancy and has built itself into the most successful purveyor of mass entertainment the world has ever seen. French-Canada is protected by a language barrier. England and elsewhere are offered some buffer zones by simple distance, allowing them a greater ability to control the airwaves, and with accents that at least provide a slight demarcation between them and "foreign" American programming.

The CBC isn't just competing with other Canadian networks, but with the entirety of American mass culture which spends more and can absorb losses easier -- American networks cancel series with less thought than a CBC executive expends on whether he's going to have the chicken or egg salad sandwich from the cafeteria!

So, less funding than comparable public broadcasters.

More that is needed to be done with that money, in terms of physical geography and multilingual programming.

And competing with Hollywood in a way no other country in the world has to.

I'll probably write more later, but I'll leave off by suggesting that what the CBC needs most is a visionary.

"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." ~ Raymond Chandler

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