With election time upon us, the political atmosphere in Canada has never seemed more charged. The last election had an air of apathy, lacking the excitement in the last couple of years with party politics.
From ridiculous attack advertisements featuring Liberal candidate Justin Trudeau, to counter- ads going viral on social media, the political discourse is vastly different from the last election.
Recently, the counter attack- ads mirroring the changing atmosphere of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) gained traction on the airwaves. The ads are humorous, parodying dictatorships and censorship in the media.
FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting, a watchdog association, released the ads to raise awareness of what is happening to our oldest existing broadcasting network.
Arthur interviewed Kady Denton, an active member of Peterborough’s local chapter, as to why FRIENDS started the campaign “We Vote CBC.”
Who are the FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting?
We are a relatively small, Not- for Profit national organization that started up in 1985.
In the past, FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting has been critical of the CBC.
In this case, the campaign “We Vote CBC” is in support of the CBC. This campaign was launched last year in light of all the changes happening to the broadcasting station.
It also set out to inform the public of these changes, though anyone who was watching TV or listening to the radio probably had a pretty good idea of how things were deteriorating.
As a watchdog organization, FRIENDS ensures there is public representation at hearings and Senate Committees that look at changing conditions for broadcasting in Canada, for example. Whether it be public, or private, broadcasting these watchdogs are needed. In Canada, these watchdogs are now especially needed, for our policies and our environment.
What sort of changes implemented in the CBC gave rise to this campaign?
In 2012, the Harper Government promised in public to maintain and increase support to the CBC. Since then, they have cut $115 million.
The $115 million cuts were also made with no adjustment to inflation, and money that could have been put into public broadcasting and the CBC to boost it up was not used. They weren’t put in, and during the Harper
Government the money has been dribbled out from the budget year to year.
Well, if you’re doing a budget, such as programming, shows take a couple of weeks to whip up. Investing in a series, in some quality shows, that takes forward thinking, and the CBC hasn’t been able to do that. On every front, financially, they have been battered.
Recently, 2000 more people have had to leave the CBC. These are the most creative journalists, performers and writers in Canada. The CBC creates a pool of creative journalism and writing that affects this whole country.
The reality is that the CBC’s funding has been cut so much and there is political interference from the CBC in the Board of Directors and the situation is quite desperate. The CBC has had to cut back so much it has become a shadow of what it used to be.
What sort of internal changes has the CBC faced?
Last year, the government sold off parts of the public spectrum of the airwaves. A number of broadcasters were shifting to digital transmitting, so these particular airwaves became free.
The government sold these off for $7 billion. That money was not re-invested in the CBC, the public broadcaster, or into public airwaves.
It’s been channeled into what is known as the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
This is the account into which taxes and revenue are deposited, and from which funds are withdrawn in order to defray the costs of public services.
The polls show that people support the CBC, and that what is happening is not in the taxpayer’s interest. The Consolidated Revenue Fund is a lot of taxpayer money. The amount of what goes on with that money is unknown to most Canadians.
For example, if someone contributes to the Conservative Party, they are given a tax benefit that is paid for by everybody. I’ve heard Mr. Harper say, “It’s not taxpayer money” but it is very much taxpayers money.
The one thing that has clearly had an impact on the CBC is the newly appointed board members. The CBC has a Board of Directors, just like any organization. Since the 1930’s, the Prime Minister has appointed the board members, President, and CEO. In the past, these people have met the criteria of having an interest in public broadcasting.
Currently, 9 of the 11 board members are financial contributors to the Conservative Party of Canada.
Hubert Lacroix, for example, is the current CEO and President of the CBC, who has no experience running a broadcasting organization, nor any radio or television experience when he was appointed by Mr. Harper in 2007. It’s like having a fifth column inside the CBC.
The CBC is dear to many Canadians, how can we get involved and have our voices heard?
There are hundreds of thousands of members of FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting across Canada. In Peterborough alone, I think there are about 6,000 members.
Recently there was a report being drafted by a committee of Senators, and FRIENDS asked if I would speak on the committee. Now, I’m just an ordinary citizen, how much could I say? However, I went and spoke to how people value the CBC, the polls show that etc.
At the end the co- chair of the committee turned to me and asked, “Kady, don’t you agree that the CBC is an arm of the government?” All I had a chance to say before the chairman rang the bell was, “No, it belongs to the public.”
Publicly- owned does not mean state- owned. State- owned is giving out messages for the Prime Minister’s office, it is controlling news. It’s making announcements that are supposed to be transparent but really they’re thick as mud. It’s propaganda, that’s what state- controlled means.
The CBC is not supposed to be state- controlled, it’s for the people. It’s a Canadian, public organization- just like a library or a public park and it matters.
How do you think this has impacted journalism in Canada?
We have a Prime Minister who doesn’t talk to the press!
There aren’t any media scrums anymore.
When emerging from the House of Commons, usually the Press gathered around the PM and so on. That does not happen with this Prime Minister.
He never appears unless he’s got 3 dozen flags around him and he’s standing at a podium and the questions are pre- approved. My heart goes out to journalists right now.”
Truth is important, the CBC is important. The campaign isn’t telling people how to vote. Now, more than ever, we need a member of Parliament who will champion the CBC. When the candidates come knocking at your door and they ask for lawn signs, tell them- support for the CBC matters.
We live in a scripted world. It needs to open, to loosen. The mandate of the CBC is to inform, enlighten and entertain.
The Senate Report Time for a Change: The CBC/ Radio Canada in the Twenty First Century and the Minority Report by Senator Art Eggleton: A Plan for a Vibrant and Sustainable CBC/ Radio Canada are available to the public online.