It is well known fact in Ottawa that the usual best way to keep a secret it to publish it in the Canada Gazette. And even better, to do so in the summer. That is precisely what is about to happen in the matter of the long awaited CBC licence renewal process at the CRTC.
Informed sources suggest that we may expect a notice to be published - probably this week - in the Canada Gazette with a deadline for the public to file interventions by the end of July and hearings following quickly in the second or third week in September.
So, the CBC has had all the time it could want to get ready for this moment and to prepare for it using taxpayers’ dollars. The CBC will tell us what a great job it has done in changing and challenging times with its modest $1.1 billion subsidy and how it could do even better with more money and stable guaranteed funding. By sheer and remarkable coincidence, the CBC has just released a report
from Deloitte saying that it has contributed an overall $3.7 billion to Canada’s economy in 2010. Here's the report.
Here's the CBC's report
on the Deloitte report, which says that "[CBC President] Lacroix says the CBC does not intend to ask for an increased allocation in the period leading up to 2015."
On the other hand, to the minimal extent that there will be awareness of the renewal hearing, the public will have to prepare their comments and objections and make arrangements to appear at the hearing over the summer - all on their own time and their own dime. Many concerned groups, knowing that the CRTC cannot conceivably refuse to renew the CBC’s licence entitlement, may simply give up or boycott the process.
But there is good reason to intervene. The CRTC could remind the CBC what its role is and suggest and, perhaps even impose, some requirements and conditions.
The Government will read the CRTC’s decision with great interest, While the Government must not interfere with CBC's "journalistic, creative or programming independence", the Government does retain control of three very important elements. These are:
• the appointment of the President
• the appointment of members of the Board of Directors
• the amount of taxpayers’ subsidy.
Therefore, interventions made to the CRTC could prove very influential. These hearings come at a crucial and perhaps even existential crossroads for the CBC. There has been drastic change at the CBC under the current president and his predecessor. There is a lot of discontent about this change, which is not surprising. What is good about the change and what is bad? Can mistakes and bad judgment calls - and there frankly were many - be undone? Does the CBC have a future? What should that future be and what can be learned from the past? Should the CBC be competing with commercial TV and Radio for bigger audiences? Or should it go back to its more arts-oriented and sometimes “elite” past and do the things that other broadcasters can’t or won’t do but which must be done for the public good? Some types of cultural activity and informational services will always require some degree of subsidy.
The CBC’s raison d’être, according to the Broadcasting Act is:
“the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains”
Therefore, it would be a good idea for those concerned with Canadian culture to put together compatible coalitions of credible organizations and interested high profile individuals to get ready, pool available resources, and to focus on well orchestrated, high quality and effective interventions. This is already starting to happen.