Monday, April 30, 2007

The first week is over: time to express an opinion

So, after the first week of the new CBC Radio Two evening schedule I decided that, as a CBC Radio Two listener, taxpayer and shareholder in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (see clause 3.(1) of the Broadcasting Act, 1991, which states "It is hereby declared as the broadcasting policy for Canada that (a) the Canadian broadcasting system shall be effectively owned and controlled by Canadians") that I would begin to make my opinions known to the CBC.

Being a calm, considerate Canadian attempting to work within the system (as they used to say in the '60s) I went to the CBC Radio Two web site to try to find a venue for my comments. Aha! I found that CBC Radio Two had thoughtfully created a blog site, presumably where CBC Radio Two listeners could read posts from CBC Radio Two management and personalities, post their own opinions, exchange feedback with CBC Radio Two management and other listeners. A venue for the exchange of ideas! Freedom of expression! Everything that makes western democracies great! I dutifully began to read the posts. Most I found to be self-absorbed, public relations fluff.

Then, I found a blog written by Mr. Jowi Taylor. I read through the posts, until I came upon an entry date March 21, entitled "Moving On". In his post, Mr. Jowi Taylor made the following statement:

"A lot of time is spent going through the comments associated with each post. I have posted comments both positive and negative about some of the new shows when they've been directly related to my original post. There are also a lot of comments coming in that are totally unrelated to the posts but express a genuine concern about the programmes, the schedule, the direction of the network - you know - all the stuff that has been the stuff of the public conversation about the CBC since the very beginning.

This is not the best place to leave those comments. To the left, you'll notice a piano keyboard graphic that says TELL US WHAT YOU THINK. That will get your message to the people it's intended for."

Hmmm, I thought. There are a lot of comments coming in. Why can't I find them? I searched some more. I realized that there were no comments on the web site expressing a genuine concern about the programmes, the schedule, the direction of the network - everything that I expected to see on the CBC Radio Two blog site. Could it be that these comments were being deliberately suppressed? No! It couldn't be!

So I came back the next day. And the day after that. Finally, there were three comments, one from Mr. John Pendley, one from Lorry - no last name given - and one from Mr. Michael Ostroff. All of these gentlemen made very good points. I thought I would join the fray.

So I decided to submit my own post in response to Mr. Jowi Taylor's March 21 entry. Here it is, verbatim:

"Hi Jowi,

First, my apologies for using your blog as a forum to vent my outrage over the changes that have taken place in the evening schedule of CBC Radio Two. I realize that you are not responsible for these changes and have no influence over the programming or schedule.

However, by mentioning these changes and the responses that your have received from listeners in your March 21 entry entitled "Moving On", you have begun a discussion on this site that should be allowed to flourish.

Others who have left comments identify the lack of a forum on this site to express their opinions. This is the reason they are responding here. I, of course, completely agree. I will also provide my feedback using the TUWYT link but I have little hope that it will be read or considered even for the briefest moment, let alone acted upon by anyone in CBC management. There should be a forum on this site where listeners can express their views concerning the programming on Radio Two. I have searched this site and the CBC Radio site and can find no such forum.

In your March 22 comment, you state "As for consultation, there was month after month after month of it with all kinds of stakeholders - from listeners to orchestras to presenters to SOCAN to the musicians' association to... you name it." I must disagree. The first inkling that I had of the changes coming to the evening schedule was an announcement by Danielle Charbonneau that her program would be ending and new programs would begin March 19. I would have thought that consulting with listeners would have involved announcing possible changes months in advance (through public forums, such as the web site or the broadcasts themselves), soliciting opinion, allowing listeners to react and exchange opinions, then announce the outcome of this public consultation well in advance. Well, of course, nothing of this sort seems to have taken place. Instead, listeners were presented with a fait accompli on March 19. Live with it or move on, it appears we have been told.

Why am I outraged? I am outraged because we have not been given a choice. I would have agreed with the launch of an alternative to CBC Radio Two, with this new programming. As a taxpayer, I would have fully supported such an initiative. Instead, we appear to have been told by CBC Radio Two that no, our tastes in music are not sophisticated or worldly enough. Instead of listening to classical music while driving home or preparing dinner, we should be listening to jazz. Instead of listening to classical performances after 8:00 PM, we should be listening to live performances, of many different genres, some of which we may have no interest in.

There are, unfortunately, few alternatives available to listeners. As you may have noticed, there are few radio stations that broadcast classical music programs. In larger centres such as Vancouver, Toronto or Ottawa there may be one other. But what about smaller cities? The great value of CBC Radio Two was that it presented an alternative to commercial radio and provided a means for younger listeners to discover classical music. Will a young person discover the evening programming and become a long-term listener? I sincerely doubt it. Yet, in a Globe and Mail article on March 19, Jennifer McGuire (identified as CBC Radio's executive director of programming) stated that "... we are trying to have a service that is sustainable, with an audience that regenerates". By presenting a consistent format, with programming that was an alternative to commercial radio, CBC Radio Two was able to do just that - acquire a new audience who would stay with the programming. I believe that the new programming in the evening is not sufficiently distinctive, or consistent, to provide an alternative to commercial radio that will attract new listeners.

If this were a commercial radio station the outcome would be predictable. Listeners would abandon the station, advertisers would become aware of the declining audience and pull advertising, advertising revenues would suffer and the management of the radio station would realize their mistake and adjust accordingly. Given the lack of accountability to the audience, I expect CBC Radio Two management to go blithely on, unaware of audience interests and unresponsive to the few comments that percolate upwards.

What I find even more alarming is that I have heard mention of further changes to the daytime schedule. You also mention in your March 22 response: "For me - and this coming from someone who lost a show as a result of this exercise - I think that these changes are a good first step." One cringes at the thought of what the next steps will be."

I hit "Post", then sat back, satisfied that I had made my comments and was contributing to the free flow of ideas - all the while remembering that I was a shareholder in this great corporation called the CBC.

Imagine my surprise when I came back to the CBC Radio Two web site the next day, only to see that my comments were not posted. Nor were they the next day, or the day after that. My post was not posted on Mr. Jowi Taylor's blog and it has never appeared. Well, crap! thought I. What was wrong with my post? I did not use profanity! (Although I was tempted.) I did not defame CBC Radio Two management or Mr. Jowi Taylor! Agreed, the tone of my post may have been slightly bitter, but is this not allowed?

OK, I thought. The next step is to make my comments on the "Tell us what you think" link on the CBC Radio Two web site (it is the "piano key" link on the CBC Radio Two site as mentioned by Mr. Jowi Taylor). I would make my comments there, and see what sort of response I got.

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