Thursday, October 9, 2008

7 Days Later: Only the NDP has responded

Seven days have passed since I sent my original question to the candidates in Carleton-Mississippi, Mr. Gordon O'Connor (Conservative), Mr. Justin MacKinnon (Liberal), Mr. Paul Arbour (NDP) and Mr. Jake Cole (Green). Only Mr. Arbour replied to my question, for which I thank Mr. Arbour.

I'll continue the conversation between Bob and Ted from the other day:

"So, Ted, how's the response to that Wooten guy coming?"

"Still working on it, Bob."

"There's only one work day left before the election, Ted. Think you'll get it finished before the weekend?"

"Yeah, no problem. But it's a bit more involved that I thought at first."

"Oh, yeah? How so?"

"Well, I've been digging into the history behind the CBC programming changes a bit. Seems this has been going on longer than we thought. It seems the first programming changes went back all the way to the summer of 2006. The CBC first replaced the Friday evening time slot of "In Performance", which had been all classical music before then, with a version of the current "Canada Live". At first, everyone thought this was just a summertime replacement for "In Performance" on Friday evenings - you know, to give the host, Eric Friesen, a bit of a break. But come September, "In Performance" did not come back to the Friday evening time slot and "Canada Live" was there permanently."

"Didn't the CBC announce this programming change?"

"Not as far as I can tell. It seems they tried to slip it in, under the radar so to speak, hoping no one would notice."

"So it was a bit of a trial balloon. To see if any one complained."

"Yeah, it seems so. Probably people noticed, of course, but maybe very few complained. After all, it was just one evening out of five. Perhaps they thought it was only for the summer at first and then, when they realized it wasn't, just decided to live with it."

"So what happened next?"

"Well, then, things went on as before. Then, in March 2007, CBC went whole hog and replaced 'Music for a while' with a jazz program, 'Tonic', and the remaining four evenings of 'In Performance' with 'Canada Live'. They also cut the evening newscast, 'The World at Six', from thirty minutes to five minutes and cut the 'Arts Report' out of the morning broadcast."

"Did the CBC announce these changes beforehand?"

"They did, sort of. A few weeks before the changes the announcers of the programs that were being cut had to announce that they wouldn't be there after March 19 and that there would be new programs."

"That's a bit cruel for the program hosts, isn't it? Having to announce your own cancellation?"

"Yeah, I guess it was."

"And no big press releases? No announcements on the CBC web site? No big hoop-lah to announce a major shift in strategy?"

"Nope, nothing, nada, nicht, zip, zero. Tried to fly it in under the radar."

"You've got to admit they're smart. Learned a thing or two from the government. Release bad news on a Friday afternoon, before a long weekend, in the hope that no one notices it or that it gets minimal coverage from the press. Better than the stealth bomber for flying in under the radar."

"Yeah, but in this case people did notice. Petitions were started, a few newspaper articles got written, this Wooten guy started his blog. But once again, the CBC got away with it."

"Then this Sept. 2 thing happened?"

"No, this time the CBC announced their changes well in advance, early in 2008. They also announced that the CBC Radio Orchestra was being disbanded. That's when the shit really hit the fan."

"How so?"

"Well, this time people really sat up and took notice. The evening schedule for classical music had already been decimated, but now classical music was being canceled during the daytime schedule. Classical music was going to be relegated to the 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM ghetto. The morning and evening time slots were given over to more contemporary music - supposedly, to showcase Canadian artists that were not being heard elsewhere."

"Interesting. Was there any evidence that Canadians actually wanted to hear 'Canadian artists that were not being heard elsewhere'?"

"CBC points to an 'Arts and Culture' survey that they say they did that supports these changes, but refuse to release it."

"Interesting. Sounds like the technique of the 'big lie'. It reminds me of the prelude to the second World War - no one objected when Herr Hitler annexed Austria - "it's only Austria, and after all, they're both German-speaking countries" government leaders in Europe said. And when Germany invaded the Czechs, everyone thought that Herr Hitler would be satisfied. But when Germany invaded Poland, then, people took notice. But by then it was too late."

"That's a little extreme, isn't it Bob? Comparing the CBC to the Nazis?"

"I'm not comparing the CBC to the Nazis, not at all. There's no comparison at all, of course. It's just the technique seems similar - take a small bite, see if any one notices, take another bite, see how much you can get away with, then take it all."

"Well, I agree, as an exercise in change management it was either an extremely poorly executed example of how to implement change in a large organization. Or else is was extremely devious, and extremely well done."

"So which was it?"

"The former, I think. You remember, I worked as a consultant in change management before taking this job."

"Was that your uncle, the candidate's company?"

"No, that was my other uncle, on my mother's side."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot."

"Well, getting back to the CBC. People did take notice, and they did object. There was a national day of protest on April 11. CBC listeners protested in most of the major cities in Canada - there's a Facebook group devoted to the protest. Can you imagine! Raging grannies on the streets of Canadian cities! But, in fact, it wasn't just grannies out protesting. It was students, the middle-aged, moms and dads with their kids, as well as the older folks, as you might expect."

"Come to think of it, I remember being on the Sparks Street mall last winter and seeing a crowd protesting outside the CBC building. But it was raining hard at the time - a combination of rain and sleet - so I didn't stick around."

"Remarkable, isn't it, that Canadians would feel so strongly about anything that they would get out into the streets and protest? Well, that wasn't the last of it. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage got involved and held a special hearing on the CBC changes."

"No kidding? I must've missed that one. What happened?"

"As you might expect, there was a fair amount of blustering questions by the MPs, evasive, self-important, self-congratulatory answers from CBC management, a few non-sequiturs from some of the other MPs, and finally the whole thing just petered out. I saw the broadcast on the web. That Wooten guy also did a synopsis of the hearing, but of course his view is a bit biased."

"So what's the situation now?"

"It seems both sides have retreated into their corners. The listeners have done all they could but no one has taken up their cause. The CBC has bulldozed ahead with their master plan to change the face of public broadcasting in Canada."

"And is it working?"

"That's just the thing! Is it working? How do we know? The only way we could tell if it's working or not is by looking at audience market share, both before and after the programming changes. And market share data isn't available to you or me - it's only available to the broadcasters themselves, such as CBC."

"Sweet. Makes it easier to maintain the 'big lie'. You can claim your strategy is successful, because only you have access to the data to show that it is, or is not. And your competitors aren't going to challenge you - they don't necessarily care to make it known that the CBC's strategy isn't successful. After all, it's in their best interests to see CBC's audience share decline."

"I think you're the one that's been reading too many thrillers now, Bob."

"Maybe. Anyway, I'm impressed, Ted. You've been doing your homework."

"Well, you know, you can only get so far on nepotism alone."

"Right you are Ted."

No comments: