Monday, March 30, 2009

An anniversary to remember.

An anniversary for the CBC passed recently and I didn't mention it in this blog. What anniversary was that, you might ask? Why, it was the second anniversary of Phase I of CBC Radio Two's disastrous attempts at restructuring its programming, which began March 19, 2007.

Of course, we didn't know at the time that it was simply Phase I of a larger program. No, the CBC Radio Two listening audience merely thought it was an ill-advised restructuring of the evening programming - the cancellation of the "World at Six" news broadcast, the replacement of "Music for a while" with the much-reviled "Tonic", the replacement of "In Performance" with the cretinous "Canada Live", the cancellation of "Two New Hours" and the introduction of the crapulent "The Signal" and the cancellation of "Brave New Waves" and "Northern Lights". Oh, and I forgot to mention: the cancellation of the "The Arts Report" and Joe Cummings during the "Music and Company" morning broadcasts. Well, I suppose it was unfair that the evening schedule should bear the brunt of the restructuring.

Following Phase I of the CBC restructuring was Phase II - the cancellation of "Symphony Hall", "The Singer and the Song" and the removal of Howard Dyck from "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera". And, following swiftly on the heels of Phase II like a rabid dog chasing a postie came Phase III, the cancellation of "Here's to You", "Studio Sparks" and "Sound Advice", and the replacement of "Disc Drive" with "Radio 2 Drive" and "Music and Company" with "Radio 2 Morning". The announcement of Phase III, of course, resulted in a storm of protest, letters written to the editors of newspapers, protests in the streets on April 11, 2008, the creation of Facebook groups in protest and much general hand-wringing. But it all came to naught. The CBC continued on its merry way in spite of the protests of its listeners.

Two years have passed since the beginning of Phase I and the CBC is very much in the news lately. Last week the CBC announced program cancellations and staff reductions in response to a budget shortfall, blamed by CBC management on the loss of revenues from television advertising during this global recession. The CBC has even announced that they may have to resort to asset sales - the sale of buildings owned by the CBC - to meet their budget. Of course, global recession aside, the lack of funding increases for the CBC over the past several years and the Conservative government's refusal to provide additional funding to the CBC during this time of crisis can also be blamed for the current mess the CBC finds itself in.

But who is really to blame for the crisis at the CBC? Greedy mortgage lenders, bankers and insurance companies who precipitated the global financial crises leading to the current recession and the resulting loss of advertising revenue? Sub-prime borrowers who borrowed too much money to buy houses they couldn't afford and whose subsequent defaults on their mortgages lead to the uncertain value of the asset-backed commercial paper that the banks invested in? Alan Greenspan, for lowering interest rates in 2001, only to initiate a program of interest rate increases in recent years leading to sub-prime borrowers being unable to meet their mortgage payments when their adjustable-rate mortgages reset to a higher interest rate? Canadian voters for electing governments who failed to increase funding for the CBC over the past several years? Or perhaps CBC management, for failing to adequately manage their working capital such that they could withstand a recession?

I suspect that the answer is, to some degree, all of the above. But there is another aspect to consider.

Imagine this scenario. Imagine that a right-wing government is in power, a government which does not believe in the need for a public broadcaster and which does not have the moral courage to propose the dismantling of the public broadcaster, but instead prefers to let the public broadcaster wither and die through lack of funding. Suppose too that the public broadcaster, in a misguided attempt to make itself more relevant, has gutted its programming, replacing a classical music schedule with a hodge-podge of contemporary, bland music, thereby alienating its core audience to the extent that that core audience feels compelled to protest the public broadcaster's actions to their Members of Parliament, to the Minister of Heritage, to the national newspapers, to the public broadcaster's Board of Governors - in short, to anyone who will listen. The right-wing government, seeing the public dissatisfaction with the public broadcaster, views this as a green light to continue their program of starving the public broadcaster in order to eventually abolish the public broadcaster through attrition. Suppose that the public broadcaster's once-loyal audience, who would have previously protested job layoffs, program cancellations and regional station closings and may have attempted to counter the right-wing government's attempts to kill the public broadcaster just can't be bothered anymore because they feel they have been betrayed by the public broadcaster and are no longer willing to stand up for the public broadcaster. Would the public broadcaster find itself in a state similar to the state that the CBC currently finds itself in? Perhaps. Could the public broadcaster be blamed for not only giving the right-wing government the ammunition with which to shoot it, but also giving it the gun and instructions on how to use it? Most certainly. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. What goes around, comes around. Insert your favourite aphorism here.

Of course we're all losers in this scenario, especially those CBC employees still working at the CBC, the CBC employees who have taken early retirement, either forced or in disgust at recent actions of CBC management, as well as the laid-off CBC employees who are all entirely blameless for the misguided actions of CBC management during the last two years. Oh, but I almost forgot, there are some winners. Namely, those members of CBC management who will still receive their bonuses for 2008.

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