Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Radio-Canada "Ici" controversy: Why all the surprise?

The latest controversy to engulf the beleaguered CBC is the “Ici” debacle. For those who haven’t been following this soap opera, the CBC announced on June 5 2013 that the French radio news and broadcasting arm of the CBC would be re-named “Ici Première”, replacing the venerable “Radio-Canada”.

Alarmists nation-wide saw this as the work of péquistes within the French-language CBC to distance the French-language service from Canada. A firestorm of controversy ensued. A mere five days later, the President and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Hubert Lacroix, apologized to the nation and announced that the CBC was reversing its decision to rename the French-language service. Instead, the radio service will be called “Ici Radio-Canada Première” and the television service will be called “Ici Radio-Canada Télé”. Once again, the nation has been saved!

The only surprising thing about this minor episode in the life of the CBC is that anyone was surprised. The CBC has an unfortunate history of imposing decisions on an unsuspecting public who, after all, are the owners of the CBC. An unfortunate history that goes all the way back to the summer of 2006 when the CBC, in a stealth attack on the CBC radio audience that even a hardened terrorist could appreciate, replaced the Friday evening broadcast of “In Performance” with a mish-mash of unlistenable pop/folk/country/rock/hip-hop concerts. One might have thought that this was just a summer-time replacement, a bit of vacation for Eric Friesen, the host of “In Performance” at the time. But no, it was the sly method of the CBC of imposing change on the listening public. Introduce a small change. See if anyone complains. If they don’t, then forge ahead with a blitzkrieg attack on the listening public at a later date.

Long-time CBC watchers will remember that this blitzkrieg attack came on March 19 2007 when “The World at Six” was removed from CBC Radio Two, to be replaced by a five-minute news broadcast. “Music for a while” with Danielle Charbonneau was replaced by the crapulent “Tonic”. “In Performance” was replaced by the even more repellant “Canada Live”. “The Arts Report” with Joe Cummings was axed from “Music and Company”. “Two New Hours”, “Northern Lights” and “Brave New Waves” were consigned to the dungeons of the CBC recording vaults, never to be heard from again.

The CBC didn’t announce these changes in advance. They didn’t ask the owners of the CBC, you, the listening audience, whether they approved of these changes. No, they simply foisted these programming changes on the listening audience, much in the same way as the CBC has, six years later, charged ahead with the CBC Radio-Canada re-naming. The CBC claimed that there was an ultra-secret “Arts and Culture Survey” that purported to support the programming changes. However, this survey was never released to those who paid for it; i.e. the owners of the CBC, you and me. It remains secret to this day. Perhaps languishing in the CBC dungeons, next to ancient recordings of “Brave New Waves”.

But wait! There was more to come! In September 2007 “Symphony Hall” was cancelled. “The Singer and the Song” was cancelled. Howard Dyck was unceremoniously dumped from “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera”. It seemed like the CBC was conducting a purge of its most venerable programs and announcers that would have made Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin blush. Once again, all of this was done without any public consultation, prior notice or fanfare. Simply imposed upon the listening audience.

If Radio Two had not already been sufficiently decimated, the CBC had even greater plans for its destruction. In September 2008 “Music and Company” was replaced by “Radio 2 Morning”. “Here’s to You” with Catherine Belyea was cancelled. “Studio Sparks” was cancelled. Eric Friesen was put out to pasture. The much-loved “Disc Drive” with Jurgen Goethe was replaced by the irritating “Radio 2 Drive”. Jurgen Gothe was exiled to the Siberia-like time slot of 5:00 PM on Sunday with a new show, “Farrago”, but this was short-lived. “Sound Advice”, with the excellent Rick Phillips, was soundly trounced, not on the advice of its listeners.

Once again, all of these changes were imposed on the CBC Radio Two listening audience, without consultation, prior warning or any pretence at being interested in the opinion of their customers, the CBC Radio Two listening audience. And the CBC has gotten away with it for the past six years.

So is it any wonder that no one should be surprised at the “Ici” controversy?