One of the crime scenes

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Killing The CBC

I've been kinda attempting to write about the CBC for a couple of months now. Once again I got a column in my e-mail from Robin Mathews that seemed to say synchronicity does indeed exist, as he sent me his thoughts about the book recently published by a former CEO of the CBC, while I've been trying to organize my thoughts about yet another betrayal of the CBC mandate that has personally affected me.

Sometime in July, I learned that the CBC would be shutting down the through the air analog television repeater/transmitter that has served my small Kootenay valley for decades. Actually in my valley we are fortunate to have a local group that with minimal support from local taxes provides most major US networks (ABC, NBC and CBS, originally out of Spokane, now from Seattle) and CTV Vancouver, Global Vancouver and my favorites PBS from Seattle and BC KnowledgeTV.   Our local society maintained the service on everything but the CBC, whose own technicians would come to deal with maintenance or outages.  Sometimes some channels would be out of service, sometimes the CBC would be the only channel working, and sometimes it would be the only one not working. However that is just a part of choosing to live and work (or retire) in a rural/remote area.

Talking with people in town, I learned that others were concerned about the loss of a CBC signal and various ways to deal with it were being pursued. I was somewhat irate to learn that the CBC was willing to LEASE the equipment to the TV Society for just shy of $5,000 per year and we would have to maintain it. I mean, I was under the impression we already BOUGHT the equipment in essence through our taxes over the decades that helped support the CBC.  The Society was also considering receiving another CBC signal from a satellite, similar to the way other channels are brought into the valley, but all these proposals seem to be dead in the water now that Shaw has announced it's FREE (most likely introductory) offer to provide service to some households as long as they met certain criteria, like having never had cable (unavailable for miles in all directions) or satellite service within the last ninety days to the household.  For more details on the Shaw offer see this article from the Revelstoke Times-Review.
The few holdouts who watch CBC TV via bunny ears will bid farewell to Peter Mansbridge, Coronation Street and Don Cherry on July 31. For those of you born after 1980, bunny ears are the twin car antennae protruding from the back of your grandpa’s TV set. Peter Mansbridge is the host of ... oh, never mind.

The CBC is ending its free analogue broadcast to Revelstoke and many rural markets across B.C. and Canada on that date..../snip

.......The impending cancellation has been known for some time and was hastened by recent budget cuts to the CBC by the Harper Conservative government.

A lesser-known fact is a government regulator has ordered digital television provider Shaw Direct to provide a remedy for free-to-air users. We’ll spare you all the unnecessary details on how regulatory bodies arrived at this decision. Here are the key details: Shaw Direct has a one-off, $15-million fund and will install a free satellite receiver at the home of displaced analog users in rural who qualify for the program.

Once installed, you’ll receive eight free digital satellite channels. They are CBC Vancouver, CBC Yellowknife, CBC French language, CTV Vancouver, City TV Vancouver, CTV2 Vancouver Island, Global TV BC and CHEK Victoria.

Too good to be true? The Times Review called the hotline and confirmed the Revelstoke postal code is eligible.

There are restrictions. You have to have been an analogue user. You or your household can’t have had cable or satellite at your address in the past 90 days. And there are some technical requirements for your TV.

The program is first-come, first-served until the $15 million runs out, and the final deadline is November 30, 2012.
Since I share my home with a disabled person at the other end, who has Bell Satellite service, this isn't an option for me. However I'm not that confident in things provided by Shaw, even when it is mandated by the CRTC or any other government body. Years ago I used to be involved in television production at Shaw's facility in Nelson. As a musician I performed and often was involved in the production end, mainly of other musical presentations. At this time Shaw was obligated to provide a community channel and some production space and equipment in return for the right to provide cable service in the community (for serious bucks).  There were a very small number of jobs at the Shaw building, a clerk or two to answer the phones and deal with billing issues and a technician or two to assist the lay folks with using the equipment, and maintain the equipment. Today as far as I know one can't even pay their BILL for cable in person in Nelson and Shaw has NO physical presence in the city.  The building that once house Shaw in Nelson is now either a mortuary or a restaurant.

In New Denver, at the mouth of Carpenter Creek, the CBC tower is located, basically at the lowest possible location available without going under water. We still receive CBC 1 Radio from this tower, as long as BC Hydro isn't having one of their increasingly frequent outages. Thanks to a dictate of the Harper Government(tm), the CBC was obligated to rent telus space on this tower to provide extemely limited and frankly crappy cell phone service to the area, or a small part of the area.  While two small wireless internet providers have managed to set up systems at high locations, for better coverage, including one with NO ACCESS to Hydro at the site of a former Wildfire Lookout, telus couldn't be bothered and preferred to piggback on the cheap, with resulting poor coverage, that disappears entirely with a power outage, so much for the handiness of a cell phone in an emergency. Our community was split over telus forcing themselves on us, and personally I was offended that they wouldn't do it up in a manner that wouldn't lose coverage in some directions only a mile or two from the tower. Telus of course won the battle, after all, the Harper Government is of the Corporations, by the Corporations and FOR the Corporations.

I'm still a regular listener of CBC radio, I detest commercial radio unless perhaps I could be in L.A or the Bay Area and have access to some decent jazz or sports stations.  I must admit though, that even CBC Radio, under the ongoing onslaught of corporate governance, accelerated by the fascist Harperites is going downhill due to ongoing, unending budget cuts to satisfy their corporate media donors. I'm especially cheesed off that in this time of budgetary restraint the CBC can find the means to open a completely new broadcast station in Kamloops, a city of 85,000 mostly retarded souls (judging from the folks they send to Victoria and Ottawa). I think it would have made more sense to improve the programming out of Kelowna for Southern Interior BC, for Kamloops, Kelowna, Cranbrooks etc.   What's next, a separate station for Surrey and another for Chilliwack?

For over forty years now the CBC, radio and TeeVee has been my link to the rest of Canada. For years I lived in Kaslo, where CBC was the only game in town, likewise on Haida Gwaii and other remote locales in Southern BC. I still remember one spring day paddling along the east shore of Moresby Island, listening to the game as the Habitants won yet another Stanley Cup. Of course Treason Steven isn't into anything that brings Canada together, he would prefer to divide us into an imitation of the polarized looney bin to our south, if not indeed another part of it!

Now I will share Robin Mathews thoughts on the CBC in general and Richard Stursberg's self serving tome.

Richard Stursberg and the CBC.
Telling It Like It Isn’t.

submitted by Robin Mathews

THE TOWER OF BABBLE, Douglas and McIntyre, 2012.

Richard Stursberg was made CBC’s head of English Services in 2004, plucked from outside, not having grown up inside the Corporation.  He held the position until 2010 – when he was dumped.  In those years the CBC entered a crisis period which remains.  Many factors make up the crisis – the most important being the Harper determination to destroy public broadcasting (to destroy public EVERYTHING).

Stursberg’s tale of those years could be a key reference point for all thinking about the contemporary CBC  - and about the future of broadcasting/communications in Canada.  He was there.  He was at the centre.  He saw. 

But his book is a gigantic disappointment.  Other, well informed reviewers describe it as unreliable in fact and politically infantile. The book is a personalist, fists-first account of Richard Stursberg’s fight against the dead wood, the destroyers of talent, especially CBC president Hubert Lacroix, in an attempt to build CBC, to give it increased audience, to make it alive and fun – with the goal of serving Canadians they way they should be served.

Even while praising Stursberg for his “inside the belly” discussions of the terrors and difficulties of making CBC work, his critics grant him very little. They praise his first-hand, at-the-tiller reports of financing, of overloaded bureaucracy, of rigid Old Guardism, of the incredible failures to share – in the simplest ways – francophone and anglophone broadcasting experience, and of the structural obstructions to moving CBC quickly about … anything.

But they crush his book as repeatedly factually wrong – a matter of huge importance.  Martin Knelman, long-time entertainment columnist, calls it, as well – “blatantly self-serving”.  Howard Bernstein lists what he claims are factual errors and doubtful claims of achievement.

Of the famous CBC lockout/labour battle of 2005, the union reviewers from the CMG (Canadian Media Guild) claim the chapter on the subject “is so riddled with factual errors that it taints the credibility of the rest of the book….”  Still another critic, armed with statistical weaponry, denies Stursberg’s claim to have significantly increased the numbers who view and listen to CBC programs.

Even his apparent frankness, his tell-all determination fades at the end.  Of the final confrontation with CBC president Hubert Lacroix, Stursberg writes: “What happened after this I cannot say. The terms of my separation agreement forbid me from describing the moment.”  That is rather like General Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham sneaking away before he can receive his death wound in order to make sure his pension is safe.

Critics have nailed Richard Stursberg’s Sins of Commission.  Probably even worse are his Sins of Omission. He harps on the fact that English Canada, unlike French Canada (and almost everywhere else on the globe), prefers U.S. broadcasting to its own.  There is a reason.  Stursberg never gives it. And, apparently for the same reason, he will not deal with the fact (which he records) that Canada’s public broadcaster is almost the least government supported in the world! He avoids that subject like the plague.

The answer in both cases is politics – and Richard Stursberg flees from facing up to real politics.

The fundamental fact of CBC’s existence is political.  It cannot be dealt with unpolitically.  Back in the earliest days, the U.S. media barons fully intended to broadcast without impediment for all the U.S. and Canada.  The creation of the CBC was an actively political, anti-imperialist move … to assure Canadians their own voice, their own culture, their own view of the world.  The move to create the CBC was daring.  It was courageous.

And like all daring and courageous moves to ensure the distinctive quality of Canadian existence, it came under attack from the first hour.  The private corporate Canadian opportunists fought and fought, forced Royal Commission after Royal Commission, each time cutting away a piece of the power of the CBC and conferring that power on private, corporate, Americanizing, colonial pirates.  They keep the pressure up still (with active Harper government support) to strangle the CBC financially.

As if their work with broadcasting were not enough, the private corporate opportunists did even worse with the other major indoctrination entertainment force that lasted almost one hundred years – the movie industry.  That incredible story has been told over and over. (Try Pierre Berton’s HOLLYWOOD’S CANADA.)

It is a story of Canadian governments – one after the other – destroying an always nascent, always genuinely promising, potentially dynamic Canadian film industry – to please U.S. power and movie producers in the U.S.A. It is a story of greedy Canadian corporations and spineless governments sacrificing the right of Canadians (especially English Canadians) to know themselves, to celebrate their culture, to gain employment in brilliant creativity … for what?  In order to gain the approval of pirates colonizing Canada, sucking away jobs, wealth, and opportunity that belong rightfully to Canadians in their own country.

The U.S. movie industry – let loose with no holds barred in Canada, and the broadcasting industry – increasingly delivering U.S. culture - almost literally removed a huge number of (English) Canadians from their own country and culture.

The job of the CBC to bring Canadians back to Canadian broadcasting has to be fully explained so it can make sense to the people.  By the same token, Stephen Harper’s determination to cut the throat of CBC and responsible broadcasting in Canada has to be exposed, explained, shouted about over and over and over. 

Don’t ask for any of that from Richard Stursberg’s book.  It isn’t there.

Finally, amazingly – as if self-hypnotized – Stursberg misses a KEY point (and, of course, it is a political point).  Hubert Lacroix (like many, many Harper appointments) appeared out of nowhere. He was, I believe, a know-nothing (about broadcasting) placed in a top job to do a very real piece of work. Almost every one of Lacroix’s actions and those of the mostly government appointed Board members have been the actions – I believe – of brilliant, fumble-headed, dedicated, seemingly opaque, even sincere destroyers.  They are there, I believe, to engage in destruction that was politically set up to happen.

And Richard Stursberg fumbles again, almost as if on purpose.  Throughout his book, he praises people warmly or the opposite.  He seems to find people like Brian Mulroney and Leonard Asper pleasing, just as he finds many more displeasing. Readers may not approve of his taste, but he seems to be frank about it.

Except … except … he has to report ugly acts done by Stephen Harper, and does, without comment. Slashing funds. Refusing a meeting with the CBC president. Refusing to communicate – all the bullying and intimidation tactics from Stephen Harper that we are used to. Stursberg reports, because he has to.  But he makes no comment about Harper’s actions.  Never.  Nowhere in the book does he deal with Harper’s long-term policy.  And nowhere does he hint that he might have an opinion about Stephen Harper. For once, Richard Stursberg is strangely silent.

That, I would say, is no accident.

Richard Stursberg wants the story of THE TOWER OF BABBLE to be a story of an unpolitical war of personalities, a battle between progressive imagination (his) and stumbling Old Guardism.  He wants it to be a story of stupid, backward, insensitive, sclerotic CBC’ers fighting a knight in white shining armour arriving to bring them “the Good”. 

He does not want to face reality, that the fight for the CBC – as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be – is a deeply political fight, in fact a major part of the fight for Canada’s very existence.  Many will assert I am sure that by failing to tell the real story and trivializing most of the rest Richard Stursberg joins the long list of destroyers he apparently sought to overthrow. 


Blogger Beijing York said...

Bravo! This entry was well worth the wait.

Robin's review of Stursberg's account of his tenure at CBC is spot on. He certainly didn't do much to bolster the Canadian film industry during his brief stint as Executive Director at Telefilm Canada (2002-2004), focusing his energy on financing more commercially viable films (aping those produced by Hollywood). In my view, he never understood or refused to embrace the concept of culture being a public good. He was always about commercial viability rather than long term investment in quality voices.

It's sad to see the CBC destroyed so viciously by Harper. It's even sadder to know that it was done with carefully appointed stooges from within. That started well before Harper but he has accelerated the process.

Saturday, September 15, 2012 at 7:45:00 PM PDT  

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