Tuesday, September 27, 2005

CBC Lockout Watch, Day 44

Yesterday's discussions under the watchful eye of Labour Minister Joe Fontana covered the hot topic of contract employment. CBC's statement suggests that they got called on the carpet for not promising more full-time permanent positions:

CBC wants to reach an agreement as quickly as possible. We are hopeful that these discussions will allow us to move toward reaching an agreement that not only reflects the business realities and requirements of the broadcasting world, but at the same time respects the career aspirations of our employees.

This is the first time that CBC has ever admitted that some people don't like living their lives from contract to contract. Yet many of these same people keep doing so, not because they prefer contract work, but because they can't seem to let go of the dream of being a real CBC employee.

What else could explain some of these people hanging on for years on end as contract employees for a permanent position that will never come, even when offers of better-paid permanent work with private stations are put before them?

As long as CBC promotes itself as the one true voice of Canadian public broadcasting, there will be people who would clean the floors of the Toronto Broadcast Centre with their tongues just to say they worked for CBC. CBCers have no one but themselves to blame for the abuse they take from management as a result of their fanatical devotion to CBC.

Andrew Coyne takes up Patrick Watson's suggestion to put the CBC out to tender and raises the possibility of moving CBC to pay-per-view, as an alternative to operating under advertising revenue or parliamentary grants:

Under ad finance, programming is not produced and sold to viewers: rather, viewers themselves are the product, to be packaged and sold to advertisers. The effect is to focus programmers on quantity, as opposed to quality. What counts is how many eyeballs happen to be watching, regardless of how intensely they may be watching. Hence the familiar evils of private broadcasting: the tendency to the lowest common denominator, the indifference to specialized tastes, the monotonous sameness, all in pursuit of the broadest possible audience.

If viewers are pandered to under ad finance, under public funding they are ignored altogether. In theory, a publicly funded broadcaster, without the necessity of courting advertisers, is freed to serve the audience, or rather audiences, in all their diversity. But that depends on those in charge of both intuiting audience needs and responding to them, in the absence of any incentive to do so. Occasionally, miraculously, they do. More often they serve other masters, with other agendas: governments, friends, themselves.


People behave differently when they pay for something. It's the difference between HBO and ABC. Viewers of pay channels are both more demanding and more committed than viewers of traditional, over-the-air TV. They have made an investment in taste, and wish to see it pay dividends.

The mere suggestion by Richard Stursberg while he was running the Canadian Cable Television Association that CBC might eventually become a standard cable channel sent CBC fans into hysterics when it came to light.

Their reaction highlighted the main obstacle to serious debate about reform of the CBC: the people who claim to be committed to Canadian public broadcasting are really committed to an increasingly outdated model. Nostalgia for the good old days seems to fuel so much of their passion; note how many references by CBC fans speak not to what CBC could be in the future, but to what it was in the past.

The audience for a dynamic new all-Canadian public interest CBC on pay-per-view is the same audience that will fight to the death to prevent it.

The picket line along the processional route to Rideau Hall lowered its signs as outgoing governor general Adrienne Clarkson and incoming governor general Michaelle Jean passed by.

Did the picketers do so to honour the vice-regal office, or to honour two fellow CBC alumnae?

With four of Canada's past five governors general having worked for CBC at one point, would it have made more sense to picket Rideau Hall as originally threatened, since the office seems to have become a form of out-relief for ex-CBCers?

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