BROADCASTING

The CBC national dream

Brian D. Johnson January 20 1986
BROADCASTING

The CBC national dream

Brian D. Johnson January 20 1986

The CBC national dream

BROADCASTING

Exuding optimism, the plan presented a vision of public broadcasting stretched to the limits of power and glory. If it succeeded, the CBC might partly reverse the American cultural invasion. The network would banish almost all U.S. commercial imports from its airwaves, replacing them with Canadian-produced shows. Then, working with private broadcasters, it would set up a “superstation” to beam Canadian programs into the American heartland. Those were the highlights of the CBC’s proposals to the federal government’s Task Force on Broadcasting Policy, which were made public last week to reactions of praise and pessimism. Titled Let's Do It!, the 188-page manifesto unfurls a flag of cultural nationalism rippling with slogans such as “Equal time for Canada.”

The paper represents a clear shift in CBC strategy: after unsuccessful attempts to avoid federal budget cuts over the past two years, the network has taken the offensive in its fight to reclaim Canadian TV screens. Mark Starowicz, executive producer of CBC’s The Journal, said that the brief reflects “a sense of confidence, almost a bloody-mindedness. Around here, everybody is saying, ‘Let’s start the war.’ ” Spirits at the network were raised by the immense popularity of CBC dramas over the past year, notably Anne of Green Gables. To create that and other hits, the network collaborated with independent producers—a trend that the brief would encourage by turning over 50 per cent of

all its original programs, excluding sports and information, to the private sector by September, 1987.

But CBC’s offer to lead the way in repatriating Canadian broadcasting has already drawn criticism from some whom it most wants to persuade. Task force insiders claimed that the CBC did not provide creative solutions for financing its ambitious plan to Canadianize contents—which could cost $75 million. And chairman Gerald Caplan, a former NDP strategist, has said, “Even a socialist knows that we cannot go to the public trough to find big new bucks for the CBC.”

One fresh innovation in the CBC blueprint is a multichannel network that would provide distinct outlets for news, sports and regional programs to avoid the congested schedules on, for one, hockey nights. Meanwhile, private broadcasters criticized the brief’s proposal that CBC feed programs from all sectors to a satellite superstation. John Bassett, a director of CTV, described the idea as a “pipe dream.”

Whatever the task force decides when it reports in March, broadcasting is a key element in Ottawa’s emerging national cultural policy. With U.S. programs now providing 98 per cent of all drama seen by Canadian viewers, Starowicz describes television as being at the hub of a “national scandal.” And according to the CBC, the national dream is at stake.

— BRIAN D. JOHNSON in Toronto