The lights finally have come on in the CBC executive suites. The corp’s brain trust has accepted, very reluctantly, that CBC is dying and the life support of taxpayer dollars is running low.
So out of the executive suites last week came A Space for Us All, CBC’s new-five year plan that details some operational changes instead of simply whining that it can’t do its job properly without more money. The plan sees CBC shifting priority to digital and mobile services. There will be less in-house production, some of its broadcasting palaces will be sold and 1,500 staff will be cut. (In fact, the ‘cuts’ will be through attrition over five years and people who retire etc. simply will not be replaced).
The whole idea is to shake the mindset of cost cutting to survive, which has been the CBC’s main strategy for the last 10 years.
The CBC has a long history of making governments and taxpayers feel guilty about not doling out increasing amounts of cash to maintain their most cherished cultural institution. Examples can be found throughout the corp's 78-year history. In 1947, the CBC appeared before a House of Commons committee with the statement that its level of service could not be maintained without more money. In 1974 it told the Canadian Radio and Television Commission that the CBC was pretty much perfect and “needs only more money to make it great.”
There are reasons to be skeptical about the CBC’s planned new directions. Firstly who follows a five-year plan these days? The communications industry is changing by the minute. Mega-successful Twitter is only eight years old; Facebook 10. Five years is a light year in this digital age.
Also, the CBC’s plan for change is dripping with syrupy language and buzz phrases. Like the CBC will be the public space for “our conversations and experiences as Canadians.” And, inspiring Canadians “to participate in the public space.” And, providing “distinctive content” to increase “and deepen engagement with Canadians.”
The CBC also hopes to build a culture of collaboration, accountability, boldness, action and agility. You mean a culture with those attributes doesn’t already exist in one of the country’s larger businesses? Anyone opening a peanut stand would be expected to have those.
Despite the skepticism, we all should wish the CBC luck. It was once an important part of Canadian life, and if its brain trust can restore it we’ll all be winners.