Following CBC President Hubert Lacroix’s public acknowledgement of the most severe downsizing the media platform has ever seen—the CBC has laid off 2,000 employees, or what amounts to a quarter of its staff in the last five years—comes the mixed response of the employees who wonder what kept him from speaking out earlier in the face of a mounting threat to free media. For him to claim, only now, that we are “beyond subtleties” comes just short of a slap in the face to those employees he saw get laid off in years prior, as well the thousands he continues to employ, who have to live under the prospect of becoming expendable, one scrapped project at a time.
But while it’s true that Lacroix’s alarm comes too late for good decorum, it comes at a time when Canada is poised to make a critical decision about the mindset of the government it will vote into power this October. Except for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, all the federal political parties have promised to reverse the budget cuts to the CBC. Even if they follow through on their promise, however, it remains in question whether or not they can reverse the effects on the industry and the value of free media in the public conscious. Does Canada still believe in the value of its own publicly-funded media? Even if it does, it will require action beyond the polling booth to restore the state of free media. Whether the water in the pot remains on the boil, or has by now completely gone up in vapour, voters should be seeing the desperation evident in Lacroix’s speech. If impartial media corporations continue to be undercut by their budgets, then the Canadian electorate will finally have to admit that their values have changed.
Perhaps we’ve forgotten the value of media that isn’t an investment in a millionaire’s stock portfolio. Media empires like Quebecor aren’t accountable to you and me; ultimately they answer to Pierre Karl Péladeau and shareholders. Private media companies can do good and honest journalism, but they need unlimited and unrestricted freedom to pursue the public interest. They have corporate interests to protect, and articles that go against those interests could be blocked if Peladeau decides he doesn’t like what a paper is producing. What if no corporately owned paper wanted to touch the important story a journalist was trying to publish for the public good? Enter public broadcasters who are funded by taxes but who answer to no government.
That freedom is the ideal chased by public broadcasters like the CBC, or at least it used to be. The CBC undoubtedly remains filled with journalists trying to be of service to Canadians but as the cuts continue, idealism can only carry them so far.
Strong public broadcasting informs the electorate, educates the public, and represents the nation. A healthy Canada needs a healthy CBC and, as proponents of a strong Canada, the Conservatives have made a critical mistake in placing a balanced budget above our stalwart public broadcaster.
The CBC is as Canadian as maple syrup, and we wouldn’t cut down all the maple trees, would we?