Newsletter for supporters of public broadcasting Ottawa, June 29, 2006

What were they thinking?

The decision to bump Peter Mansbridge and The National to air an American reality show neatly sums up everything that’s wrong with CBC Television.

The network is so seriously under funded and consequently so desperately hungry for advertising dollars that even the national news will be pushed aside in order earn a few extra loonies.

What all the fuss is about is The One: Making a Music Star, a summer series originating on the American network ABC. To reap full benefit from advertising, CBC has to broadcast it on Tuesday nights at the same time as ABC. And that means bumping The National to an hour later in Ontario and Quebec.

Our national public broadcaster is doing this to bring Canadian viewers an American program that “will follow the lives of 11 contestants as they attend a fully functioning music academy in Los Angeles.”

But wait, there’s more. In the typically exploitive approach of such shows, “behind the scenes, viewers will get to see all of the drama between the contestants, including romances, rivalries and more.”

CBC Programming bosses are hoping it will also create enough buzz to launch a Canadian version of the show to run sometime next season.

Mansbridge is understandably upset. The CBC’s staunchest supporters are appalled. Its enemies are elated. “Hey, another great opportunity to mock the CBC and suggest that it be privatized or turned into a specialty channel and forced to support itself by begging the public for donations.”

As Senator Joan Fraser so aptly summed it up: the CBC has lost its way. The good Senator actually said CBC “is in danger of losing its way,” but we suspect she was just being polite.

Senators tell CBC to go ‘back to basics’

A three year study of Canada’s media industry by a Senate committee says CBC TV should drop commercials and stop broadcasting sports.

Expressing concern about concentration of ownership in the media, the Senate committee stressed the importance of the CBC as “an alternate source of news and information programming.”

In its brief to the Senate committee, Our Public Airwaves emphasized the important role that public broadcasting plays as an independent media voice providing Canadians with a valuable reference point to keep the system in balance.

To support its proposal that CBC TV drop advertising, the committee called for the federal government to give CBC an additional $400 million a year to compensate for lost commercial revenue.

After concluding that CBC’s parliamentary grant is inadequate to meet the demands of its mandate, the report recommends refining the mandate “so that it reflects current realities and is linked to the budget.”

At the same time it says the government needs to provide CBC with “a long-term, stable and realistic budget…”

The report says failure to address the “mandate and budget issues simply pushes the CBC, particularly its television services, to chase for ratings and thus to duplicate services offered by the private sector.”

In particular, the report says CBC should stop competing with private broadcasters by offering sports programming and commercially successful American movies. The committee doesn’t think that running such movies “is the proper role for Canada’s public broadcaster.”

Where does OPA stand?

Our Public Airwaves has long believed that CBC programming should be free of commercial influence and in order to achieve that the CBC must have adequate public funding so that it is not dependent on commercial revenue.

But that is a long way from saying that CBC Television should follow the lead of CBC radio and become commercial free.

We feel that eliminating TV commercials, as proposed by the Senate report, while superficially appealing, fails to take into account both the CBC’s financial needs and the government’s unwillingness to replace that lost advertising revenue and will ultimately prove to be unrealistic.

No government is likely to give CBC the $400 million needed to eliminate commercials. Should, however, the federal government happen to have an extra $400 million lying around, our first priority would be to put a lot of that money into creating quality Canadian programming, including drama. If there’s any left over, then we could start reducing the number of commercials on CBC.

When it comes to eliminating sports broadcasts, we would point out that sport is an important part of Canadian culture and we feel the CBC should be free to reflect all aspects of Canada to Canadians.

It’s worth noting that the major push to get CBC out of both sports and advertising comes primarily from its private broadcasting competitors.

The sports broadcasts those commercial networks would be able to buy for much less if they could eliminate CBC competition, would, in most cases, be presented on specialty channels that are not available to Canadians without cable or satellite service – preventing some of Canada’s poorest citizens from sharing such iconic moments as the Grey Cup and hockey playoffs.

Shelagh Rogers faces her demons

It took a fainting spell and a serious whack on the head to bring Shelagh Rogers face-to-face with the inner torment she had been fighting for almost 10 years without knowing what it was.

Now the host of CBC Radio’s Sounds Like Canada knows she was battling clinical depression -- an illness that many people suffer from without realizing it.

After successfully overcoming depression, Rogers bravely speaks out about her devastating illness with the hope of bringing awareness to others.

Click here for the full story

TVO facing major overhaul

Ontario’s educational network, TVO is about to undergo a major makeover. It will be refocused to put more emphasis on education and its flagship evening current affairs program Studio 2 is cancelled.

The provincial government will pump an extra $25 million into TVO over the next few years, but there will be no additional funds for programming. The new money is earmarked for replacing antiquated equipment and upgrading from analogue to digital technology.

TVO says it’s looking for new ways to generate revenue and has not ruled out the possibility of airing commercials.

In response to long-standing demands from Ontario’s Francophone community, TVOntario’s French-language network, TFO, is being spun off into a completely separate organization. It is not yet clear whether the two will share facilities.

Employees of TVOntario have been promised there will be no layoffs, but many have no idea what programs they will work on as TVO moves towards a greater emphasis on serving students and parents.

The cancellation of Studio 2 has been attacked by the opposition Conservatives who claim it is politically motivated because the Liberal government didn’t like the forum the show provided for government opponents.

It will be replaced by a new nightly show called The Agenda which will focus on one or two issues each night and will deliver "more voices and viewpoints reflecting the diversity of today's Ontario."


CBC TELEVISION THIS FALL: The coming season on CBC will include four new offerings from the network’s fledgling factual entertainment division as well as several new drama series as part of a push to increase the body count for entertainment programming from 150 to 175 hours.

The biggest buzz surrounds two new series: One is Rumours, a half-hour comedy-drama that looks at urban living through the eyes of the staff at a Toronto-based women’s magazine. It's produced by Canadian TV's aging boy wonder, Moses Znaimer.

The second is Intelligence, a new crime series written by Chris Haddock, creator of Da Vinci’s inquest, which CBC killed off last year.

OTHER NEW DRAMAS INCLUDE: October 1970, an eight-hour hostage drama ripped from the headlines of 1970 when the FLQ terrorized the nation and Jozi-H, which CBC describes as “a gripping medical series about the personal struggles faced by an eclectic, international band of doctors, surgeons and nurses in a chaotic and demanding hospital.”

STROMBO GOES MAINSTREAM: George Stroumboulopoulos moves from Newsworld to the big time with a main network slot at 11 p.m. for The Hour, his nightly news and talk show. CBC says another daily talk show is in development.

OTHER REALITY OFFERINGS: Dragon’s Den, in which aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to investors who they hope will give them big chunks of cash to launch their ventures. Also, Test the Nation: National IQ Test, a live quiz show that tests your ability to reason, recognize and analyze and Underdogs, a new five-part series hosted by Wendy Mesley wherein consumers fight back against big business.

DOCUMENTARY HIGHLIGHTS: Hockey: A People’s History, a 10-hour series from renowned producer and documentary maker Mark Starowicz tracing the roots of hockey in Canada; The Great War, a four-hour epic marking the 90th anniversary of the First World War; The Secret History of 9/11, a minute-by-minute inside account of the terrorist attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001 and Greatest Canadian Inventions, which features a ‘countdown’ of the fifty best inventions.

CBC RADIO THIS SUMMER: A tasty menu of new offerings is available for sampling on CBC Radio. Among the highlights: Connections, hosted by Avril Benoit, Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., is a 30 minute program featuring the best documentaries from public broadcasters around the world; The Contrarians, hosted by Jesse Brown, Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. is a platform for discussion of unpopular ideas.

For more on CBC Radio summer programming:

MR. DRESSUP IS LEAVING THE BUILDING: CBC has cancelled the long-running children’s TV show. Ernie Coombs, the real Mr. Dressup, passed away almost 5 years ago, but the show has been airing daily in reruns since production stopped a decade ago. Ratings are down and CBC executives now feel that Dressup and pals Casey and Finnegan are just not exciting enough for today’s kids. The show moves to Sunday mornings in July and the Tickle Trunk will snap shut for the final time in September.


TV Ontario gets a makeover

Her battle against depression

CBC told to drop ads, sports

Where does OPA stand?

New host for “The House”

New face of “As It Happens”

An icon gets the hook

Taking it all off


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Carol Off is new host

Veteran CBC journalist Carol Off has been tapped to host CBC Radio’s flagship nightly current affairs show As It Happen.

She’s a former host of CBC Newsworld’s counterSpin and has reported from across the country and around the world for CBC radio and TV.

Off starts her new job in September, replacing Mary Lou Finlay, who retired last fall.

In addition to her broadcasting career, she has written three books including two about Canadian peacekeeping missions: The Ghosts of Medak Pocket and The Lion, the Fox and the Eagle: A Story of Generals and Justice in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Off’s third book, Bitter Chocolate, which will be published in October, explores the dark side of the cocoa business both past and present.


Geoffrey Stevens, former Globe and Mail columnist and managing editor, writing in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record about the latest CBC controversy:

“Rabinovitch has been invisible, leaving his lieutenants to try to explain how the principles of November became the cop-out of June.

His term as CBC president expires in November 2007, and he knows Harper will never reappoint him.

If the boss is not going to fight for the CBC, he might as well quit now and get out of road while the Conservatives have their way with the public broadcaster.”

New host for The House

With Anthony Germain long gone to CBC’s new Shanghai bureau, CBC Radio has finally named a new host for The House the network’s Saturday morning review of the week in Parliament.

She’s Kathleen Petty, an experienced journalist who comes to the job from CBC Newsworld, where she was based in Calgary, most recently as anchor of CBC News:Today and CBC News:Canada Now.

In addition to her duties on The House, Petty will also replace Germain as host of Ottawa Morning, the capital’s number one morning radio show. She starts her new jobs after Labour Day.

Announcing Petty’s appointment, CBC noted that she has produced and reported live news coverage of significant world events, such as the Oka Crisis, the Montreal Massacre and the Gulf War.


Lise Lareau, president of the CBC’s largest union, The Canadian Media Guild, commenting on the creation of a new “factual Entertainment” division at CBC Television:

"If there was ever a sign that public, independent and alternative television is dead at the CBC, this is it. Clearly, CBC-TV has chosen a path of blatantly commercial television.”


If you like this Newsletter, why not send it to a friend?

Please help us spread the word about public broadcasting by passing it on to others who care. Just click this link! is 10 years old, the CBC’s online presence, celebrates its 10th birthday next week and to mark the occasion it has been given a total makeover.

The public broadcaster’s website says it’s Canada’s number 1 online news source, averaging “over 10 million unique visitors per month, from across Canada and around the world, according to WebTrends data.” Over the past year, traffic on the site has increased by 58 per cent.

CBC says the site’s redesign “began over a year ago, with a survey of more than 5000 audience members, asking what people liked and disliked about the website.” Additional user feedback came from e-mail, phone calls and online forms.

Highlights of the revamp include a new World section to showcase international news, analysis and commentary, and special features. Because of increased interest in watching video online, has launched a video page that gathers in one spot hundreds of news and entertainment TV clips.


It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, but response so far has been muted to word that CBC Radio host Sook-Yin Lee bares her all in the movie Shortbus which debuted earlier this spring at the Cannes Film Festival.

The film, which is described as a comedy drama, is about a group of young people in New York who seem to spend most of their time with their clothes off. There’s also lots of sex and by all accounts it’squite explicit.

It’s definitely not the opera, which coincidentally is the name of the show she hosts on Radio One on Saturday afternoon.

CBC bosses had originally threatened her with firing, but relented in response to a protest campaign from the arts community.

The film will have its North American premiere in early September at the Toronto film festival.


A vigorous campaign waged by the CBC’s biggest union has succeeded in at least postponing the network’s plans to shut down its TV design department in the Toronto Broadcast Centre.

The Canadian Media Guild held protest rallies and lobbied politicians both on Parliament Hill and at Toronto City Hall. In Ottawa they won the support of opposition parties who called on CBC to reconsider.

That was paired with a successful drive at City Hall to block a rezoning which would have allowed CBC to rent out the space occupied by the department.

Some of the programs produced in the building had expressed concern over the pending loss of in-house design and set-making service.

A joint statement from CBC and the union says the postponement until next year will allow for exploration of alternatives including the possibility of an employee cooperative to take over the operation.


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