CBC ends a dreadful year with new rules on speaker’s fees

As the media landscape races toward who-know-what, some might dismiss the Canadian Broadcast Corporation as increasingly irrelevant.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation logo from 1940 to 1958. It features a red map of Canada set above elongated lightning bolts spanning across the country, the design was intended to represent the unifying role the public broadcaster would play.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation logo from 1940 to 1958. It features a red map of Canada set above elongated lightning bolts spanning across the country, the design was intended to represent the unifying role the public broadcaster would play. Image: Hortence Binette, Creative Commons

But that would ignore the CBC’s historic reach and role. It was the original provider of broadcast content for a very large country. CBC radio and TV (and now, web content) is still the main media presence in many remote or sparsely populated regions. The organization remains important, to its audience, to Canada – and to journalism as a whole.

Nevertheless, 2014 turned out to be a very messy year for the CBC. On the TV side, they (unnecessarily?) lost future rights to Hockey Night in Canada, a key source of ad revenue.

Over in radio land, the star of a flagship program, Q: with Jian Ghomeshi, was fired for unconventional bedroom activities that ended in multiple criminal charges. (Note: Much of the reporting that broke the Ghomshi story came from the Toronto Star, which has a topic page here, as well as a timeline.)

CBC management was heavily splattered by that and other explosions. Once it was open season on Ghomeshi, additional reporting revealed ample criticism of CBC management. As the proverbial poop hit the fan, damage control maneuvers were a muddle. (The union for CBC employees did not emerge smelling like a rose either.) At one point, CBC planned to remove Ghomeshi’s interviews from the Q website, in a Stalin-like censorship of their own product.

That generated push-back from listeners. (Whatever one thinks about Ghomeshi’s off-air activities, he was considered a talented host, with many noteworthy interviews under his belt.) The pros and cons of censorship/sensitivity to victims/corporate image needs was debated in places like the Columbia Journalism Review.

Some statements from CBC higher-ups on the Ghomshi investigation generated charges of dishonesty. A few heads even rolled, sort of.

Meanwhile, here are some recent developments. According to current media reports in Canada, CBC is implementing new policy that prohibits paid outside appearances for on-air talent. Contractors, like Rex Murphy, will be exempt. Appearances will be made public on a centralized website.

The leader of the official opposition party, The NDP’s Thomas Mulcair has pointedly spoken out in support of the CBC. Mulcair says if he headed the government, recent CBC funding cuts would be reversed. 2014 was a year that saw lots of analysis on the strengths and weaknesses of today’s CBC. Many observers feel funding is only part of that picture.

Journalism instructor (and former CBC employee) Andrew Mitrovica says CBC has a huge, long-standing problem with a corporate culture of impunity and special treatment of star employees.

In this  article from the Tyee, Mitrovica says “money is always good” but it’s not the whole problem, in this case:

“They need to think more deeply about organizational and structural problems at the CBC,” Mitrovica said. “You’ve got to look at some of the people running the CBC.”

He said there’s been a corrosive element in the broadcaster that has been eating away at what the CBC is supposed to be about, and furthering the private financial interests of a few people rather than fulfilling its role to serve the public at large.

NDP Heritage critic Pierre Nantel agreed the situation goes beyond money. Part of that, Nantel said, includes the culture of using casual workers.

The Globe and Mail’s John Doyle frames the CBC’s current struggles as a vision thing. Yes, the CBC may have to shrink. But it could still shine, once it stops trying to be all things to all people by mimicking Canada’s three main cable providers:

The ultimate worth of a public broadcaster is therapeutic. It can shape our experience of the country that supports it. It’s a two-way relationship. We pay some of the costs and the broadcaster helps us be smarter about where we live.

Those who follow the topics of media management and professional ethics have witnessed similar problems in sister organizations. The BBC had to own up to a truly horrific scandal over Jimmy Savile, a “beloved” personality who died in 2011. Over the course of his long career with the BBC, Savile may have been one of Britain’s most prolific sexual predators, hidden in plain sight.

NPR had to deal with questions of who may or may not make outside appearances with the Juan Williams affair, which also touched on larger managerial and political issues.

NPR’s revised ethics handbook (0f 2012) was discussed in this ombudsman post and can be seen here. At present there’s no clickable link for North Country Public Radio’s ethics policy. But NCPR guidelines generally mirror the NPR handbook.

CBC seems to be waking up to a number of those parallel lessons rather late and reluctantly. But they remain lessons worth learning.

Taking the broad view, who, if anyone, do you think is doing media ethics right? What more needs to be done?

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7 Comments on “CBC ends a dreadful year with new rules on speaker’s fees”

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  1. bill shaver says:

    Not the INFERNAL CBC! oh my what’ll we do now for quality programing on the airwaves…no more hockey night in canada on saturday night…Knolton Nash is passed, RIP, Chalie Farquerson has passed to of in recent days….Maby they should employ Rick mercer as news caster along with Gordon pPnsent, and Rex Murphey( He used to be on Sundays Cross country check up on radio)….i think those at the top of the cBC should start thinking which way they want to go for the sake of broadcasting in canada…presenting a non biased voice in journalism….Getting away from what the others do…

  2. John says:

    Towards you know what? I have no idea? What are you racing towards?!

  3. bill shaver says:

    racing towards nothing…but stating that shabby jounalism has no place …in the public domain……CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORP should stand for quality and further more i’m surprised it has never made a footold in usa visa vie free trade agreement, after all people in usa deserve an impartial source of news as opposed to the current malaise of broadcaster there that still can’t properly vett a news story. It would give people of usa another point of view to listen to to conside a storys validity, as opposed to listening to the NATTERING NABONS OF NOTHING that they currently are forced to watch & listen to………They parallel the cartoon characters seen on south park…terrance 7 phillip included, along with advertizing for KROFT DINNER( KRAFT DINNER)

  4. Pat Nelson says:

    I don’t watch TV, but now that I’m retired I listen to the radio a good part of the day, switching back and forth between NCPR and CBC2 about equally (and CBC1 for the science show, “Quirks& Quarks”). I was disappointed when CBC started airing ads (and wondered if some of them were paid for by the rivals of the businesses they were supposed to promote). They provide quality programming and another point of view. If they had fund drives I would be happy to pledge.

  5. bill shaver says:

    actuallly loved the radio more…programs like mornigside, cross country check up, etc, etc gilmores albums, news on sunday am till 11.00, opera…lack of comercials a plus. north country radio another good station. liked it because its reach well into usa…a definate insight most people in usa should listen to to broaden their thoughts on things, after all they are not the only ones on this contenent. Tv was sos so, some programs were good, hockey ..excellent, good anouncers….news excellent, good reporting…current events programs very good, fifth estate …real good journalism….

  6. John says:

    Nah Bill I figured it out, it’s the US elections.

  7. bill shaver says:

    US elections! my god it looks like A NASCAR race…..Rickey bobby at the lead for the repubs…and the DNC..welll well…election of nov 2016 will be interesting…suppose i tell you two women will wind up in the w.house!!! and first odrer of buisness is not window dressing…..but the CBC, defenatly has some problems to work out…too bad they area good radio & tv ststion, french & english, yes we do have french spe4akers in northern new york & vermont & new hampshire & maine… but it should be on the tv in usa….& radio , nothing like expanding your views on the world….

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