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Globe and Mail: Report on future of CBC a ‘lost opportunity’: Senator

SIMON HOUPT

A Canadian senator who serves on a parliamentary committee which just wrapped up a study of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is attacking his colleagues and the recommendations they made for the public broadcaster, saying their work was “a lost opportunity” whose mission was derailed by petty and sometimes partisan politics.

Liberal Senator Art Eggleton issued a minority report on the future of the CBC on Monday morning one hour after the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications had issued its own report, titled Time for Change: The CBC/Radio-Canada in the Twenty-first Century. Sen. Eggleton charged that other members of the committee had blocked his views from being included in the primary report.

Time for Change, which was more than 18 months in the making, carries 22 recommendations, including that CBC explore “alternative funding models,” that a portion of its funding be reallocated to a so-called “superfund” to help finance Canadian content, and that CBC “emphasized the broadcasting of performances by Canadian artists and cultural events, such as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, the Edmonton Opera and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.”

The official report also recommends “CBC/Radio-Canada air more amateur sporting events such as Canadian Interuniversity women’s and men’s sports, minor league sports, etc.”

Sen. Eggleton blasted his fellow members for refusing to incorporate his views in the report, noting in a statement from his office that “this has been done in the past and is a frequent feature in House of Commons reports.”

Alone among the 10 members of the committee, Sen. Eggleton called for the government to increase CBC’s per capita funding “to at least $40, which is approximately half of what other industrialized nations spend.” (CBC currently receives an estimated $29 per capita in public funding.) He said “funding should be stable and predictable over five-year-periods and adjusted for inflation,” and that all commercial advertising should be eliminated.

He added: “To create more trust and accountability the Government of Canada should create an arm’s length process or all- party parliamentary process for appointing board members. The selection process should be based on qualifications and experience in the arts and culture, journalism, business and broadcasting fields. Further, the President should have proven expertise in business and the broadcasting industry and be chosen by the Board and not the government.”

Currently, CBC board members are appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office, a system which has led critics to accuse the Prime Minister of political interference. Many current CBC board members had little or no broadcasting experience prior to their appointments.

Rather than a “fulsome debate about the future role and function of the CBC,” Sen. Eggleton said, “the committee spent much time discussing sensational issues, such as the compensation of on-air personalities, and alleged individual improprieties. Although important, these issues stretched the scope of the study and sufficient time was not devoted to the way forward.”

The hearings unfolded against a backdrop of unusual turmoil at the CBC, including the Jian Ghomeshi scandal and questions about newscasters, including Peter Mansbridge and Amanda Lang, taking money from private companies for speeches and other appearances.

The committee’s hearings were occasionally heated, with senators using the opportunity to buttonhole CBC executives on individual pet issues, forcing the committee chair to chastise members for wandering far from the study’s mandate.

On one occasion, Senator Donald Plett, the committee’s deputy chair, repeatedly pressed CBC executives on how much it had cost to fly its production staff to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. He noted that the questions were fair since CBC News had reported on his own travel expenses. By his own admission, the reports had left him angry.

2015 All material Copyright (c) Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.