October 3, 2012 - Moderator Michael Bliss writes about tomorrow's upcoming debate, Resolved: Canada no longer needs the CBC, in an op-ed for iPolitics. It is copied below.

The debate takes place tomorrow at 7 pm at the Canadian War Museum. For more information, click here.


What should we do about the CBC?

By Michael Bliss, iPolitics, October 3, 2012

Mother Corp? Morbid Corpse?

Is the CBC still the creative heart of Canadian broadcasting? Or has it wasted away into irrelevance or worse? Should all Canadians continue to be taxed to pay for a service only relatively few of them bother with? Should our most historic and strongest national broadcaster be given more resources in the continued quest to strengthen our culture? Can a public broadcasting system survive in the thousand-channel universe? What is to be done?

The past, present, and future of the CBC will be up for intellectual grabs in the first of The Great Canadian Debates being hosted on October 4 by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute at the Canadian War Museum and tickets are available to the public. I'll be moderating a formal debate between Andrew Coyne and Mark Starowicz on the resolution, "Canada No Longer Needs the CBC." Coyne, one of our most prominent national journalists - and CBC panelists - will argue that the country certainly doesn't need the CBC, at least as presently constituted. Starowicz, one of Canada's greatest public affairs and documentary creators at the CBC, will argue for the ongoing relevance of our historic public broadcasting system.

Historic it is. Taking shape as the Canadian Radio-Broadcasting Commission in 1936, the CBC has provided Canada with extensive radio, then television services in both English and French for more than seventy-five years. It was our first and for many years our only national broadcaster, and its influence on modern Canadian cultural evolution has been immense. We can't write the modern history of Canadian music, Canadian drama, Canadian public culture and debate, maybe even Canadian hockey, without referring constantly to the CBC. Perhaps modern Canada itself is unthinkable without the CBC.

But in the rich and constantly changing world of Canadian broadcasting in 2012 who needs the CBC now? Canada is laced with well-funded privately-funded broadcasting organizations, Canadian-content rules protect cultural producers, the CBC seems no longer either innovative or popular with the national audience, and anyone can televise hockey games (when we have some). How many of today's Canadians would agree that their "identity" is somehow or even slightly tied up with the continuance of the CBC in its present state?

Canadians are more than willing to pay for the broadcasting services they want. Why not stop taxing them about a billion dollars a year to subsidize the CBC? Why not let it sink or swim in Canada's very healthy broadcasting marketplace?

Perhaps the CBC could be privatized. Perhaps it could become more like PBS and NPR in the United States. Could the radio and television networks be separated, and given differing mandates? Should the CBC specialize in high culture, abolish or increase advertising, court ratings or forget about them, become more objective or more opinionated, develop new broadcasting stars, fade out the old fogeys, focus on diversity?

These questions and more will be up for grabs in the Coyne-Starowicz debate. Pitting two of the most thoughtful broadcasting experts we have in the country against each other, the one-on-one debating format (developed in the History Wars series in Toronto and Ottawa) tends to generate lively but intelligent exchanges of views, rather than the shouting and sound-bite competition that too often develops on larger panels. The moderator ruthlessly enforces time constraints and decorum, and there is major public input from the floor. Rough straw votes are taken to test audience opinion before and after the debaters have had their say. After the debate, the Ottawa Citizen will be publishing condensed versions of the speakers' presentations.

The CBC will carry on after Thursday's examination and diagnosis of its condition. But the discussion will have been taken to a new level, and may never be quite the same again. In fact the CBC might well be mentioned in the next Great Canadian Debate on November 7 when Jeffrey Simpson and Jack Granatstein argue about whether the War of 1812 has been absurdly over-hyped.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute's first Great Canadian Debate, Canada no longer needs the CBC, takes place on Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 7 pm at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Tickets available at: http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/events/the-great-canadian-debates/

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