Reimagine CBC Celebration 2012: On Canadian identity, journalism, music, and more
What does the CBC mean to you? What do you think the CBC should be? And most importantly, what can be done to help the CBC?
These are some of the basic themes that were discussed in more complexity and depth at the Reimagine CBC Celebration held on May 7 at the Vogue Theatre.
While the evening was bookended by musical entertainment, from the likes of Dan Mangan, Hannah Epperson, and more, the bulk of the evening consisted of discussion about the CBC, in light of the severe cuts to federal funding.
Professionals from various fields gathered on stage, in a living-room-style setting, to offer their insights and perspectives about the national public broadcaster.
The participants included:
- SFU School of Communications professor Kathleen Cross
- documentary filmmaker Nettie Wild
- Shit Harper Did's Sean Devlin
- CBC Radio 3 director Steve Pratt
Mike Sheehan of Beat Board, who hosted the evening, facilitated the discussion.
Topics covered a wide range of topics from Canadian identity and policy changes to the CBC's role in supporting Canadian independent music and comedy.
Authors Ivan Coyote and Wade Davis and music blogger Christine McAvoy, also offered their stories about CBC and Canada. Coyote killed the audience with her stories of life in the Yukon. Even Mangan gave props to Coyote. (Coyote dared Stephen Harper to drive the length of the Alaska Highway without listening to the CBC. Coyote also said the reason Harper is so angry is because his wife's a lesbian.)
Here are some highlights of the points that the various speakers made throughout the night.
Cross: "We are in a period of dramatic change in this country, dramatic change in the world, both economic and politically. And if we don't have an independent way to talk about what is happening, if we don't have good journalism, if we don't have the kinds of funding that journalists need to do the job that they can do, in CBC, the national broadcaster, then we are in a lot of trouble. If we leave it to the major corporate media, we will get a sanitized version. And it's fine that that version is there. But it cannot be the only version we hear."
Wild: "It's really important too, not only to tell Canadian stories back to Canadians, but to also have a Canadian perspective on international news….The fact that the international bureaus have been cut is a huge loss."
On the North
Cross: "When I was 19 years old, I moved to the Yukon….I was there for 15 years. And I spent the first couple years pretty much in and out of cabins in the woods…and the only radio station, the only media you could get, was the CBC because the CBC has a mandate to be heard everywhere across the country. And it was such a paradox for me that in those first couple years that I learned more about my country and felt more connected to my community and to my country, and for that matter, globally, than when I had lived in the city, because of the role of connecting us to each other and providing accurate information for us to be participating citizens. So the paradox was, the more isolated I became, the more engaged and part of the community I felt. And that was primarily because of the role of a national broadcaster that has to go places that is simply not profitable to go to….The broadcasting aspect remains a fundamental aspect for those people in the north and in remote communities who are on the wrong side of the digital divide."
Davis: "What Canada is is the winter, and the weight of the North, and the beauty of our landscape."
On Canadian identity and unity
Cross: "One of the most important things about the CBC is that it is a non-profit public medium, and that the kinds of stories and the kinds of voices that we hear across the geography of this country would not be heard, would not be possible, if it wasn't a public broadcaster that did not rely on for-profit behaviour in order to be where it is."
Devlin: "There's a war happening in this country….It's a cultural war. And the frontline of that fight is over the Canadian identity because this government wants to define what it means to be Canadian, and they want to do it in a singular fashion so that they can go ahead and do this stuff that we actually don't want them to do….To me, the CBC is the frontline of a culture war that's been started in this country…."
Davis: "Countries aren't imagined. They're created by acts of human beings. The CBC is the glue that is the soul of this country."
Wild: "A documentary film takes three things: time, trust, and the money, to buy that time to gain the trust in the communities. And so historically for me, CBC has played a huge role in bringing really, really controversial topics to the community, but allowed me to spend time to really go deeply into the community. And that for me has been extremely important."
Wild: "Documentaries are in real trouble. They're an endangered species because that initiative to really trust, to bring in independent filmmakers, to go into really gnarly, gorgeously complicated stories, is in fact being really reined in. Of course, not just by the CBC, but…it's really important for all of you out there to contact, not just the CBC, but the government and make sure that both know that documentaries, point-of-view documentaries have to be funded and they have to be funded in a real way for the art of the documentary to be continued to be made, and that that is not just an extension of a newsroom mentality. And that's…a really, really important role for the CBC."
On Canadian arts
Pratt: "I used to work at MuchMusic before I came to CBC a long time ago, and it's kinda funny because I thought 'Well, I work at the nation's music station. I know all about Canadian music.' And I started out at CBC Radio 3 and I couldn't believe that there's this whole world of music that: a) I didn't know about and b) that it was all unbelievable music. Just amazingly talented artists all over this country that weren't being played anywhere else."
Devlin: "Comedy is actually not just an art form, it's a very Canadian art form. And what's really unfortunate about that is that is if you look at the government grant system, comedy is actually the only art form that has no grants. So CBC is really all we have. That is our government grant system. And we need not more of it financially, but more of it opportunity-wise….The Canadian identity is not one thing. It's in different communities all over this country. And we can be exposed to that through comedy."
Cross: "The CBC has been systematically and deliberately underfunded for almost 20 years. And it's not that Canadians don't support it. That's a complete myth. A poll from 2009 indicated that three-quarters of Canadians thought that funding for the CBC should be increased to at least $40 per capita from the $34 that it is now. That's 83 percent [who] said we want CBC funding increased. And what happens? A $12-million cut to news and journalism."
Cross: "I think that there has been, in the past couple years, a shift in the CBC because they are afraid. I think that there has been a lessening of the funding and a threat of less funding, and so we need to show that that's what we want. We want to have them cover political stories and not be afraid of the consequences….And to some extent that means a policy change…But the policy change is that we have to have a leadership at the CBC, like the president and the board, that is not appointed by the prime minister."
On involving audiences
Pratt: "We can be helpful as the people who work there, but we need to let the public have ownership of the public broadcaster too. And I think that's where the youth will come in is if people feel they have ownership in their public broadcaster and they care about it because it means something in their life, and they participate in it, that's what we're about."
For more information about the Reimagine CBC campaign, visit the website.
You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.