CBC’s attempt to mould us led to its decline

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The Article

The CBC disclosed last week it wants to get more women into its television programming and into its television audiences. It introduced a winter schedule “clearly aimed at attracting a younger, more female audience,” said one media report.

There will be a new single-mom sitcom, a new reality show (The Week the Women Went), and a new lifestyle show aimed at the female viewer.

Due to its sports and news coverage, the network has been “skewed” to the male viewer. “We want to diversify the audience,” said Kirstine Layfield, executive director of network programming.

Now, as one who has not looked at a single CBC television show art from sports—for maybe 15 years, I am, of course, unqualified to say anything about this. Except, I admit, for a one-hour show they did on our magazine about eight years ago. I admit I watched that; I also admit it was very fair.

However, I do feel qualified to talk about the male-female “balance ” in CBC radio because my wife is, or rather was, a CBC radio addict until about a year ago when she gave up listening.

“I can’t prove it,” she said, “but it seemed to me the only voice you could ever hear was a woman’s. Yak-yak-yak, they went on and on. I just got tired of it.”

Since her CBC radio habit went back to the 1950s, they had lost a half-century loyalist. Now, I suppose, they’re going to try the same thing to whatever may be left of their television endeavours. Get rid of the men—make it into a ladies’ network. Though I know this seems absurd, you get the impression they’re actively trying to drive the viewers away.

Of course, the CBC of 50 years ago was a very different institution. There was far more local television programming and much less emphasis on being “Canadian.”

In the late ‘50s, I wrote scripts for local television documentaries being made at Winnipeg, which were certainly Canadian, but nobody thought of them as such.  I assumed similar local programming was being produced by CBC stations across the country.

Beginning in the ‘60s, however, more and more television production became centred in Toronto, and more and more emphasis was placed on something called the “Canadian identity.”  Since nobody really knew what that was—and few cared—the CBC took it upon itself to define it. This, I think, was the beginning of its long decline.

The trouble started because the staff at CBC in Toronto stopped thinking of themselves as regional. People who live in Halifax or Saint John consider themselves Maritimers. British Columbians belong to “the coast.”  Saskatchewanites identify with “the prairies,” and this province is populated by Albertans, or Calgarians or Edmontonians.  Now to recognize you’re regional is very important. Because, as an Albertan, you don’t expect everybody else in the country to look at things the way you do.  But the people at the CBC Toronto forgot they too are regional. They didn’t see themselves as “Ontarians” or even Torontonians. They saw themselves as Canadians, and soon they undertook the onerous responsibility of telling the rest of us what it means to be a Canadian.

It gave us role models for Canadianism—Pierre Berton, Peter Gzowski, June Callwood, Margaret Atwood.

As Canadians, we must think in certain ways, hold certain views, cherish certain values. We should be tolerant, non-discriminating, feminist, left-leaning, anti-American politically, and our Armed Forces should be confined to “peace-keeping” missions.  Now there was a big problem with this.  A great many of us—I suspect most of us—did not quite fit that mould in its entirety.  About some things, we were exceedingly intolerant.  And yes, we discriminated.  We had increasing doubts about the merits of feminism.  We were not left-wing, we rather admired the U.S., and we thought our Armed Forces should be armed and use force when needed.

But as the CBC became increasingly what it called “Canadian”—in its supposedly neutral programming, in the messages delivered by its dramas, in the slant of its documentaries, and in the content of its news coverage—we became less and less interested in watching it.  However, these views are now so entrenched, eradicating them is impossible.

So there’s one solution.  Scrap the CBC.

Ted Byfield
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