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Minister suggests Ottawa open to CBC radio ads
Alarms went off this week for Canadian culture watchdogs when Heritage Minister James Moore opened the door to the possibility of ads on CBC Radio as a solution to the national broadcaster’s deepening financial crisis.
In response to questions by NDP heritage critic Charlie Angus during Monday’s Commons heritage committee session, Moore said, “Commercial advertising is an option that has been talked about for some time. I would frankly consider anything so long as the end result is to have a strong national public broadcaster.”
Moore added that the while the Harper government has not discussed commercializing the national radio service with CBC/Radio Canada management, “we are very conscious of the needs of the CBC and the pressures that they’re facing. I would certainly work with them on any option that they think would work to best serve their mandate.
“CBC has (been under) a lot of pressure (to take on) commercial advertising. We’re working with (CBC president and CEO) Hubert Lacroix and people at CBC in order to really get a full sense of the scale of the problems that they have.”
Airing commercials on CBC Radio One and Radio Two is not being considered “at present,” Marco DubÈ, CBC’s corporate director of media relations and issues management, told the Star.
“But we see the minister’s openness with respect to addressing our financial situation and his concern with keeping a strong national broadcaster in place,” DubÈ said.
Supporters of the federally supported, commercial-free radio network see Moore’s remarks as an open invitation to CBC management to consider bolstering revenue with advertising.
“It’s well known the Prime Minister has always been hostile to the concept of public broadcasting,” said Ian Morrison, spokesperson for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a broadcast watchdog group.
“Decision-making in the Harper government is centralized. A cone of silence has surrounded this issue since May 19, 2004, when Harper raised the possibility of commercializing Radio Two.
“Ministers don’t wing it on policy issues. That Mr. Moore would consider approving commercials on CBC Radio came powerfully to our attention. He may have blurted out more than he intended.
“If the government and the CBC are considering this, they can expect a firestorm of protest,” Morrison warned.
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting recently published news of a secret plan by the Harper Conservatives to cut $200 million from CBC’s parliamentary allocation.
Recent big-budget, long-term U.S. programming acquisitions by CBC Television, and the recession-driven decline in advertising, have pushed the corporation into a $100-million hole, Morrison said.
“Fully commercializing Radio One and Radio Two would generate $95 million in revenue. That’s a very convenient figure and the minister seems to be suggesting a convenient solution.
“There’s no doubt senior CBC management is under severe pressure. But why should CBC’s radio audience pay for the sins of CBC-TV management?”