It is funded primarily by federal statutory grants (about two-thirds of its budget), but also derives revenues from commercial sponsorship and the sale of programs to other countries. While ultimately responsible to Parliament for its overall conduct, it is independent of government control in its day-to-day operations. From its creation in the midst of the Depression to the present day, it has sought to provide Canadians with a broad range of high-quality indigenous information and entertainment programming, even as its critics continue to lobby the government to abolish its funding of the CROWN CORPORATION and level the playing field for all broadcasters.
Founding of the CBC
The establishment of the CBC as a crown corporation on 2 November 1936 followed two earlier experiments with public broadcast ownership in Canada. During the 1920s Canadian National Railways developed a radio network with stations in Ottawa, Montréal, Toronto, Moncton and Vancouver. Its schedule included concerts, comic opera, school broadcasts and historical drama, though by the end of 1929 it was still providing only three hours of programming a week nationally.
Together with the example of the British Broadcasting Corporation, however, it helped to make the merits of public ownership more apparent to the Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting appointed by Mackenzie KING on 6 December 1928, under the chairmanship of Sir John AIRD. The privately owned Canadian stations were not only beginning to fall into American hands but also seemed quite incapable at the time of providing an adequate Canadian alternative to the programming that was flooding across the border from the US.
The moving force within the Aird Commission was Charles Bowman, editor of the Ottawa Citizen, who was convinced that public ownership of broadcasting was necessary to protect Canada against American cultural penetration. After receiving submissions from across the country and visiting other broadcasting systems, the Aird Commission submitted its report on 11 September 1929, less than two months before the stock market crashed. It recommended the creation of a national broadcasting company with the status and duties of a public utility and a source of public funds to develop a service capable of "fostering a national spirit and interpreting national citizenship." Specifically, it called for the elimination of the private stations, albeit with compensation.
Because of the economic crisis, consideration of the Aird Report was delayed, and this enabled some of the more powerful private stations and their principal lobbying agency, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, to launch a campaign against it. But its basic principles were defended by the Canadian Radio League (CRL), an informal voluntary organization set up in Ottawa by Alan PLAUNT and Graham SPRY in the fall of 1930. They prepared pamphlets stating the case for public ownership; recruited other voluntary organizations as well as representatives from business, banking, trade unions, the farming community and educational institutions; and sent a formal delegation to meet the minister of marine and fisheries, who held the responsibility for licensing radio operations at the time.
The newly elected Conservative government of R.B. BENNETT responded to the appeals of the CRL by passing the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act (1932). It established a publicly owned Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) with a mandate to provide programs and extend coverage to all settled parts of the country.
The CRBC took over the radio facilities owned and initially set up by Canadian National Railways and began to broadcast in English and French under the guidance of commissioners Thomas Maher, Hector Charlesworth and Lieutenant Colonel W. Arthur Steel. The private stations, whose fate was left in the commission's hands, helped the CRBC to get some of its programs aired nationally, but did not co-operate fully. Nonetheless, the CRBC allowed them to continue and even expand and in the end most of them outlived the commission itself.
The CRBC suffered from underfunding, an uncertain mandate, inappropriate administrative arrangements and a series of tactless political broadcasts. But as a result of further lobbying by the CRL, the returned Liberal government of King was persuaded to replace it with a stronger public agency rather than abandon broadcasting to the private sector.
A new Canadian Broadcasting Act in 1936 created the CBC as a crown corporation, with a better organizational structure, more assured funding through the use of a licence fee on receiving sets (initially set at $2.50), and decreased vulnerability to political pressure. The CBC assumed the assets, liabilities and principal functions of the CRBC, including responsibility for regulating the private stations and providing indigenous programs for all Canadians.
From 1936 to 1958 the CBC was headed by a board of governors, initially composed of nine unsalaried members representing the various sections of Canada. The board was responsible for the formulation of general policy and for regulating the private stations. Its first chairman was Leonard W. BROCKINGTON, a noted lawyer from Winnipeg; in 1939 he was succeeded by René Morin. In 1944 the Broadcasting Act was amended to provide for the appointment of a full-time salaried chairman for a term of three years. On 14 November 1945, A. Davidson DUNTON, who had previously served as general manager of the WARTIME INFORMATION BOARD, was appointed to the position; he continued to serve as chairman until 1 July 1958.
The board was also responsible for appointing a general manager and an assistant general manager to oversee the day-to-day operations of the corporation. The first general manager was Gladstone Murray, a Canadian-born director of public relations for the BBC.
The CBC began operations with eight stations of its own and 16 privately owned affiliates. A technical survey authorized by the board of governors revealed that this network provided assured coverage for only half of Canada's 11 million inhabitants and mainly for those in urban communities. It also confirmed that residents in major cities suffered from constant interference from high-power American stations. In 1937 therefore, 50-kW transmitters were built in Montréal and Toronto, increasing coverage to about 76% of the population.
The same year the CBC helped to organize a North American conference in Havana at which Canada was allocated six clear channels for stations with 50 kW or more, eight clear channels for stations from 0.25 to 50 kW, and shared use of 41 regional and six local channels. To reach outlying areas, the CBC added 50-kW transmitters in Saskatchewan and the Maritimes in 1939 and began building low-power relay transmitters in BC, northern Ontario and parts of New Brunswick. After the war, additional 50-kW stations were built in Manitoba and Alberta and the power of CJBC, its flagship station in Toronto was increased to the same wattage.
The development of indigenous programming proceeded more slowly than the extension of coverage. Considerable use was made initially of entertainment, serious music and talk programs produced in the US and Britain.
But following a program survey to determine the extent and location of Canadian talent, the CBC gradually created its own distinctive service featuring: variety programs such as "The Happy Gang" regional farm broadcasts and Harry Boyle's national FARM RADIO FORUM for what was still a predominantly rural nation; women's interests programs such as "Femina" together with daily morning talks by a network of women commentators organized by assistant talks supervisor Elizabeth Long; sports broadcasts including NHL hockey on Saturday nights with Foster HEWITT; children's programs such as "Just Mary" with Mary Grannan; and extensive coverage of events such as the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937 and the royal tour of Canada in 1939.
A separate French-language network was established and program production was decentralized into 5 regions: BC, the Prairie provinces, Ontario, Québec and the Maritimes.
With the outbreak of war, the CBC created an Overseas Service to relay reports of war correspondents such as Matthew HALTON and Marcel Ouimet. On 1 January 1941, it ended its reliance on news bulletins prepared by the Canadian Press by inaugurating its own News Service under chief editor Dan McArthur. Through the objective treatment of news on its national newscast, which was read by Charles Jennings and later by Lorne GREENE (the famous "Voice of Doom"), the CBC News Service quickly established a reputation for impartiality and integrity.
During the war, the CBC also established Radio-College in Québec and began its National School Broadcasts (1942). In 1944 its English-language network was divided into the Dominion network (composed of one CBC station and 34 affiliates) and the Trans-Canada network (six CBC stations and 28 affiliates). At the end of the war, the CBC joined forces with the government to establish a multilingual international service (1945), which later became Radio-Canada International. Programs were transmitted from studios on Crescent Street in Montréal to Sackville, NB, by land lines and then sent overseas by wireless.
Public affairs programming did not initially receive much emphasis on CBC radio. Shortly before his departure as chairman, Brockington took steps to change this situation by formulating a "White Paper" on political and controversial broadcasting. Adopted by the board of governors in July 1939, it stated that the CBC would seek to present a variety of opinions on controversial issues and would refrain from selling network time for the propagation of personal views.
With the outbreak of WWII, however, the CBC found itself under government pressure to curtail the discussion of public affairs on the air. Proposals by the CBC Talks Department for a series of forums on war-related issues were rejected by Murray in favour of BBC rebroadcasts and one-man pep talks intended to inspire the war effort. The CBC general manager eventually approved a discussion program called "Citizens All," but demanded personal approval of speakers and subjects.
It was not until Murray was replaced by J.S. Thomson in August 1942 that the efforts of the Talks Department to promote serious discussion on matters of public concern began to bear fruit. By the end of Thomson's one-year term, the department had demonstrated the democratic role that public affairs broadcasting could fulfill through the introduction of programs such as "Weekend Review,""National Labour Forum,""CBC Discussion Club," and the popular "Of Things to Come - An Inquiry into the Post-War World." Chaired by author Morley CALLAGHAN, the latter program evolved into the popular "Citizen's Forum," which made use of listening groups and lasted into the television era.
The further expansion of public affairs programming after the war was accompanied by programs on the arts such as "Critically Speaking" and a significant increase in the production of Canadian drama. In 1940 the CBC had introduced "Canadian Theatre of the Air" and in 1944 Andrew ALLAN's greatly admired "Stage" series made its debut.
But the heyday of Canadian radio drama came during the early post-war period. A repertory company of young Canadian actors was formed and a major program was launched to train young Canadian writers. During the 1947-48 season, there were 320 radio drama productions in English, 97% of which were by Canadian writers. In addition to Allan, producers such as Esse Ljungh, Rupert Caplan and Fletcher Markle led the way in North America in serious drama programming.
By this time, however, the days of radio drama were already numbered as Canadians began mounting pressure for the introduction of TELEVISION, which had become available in the US after the war. Initially, both the CBC and the government chose to proceed with caution in dealing with the costly new medium. Dr Augustin Frigon, who had served on the Aird Commission and was head of the French network before replacing Thomson as general manager in 1943, advised the 1946 parliamentary Radio Committee that "it would be a mistake to encourage the introduction of television in Canada without sufficient financial support and, therefore, taking the risk that unsatisfactory programs would, at the start, give a poor impression of this new means of communication."
But while Frigon refused to be "stampeded into premature action," board chairman Davidson Dunton did discuss with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters the idea of having the staff of the CBC and private broadcasters undertake television training at CBC facilities in Montréal and Toronto.
The Advent of Television
The major impetus to action from within the CBC came from the Report on Television (1947), for which the corporation's assistant chief engineer, J. Alphonse OUIMET, was largely responsible. Ouimet, who had built and attempted to market his own television system in Montréal in the early 1930s, was appointed co-ordinator of television and later replaced Frigon as general manager. Arguably the single most important figure in the history of Canadian broadcasting, he deserves much of the credit for the rapid introduction and expansion of television in Canada once the government finally decided to go ahead with television and allocated funds from an excise tax on television sets for its development.
At the time of its introduction on CBFT Montréal on 6 September 1952, and two nights later on CBLT Toronto, television was available only to 26% of the population. But by 1954 this had increased to 60% and Canada ranked second in the world in live television program production. CBC stations had been constructed in Ottawa, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Halifax and private affiliates were already starting to make their appearance in other cities. By 1957 the CBC English and French networks were each broadcasting up to 10 hours a day and their coverage had been extended to 85% of the population through a combination of CBC-owned and -operated stations and privately owned affiliates.
The advent of television created major problems for CBC radio. Its audience share plummeted as creative talent and capital funds were siphoned off by the new medium and both commercial revenues and the supply of American entertainment programs were greatly reduced. Forced to compete against local information and American pop music formats on the private stations, CBC radio became increasingly demoralized and out of touch with Canadian listeners.
During the 1960s a few steps were taken to reclaim audience loyalty: some new current affairs programs were introduced and Canadian-produced drama and serious music was increased. But it was not until the outset of the 1970s that CBC radio underwent the revolution that made it the pride of the corporation.
In 1970, following the submission of an exhaustive radio study in 1970, CBC radio made a fundamental shift in its priorities. Substantial program resources were reallocated from the evenings (when television is the main attraction) to the morning and afternoon periods. Local information programs were developed, block program formats were devised, and national news and current affairs was strengthened through the introduction of programs such as "This Country in the Morning" and "As It Happens." At the same time the potential of FM radio was finally pursued in earnest after two decades of experimentation. In 1975 a stereo FM network was inaugurated and the same year the use of commercials on both AM and FM was eliminated.
Eventually, as both AM and FM coverage was extended through the Accelerated Coverage Plan that began in 1974, two networks emerged offering distinctive program services. The AM network concentrated on news, information, light entertainment and local community affairs, while the FM network focused on serious music, drama, documentaries and the arts and culture.
CBC television adapted less successfully to its own particular problems in this period. During the 1950s a new generation of producers responded to the challenge of developing programs for the medium with energy, enthusiasm, and great creativity. Men such as Ross McLean, Norman Campbell, Bob Allen, Jean-Paul Fugere, Sydney Newman and Mario Prizek created an impressive array of information and entertainment programs, including "Tabloid,""G.E. Showcase,""La Famille Plouffe," FRONT PAGE CHALLENGE, "Festival,""Don Messer's Jubilee,""Les Idées en Marche" and "Cross Canada Hit Parade."
But the remarkable programming performance of the CBC during the 1950s did not eliminate the desire of Canadians for access to American entertainment programs. In addition to producing Canadian programs, the CBC was also expected to relay popular American programs to Canadian viewers, especially in areas where American signals could not be picked up with the aid of rooftop antennas.
Eventually, with the introduction of CABLE TELEVISION and SATELLITES, the need for CBC to rebroadcast American programs was eliminated. By that time, however, CBC television had developed a strong dependency on American programs. This process began in the late 1950s as the era of live television broadcasting gave way to the production of expensive, pre-filmed comedy and drama series that could be shown repeatedly. The CBC was soon caught in a vicious cycle as it needed to carry popular American programs in order to acquire the advertising revenues necessary to produce comparable domestic programming. Moreover, with the licensing of the CTV network in 1961, the CBC found that it also had to use American programs to generate audiences for its own programs through the so-called "inheritance factor."
During the 1960s the CBC developed new television dramas such as "Wojeck" and "Quentin Durgens MP" by Ronald Weyman; exciting information programs such as THIS HOUR HAS SEVEN DAYS, "Man Alive" and "The Nature of Things"; and long-standing children's favourites such as "Mr Dressup,""The Friendly Giant" and "Chez Hélène."
Nonetheless, its continued reliance on a relatively high proportion of American programs made it increasingly vulnerable to accusations that it was not fulfilling its mandate under the Broadcasting Act. Between the 1967-68 and 1973-74 fiscal years, therefore, the CBC responded to growing public criticism by increasing its Canadian content on television from about 52% to about 68%. A host of new Canadian programs were added to its schedules, including "Marketplace,""The Beachcombers,""Performance" and "the fifth estate."
During the same period, an attempt was made to improve the balance between network and regional programming and increase efficiency by consolidating the English network, French network and regional broadcasting systems into two administrative divisions: the English Services Division with headquarters in Toronto and the French Services Division with headquarters in Montréal.
Further consolidation since then has facilitated additional steps towards the Canadianization of the television schedule. Between 1983-84 and 1985-86, for example, Canadian content was increased from 74% to 77% on the English television network of the CBC and from 69% to 79% on its French television network. However, crippling reductions in the CBC's budget in the mid-1980s by the Mulroney government postponed indefinitely the dream of completely eliminating both foreign programs and advertising on CBC TV.
Over the years, the sports division of CBC established itself as one of the major producers of sports broadcasts in the country, televising baseball, football and, through its popular "Hockey Night in Canada" program, ice hockey. As Canada's Olympic broadcaster, the corporation also brought international events to the country's TV and radio sets, although not without controversy, as various groups criticized the use of public funds to bid for one of the world's most popular sports properties.
The Loss of Regulatory Functions
It is arguable that some of the problems confronting the CBC have been compounded by the fact that it no longer performs the regulatory role assigned to it by the 1936 Broadcasting Act. Initially, the CBC received a reprieve from the efforts by private broadcasters to eliminate its regulatory function when the Royal Commission on NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE ARTS, LETTERS AND SCIENCES (1949-51) chaired by Vincent Massey was not persuaded by the long-standing argument of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters that the CBC should not be "at one and the same time competitor, regulator, prosecutor, jury and judge."
However, the views of the private broadcasters received a more sympathetic hearing at the Royal Commission on Broadcasting chaired by Robert FOWLER in 1955-56. Its recommendation for a separate regulatory agency was given substance with the passage of a new Broadcasting Act by the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker in 1958. The task of regulating the broadcasting system was taken away from the CBC and given to a separate Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG).
At the same time, the CBC board of governors was replaced by a 15-person board of directors and the principal responsibility for running the corporation was placed on the shoulders of a president appointed by the government. The BBG was subsequently replaced by the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (see CANADIAN RADIO-TELEVISION AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION) in 1968, but the principle of a separate regulatory authority remained intact.
The removal of regulatory functions from the mandate of the CBC was probably inevitable and did enable the corporation to concentrate on the primary task of providing Canadians with high-quality radio and television programming. But it also reduced the ability of those who have occupied the presidency of the CBC - J. Alphonse Ouimet (1958-67), George Davidson (1968-72), Laurent Picard (1972-75), A.W. (Al) Johnson (1975-82), Pierre JUNEAU (1982-89), W.T. Armstrong (January-October 1989), Gerard Veilleux (1989-94), Anthony S. Manera (1994-95), Perrin BEATTY (1995-1999), Robert Rabinovitch (1999-), and Hubert Lacroix (2008-) - to influence the broadcasting environment in which the CBC must operate.
Having to obey market principles, the CBC was unable to prevent the introduction of rival networks devoted to foreign programming; it could do nothing to ensure that funds for Canadian programming were generated by the rapid expansion of cable systems carrying foreign signals; and it could only stand by helplessly as scarce programming resources were siphoned off by PAY TELEVISION for the benefit of the more affluent. Nor could it even secure for itself second channels in English and French so as to increase its audience share, though a CBC all-news channels were approved and launched as English Canada's Newsworld in 1989 and French Canada's RDI in 1995.
Despite the steady erosion of faith in the principle of public ownership, there is little evidence that the cultural goals that Canadians have set for their broadcasting system could ever be achieved by the private enterprise system. The CBC has often been criticized for having a top-heavy bureaucracy, but studies have shown that it compares favourably in efficiency and productivity with other public and private broadcasting organizations throughout the world.
Despite the encouragement for supporters of public broadcasting in the publication of the report of the Caplan-Sauvageau Task Force on Broadcasting Policy (1986), neither the Mulroney nor Chrétien governments showed any indication of acting on its recommendations. The corporation was the object of more studies in 1995, including the CBC president's report (shelved) and a report by the Commons Committee on Broadcasting. None of these reviews or studies or reports seemed destined to clarify the often contradictory goals set for the CBC or to solve its persistent financial difficulties.
The CBC continues to unite and divide the country alike - a cut of 10% to the CBC's budget by Stephen Harper's Conservative government in 2012 was met with both applause and condemnation from the Canadian public. While some regard it as an unnecessary use of public dollars and a distortion of the broadcast marketplace, others welcome its role as often the only source of news and other information in the remote areas of Canada, as well as a major supporter of the arts. This discourse will likely not end anytime soon; rather it will help to fine-tune the significant role the corporation plays in Canada's social fabric.
Author ROSS EAMAN Rev: SASHA YUSUFALI
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