French CBC chiefly differs from English CBC in the fact that people still watch it
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Canada’s weird week-long CBC social media controversy ended Friday with a whimper.
After CBC, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh all went to the barricades to defend the broadcaster against a “government-funded media” tag applied to it by Twitter, the social media giant quietly removed the label without explanation on Friday.
But the saga has arguably not redound to the benefit of Canada’s public broadcaster. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s actions of the last week further highlight a man hell-bent on crowbar-ing them from the public treasury.
“CBC officially exposed as ‘government-funded media.’ Now people know that it is Trudeau propaganda, not news,” said Poilievre on Sunday.
But even an inveterate CBC-hater like Poilievre has deftly avoid any criticism of Radio-Canada, its French-language arm. While “defund the CBC” has become a mantra of the Poilievre Conservatives, the Conservative leader has said he will leave Radio-Canada untouched. Poilievre even does interviews with Radio-Canada, something he strenuously avoids doing with the CBC.
The likely explanation is that people actually watch Radio-Canada. While CBC has hemorrhaged viewers (it now claims less than four per cent of the Canadian TV audience), Radio-Canada remains one of Quebec’s most ubiquitous cultural forces.
Every Sunday night, about one in every eight Quebecers is watching the Radio-Canada talk show Tous le monde en parle – and the show’s influence is such that it has been credited with swinging elections.
Bye-Bye, an annual sketch comedy revue that airs on New Year’s Eve, routinely breaks records as the most watched Quebec television program of all time. In 2021, it had 4.9 million viewers; more than half the 8.5 million people who live in Quebec.
Radio-Canada can also claim title to Stat, the province’s most-watched drama program, as well as a half dozen others with audiences of more than 1 million.
Over in English Canada, the top 30 highest-rated TV programs will often contain not a single CBC property.
This week’s Canadian Screen Awards, hosted by comic Samantha Bee, attracted just 3,000 views on YouTube. It was less than half the already-disastrously low 7,100 views that the awards show attracted in 2022.
According to one of the video’s top comments, “there’s a grainy 4 hour video of some guy just opening and closing a door over and over that has more views than this.”
As to why Radio-Canada triumphs where CBC fails, the principle reason is language. In English Canada, public broadcasting’s audience has been utterly decimated by new entrants, be it U.S. satellite TV channels or an ever-expanding array of podcasts.
But Radio-Canada exists in a media ecosystem that’s roughly equivalent to what the CBC faced in its 1960s heyday, with only one major rival, TVA.
Radio-Canada also happens to get a lot more money. Despite serving roughly eight million Francophones, the French-language arm gets 44 per cent of CBC’s annual $1.2 billion subsidy.
“In effect, this makes Radio-Canada one of the better-financed public broadcasters in the world and CBC one of the worst,” Richard Stursberg, the networks’ executive vice president from 2004 to 2010, wrote in a recent column for The Hub.
Like a lot of things in Quebec, production is also cheaper – which means the funding goes farther. Stursberg said that Radio-Canada can produce children’s content for about $200,000 an hour, while it costs $850,000 in English Canada.
One final reason Radio-Canada might be better entrenched in the zeitgeist – and one that has likely not escaped Poilievre’s notice – is that the broadcaster has remained comparatively insulated from a noticeable hard-left turn taken in recent years by its English cousin.
In a 2022 National Post op-ed, former CBC producer Tara Henley described the broadcaster being taken over by a “woke” worldview that was increasingly out of step with the Canadian mainstream. Working at the broadcaster, she wrote, “is to consent to the idea that a growing list of subjects are off the table, that dialogue itself can be harmful.”
Radio-Canada’s apparent disagreement with CBC on this new direction was highlighted by a 2020 incident in which the broadcaster was hit by a CRTC notice demanding a Radio-Canada apology for airing the “n-word” in a broadcast.
The notice was in reference to a French-language radio broadcast that mentioned the title of the 1968 Quebec nationalist book Nègres blancs d’Amérique, which translates to White N—-rs of America.
While Toronto brass didn’t really challenge the decision, it was met with widespread condemnation from throughout Radio-Canada as a direct attack on free speech and journalistic independence. A public letter signed by more than 50 Radio-Canada employees said the use of the n-word was presented in an entirely inoffensive context, and that to claim otherwise insulted “the intelligence of our institution and its employees.”
Right around the same time, meanwhile, employees at English CBC were openly petitioning their managers to drop the standard of “objectivity” from their reporting, arguing that it perpetuated “systemic racism.”
IN OTHER NEWS
B.C. has arguably devised an even pettier scandal than CBC’s “government-funded” fiasco. In a recent press release, the province’s ruling NDP made reference to B.C. United, the party formerly known as the B.C. Liberals. The statement referred to the party by the abbreviation “BCUP,” for “B.C. United Party.” But according to at least one BC United MLA, the statement was a “gendered” attack on “women’s bodies.” Why? The allegation by Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield is that the NDP intentionally chose the acronym as a reference to “b-cups,” as in the bra size.
And since we’re on the subject, this isn’t the first time B.C. has featured a really cringe-worthy political accusation that obliquely involves breasts. Twelve years ago, B.C. Premier Christy Clark showed up the legislature wearing a top that revealed a tiny portion of her cleavage. This prompted NDPer David Schreck to publicly denounce her “revealing” attire – a comment that got him immediately reprimanded by his own party.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in St. Thomas, Ont. on Friday to perform a victory lap celebrating Volkswagen’s decision to put a “gigafactory” there – even though the deal required a record $13 billion in Canadian corporate welfare over 10 years. Frank Blome, the CEO of the Volkswagen subsidiary PowerCo, even appeared at the announcement to praise the Canadian officials for “outperforming the competition” in offering more subsidies than anyone else. It’s a lot of money …
- The package is equivalent to $342 per Canadian, and that goes up considerably if you only count taxpayers.
- It’s triple the combined annual amount of corporate welfare that Canada pays to everyone else.
- If the factory ends up employing 3,000 workers (Volkswagen’s top-end estimate), that will work out to $4.3 million of federal subsidies per worker.
The PSAC strike has not been doing great in the PR department, with one of its most notable service disruptions so far being that it’s forcing 700 members of the Canadian Armed Forces to live without heat or hot water. Many of the various boilers and hot water heaters at CFB Petawawa are operated by PSAC members, so as soon as they stopped coming to work on Wednesday it’s meant cold showers and interior temperatures of about 10 to 13 degrees.
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