Saturday, September 24, 2005

CBC Lockout Watch, Day 41

Everything seems to be stuck in a holding pattern while the management and union bigwigs make the trek to Ottawa for the big meeting with Labour Minister Joe Fontana. The meeting at which they'll be told when to settle the lockout, if not how.

A fast settlement may have been the price the CBC board of directors will extract from Robert Rabinovitch in exchange for this week's vote of confidence, says Tod Maffin.

Toronto Star Ottawa bureau chief Susan Delacourt reports that the feds will be asking where the $110 million CBC saved during the lockout went, and if they don't like the answer, they may ask for a refund:

The CBC was to receive about $982 million from the government this year, which works out to about $2.7 million a day.

The money is sent in regular deposits to the Crown corporation.

Assuming they are spread out roughly evenly during the year, the CBC has received about $110.7 million during this lockout even though it has not had to pay the salaries of 5,500 people or put much original programming on the air.

Bulte asked Treasury Board officials yesterday whether dollars directed to the CBC during the lockout could be put into a trust or something similar, to ensure the corporation wasn't using the dispute merely to save money. But she was told the
CBC's financing was part of the June budget and no one can simply revoke measures in it.

What she can do, she was told, is ask for a Heritage Department audit of how the CBC used government money during this lockout. Bulte says she intends to ask for that.

"They may have to give some of it back," Bulte said, especially if an audit reveals the CBC is using these savings from the lockout to cover other losses. She said she would also be annoyed if the corporation used those savings to beef up its resources after the lockout, as a way of regaining stature and goodwill.

"You can't buy back the public," Bulte said.

If only we could get that refund money back. It might only work out to about $3.25 for every Canadian, but that's enough to buy a sausage from a streetside vendor and have a quarter left to call someone who cares about the CBC.

Even so, it's not the public the CBC needs to worry about buying back; it's everybody else.

Olympics, Genies, Geminis, Junos: all gone to other networks. Even the Grey Cup and Brier might leave. If the rest of CBC Sports disappears, will the NHL decide that Hockey Night in Canada should take a hike to a real sports broadcaster?

CBC could rise to the occasion by reorganizing its TV network along the lines of CBC Radio or PBS, with no advertising and all-Canadian arts and entertainment and documentary programming. Or it could whine about hard done by it's been, refuse to change its business model to meet the times and fill the niche that needs filling, and die a slow, lingering death.

Today's idiot box comment of the day comes from Carleton University journalism student Niall McKenna for his praise of the BBC licence fee system:

I was born in the United Kingdom, a place where the merciless grip of the billion-channel universe has had barely a squeeze. Allegiance to the BBC, the UK’s public broadcaster, is the norm. Britons happily slip $20 a month into the Beeb’s coffers for its commercial-free goodness, like my family once did. (Special government vans prowl the streets for illegal TV hook-ups.)

If the CBC even raised the suggestion of a licence fee for TV owners to pay for the CBC, the Toronto Broadcast Centre would be a smoking pile of rubble the next day. Hundreds of thousands of gun owners thwarted the gun registry law by refusing to register; imagine how ineffective a TV registry and inspection regime would be.

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