When I was a kid, Panasonic used to run ads claiming that their products were, “Just slightly ahead of our time.”
The problem with being ahead of your time is that people may not be ready for your message. You can be too far in front. It’s felt like that with my warnings to other media outlets about CBC over the past several years, I was ahead of my time, warning them of a problem they did not see, or wish to see.
This past weekend, at least one person caught up.
Stephen Maher, columnist for Postmedia, noted that CBC was moving into his line of work, paying for columnists to pontificate on national affairs. Responding to a column posted online by Mark Critch, one of the mainstays of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Maher asked on Twitter, “This is good, but why is CBC hiring online columnists? I don't see that in the broadcast act. What is the mandate?”
Unfortunately this is not the first column by Critch, or anyone else, on the CBC website, nor will it be their last foray outside of their mandate.
CBC is required by Parliament to provide television and radio services across Canada. Somehow along the way they have veered off of that mandate into many different areas. Political columns, one of the real draws for media websites fighting in a sea of headlines, don’t belong on the CBC website, but then again neither does the massive collection of news stories, purchased from Canadian Press and other wire services with your money and given away for free on CBC.ca.
Speaking of giving things away for free, why is CBC paying huge royalty fees to operate a series of online radio stations that compete with streaming services from Google, Apple, Rdio or Songify?
I’m not talking about taking Radio One and Radio Two and streaming them to the web, I’m talking about a music service that offers 10 pop stations, which, as I write, are playing artists such as Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Iggy Azalea and the Everly Brothers.
What is the mandate for taxpayers to subsidize the playing of commercially successful artists on a service that competes for pop music listeners against commercial operations? Why is CBC running a mobile production business? Why do they do so many of the things they do when they constantly claim that resources are stretched?
Over the past several years I have been warning my media colleagues and any media executives that would listen that if they were not careful, CBC would use its $1 billion annual subsidy to put them out of business.
Why listen to the local pop radio station, or classic rock station, when CBC gives you the music you like commercial free and the only ads you hear are for the handy app they will give you for free to take this music on the road with you?
Private radio stations playing commercial music are having to deal with the threat of online streaming services coming at them from around the world, they shouldn’t also have to deal with one that is paid for with their own tax dollars.
Newspapers, soon to be a thing of the past, relegated to web only content, also shouldn’t have to compete with CBC and their vast web offerings.
Again, I’m not talking about audio and video from the broadcaster being put on the CBC website, I’m talking about the army of writers, and yes columnists, that they have been assembling, over the past several years to compete directly with Maher’s employer at Postmedia or at The Globe and Mail.
There is no mandate for CBC to do this but they continue about their business rarely facing questions from anyone. Maher’s question was smacked down by fellow media types on Twitter and he became apologetic while assuring people there is a valid question there. There is, but we don’t have any valid answers because too few people, political or media, are willing to question CBC in a meaningful way.