Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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Make the CBC unabashedly elitist

National Post comment editor Jonathan Kay says the only real reason to keep the CBC going is to preserve and promote intellectual elitism across this great land of ours.

From the National Post:

Though I've spent a good part of my National Post career railing against the CBC's left-wing bias (anyone remember a noisy 2003-era op-ed feature called “CBC Watch”?), I listen to The World at Six and As It Happens every day during my evening commute. My listening habits have nothing to do with cultural nationalism. (When I'm at home, and have the chance to log on to Internetstreamed audio, I usually switch over to Washington-based National Public Radio.) Rather, it's journalistic elitism: CBC Radio simply delivers smarter, more substantive news than any other Canadian on-air alternative. If the CBC disappeared tomorrow, I'd miss it — which is another way of saying I don't mind seeing Barbara Budd and Bernie McNamee getting paid with my tax dollars.

The counter-argument is that if the CBC had any real value, the private sector would step in to offer the same service. But I doubt that's true. As the proliferation of shallow, angry, sensationalistic news programs on U. S. cable television and radio networks shows, a totally private media market often yields nothing more than different flavours of ranting. For Americans looking for something more moderate and intelligent than Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, the only option often is NPR or PBS, CBC's (approximate) radio and television equivalents.

This is not a knock on the angry men of the airwaves, and their call-in enablers. Obviously, millions of Americans and Canadians love to hear umbraged everymen reiterate the same half-dozen bumper-sticker solutions to the nation's problems (“Kick the bums out,” “lock 'em up,” “trade for Ovechkin,” etc.). But those of us looking for a meatier alternative need a radio network, too–and the CBC is it.

On the other hand, if we're going to justify the CBC's existence as a public service for snobbish newshounds — which, as I'm arguing, is the only viable way to do it — a lot of the Ceeb's current roster has to go. Today's CBC television schedule, for instance, includes The Simpsons at 5 p. m., Wheel of Fortune at 5:30 p. m. and Jeopardy! at 7:30 p. m. All this should be junked and replaced with egghead CanCon. Fewer people will watch it, but at least those viewers won't be able to get it anywhere else. …

The CBC should be a service for elitists of all stripes — not just the left-wing variety. It would be nice, for instance, if an American Iraq war resistor could pass through Toronto without automatically scoring a gig on The Current; or if the subject of Iraq could come up without George Galloway being interviewed; or if missiles could hit Israel without Carol Off commiserating with a Hamas apologist.

Question: Is aspiring to intelligence in one's programming inherently elitist, and if so, is elitism a bad thing?

If one's populist aspirations come at the expense of intelligence, is populism a good thing?

Wed, March 18 2009 » Main Page, Media

4 Responses

  1. Anonymous March 18 2009 @ 5:14 am

    Back in 2007 I finally gave up and accepted the label 'elitist' but with provisions
    http://www.publicbroadcasting.ca/2007/09/im-elitist-you-should-be-too.html
    Personally I'm interested in intelligence, creativity and quality (quality of ideas, not necessarily production value). If that means I'm an elitist that's fine.
    I've told TV people for years – if all you're interested in is ratings cut to the chase and show porn. You'll do fine.

  2. Anonymous March 18 2009 @ 1:14 am

    Back in 2007 I finally gave up and accepted the label 'elitist' but with provisions
    http://www.publicbroadcasting.ca/2007/09/im-elitist-you-should-be-too.html
    Personally I'm interested in intelligence, creativity and quality (quality of ideas, not necessarily production value). If that means I'm an elitist that's fine.
    I've told TV people for years – if all you're interested in is ratings cut to the chase and show porn. You'll do fine.

  3. Anonymous March 19 2009 @ 10:37 am

    One argument for me in favour of an 'elitist' CBC (or other public broadcaster) is that 'elitism' wants to be free.
    The whole point of journalism is to democratize information. If only the elites have access to high-quality information, then your democracy suffers.
    Virtually anywhere I go in Canada, the CBC is accessible to me via radio.
    While things have changed with the advent of the Internet (although broadband hasn't yet extended out to all remote areas), through the CBC, you can participate in national life despite living outside the central regions.
    I work for the online arm of a private TV broadcaster, but I listen to CBC Radio constantly.
    A populist approach to news and current affairs has its pluses, but to my mind, this would be an intellectually poorer country without the CBC — but not if it chooses to chase popularity by dumbing down.

  4. Anonymous March 19 2009 @ 6:37 am

    One argument for me in favour of an 'elitist' CBC (or other public broadcaster) is that 'elitism' wants to be free.
    The whole point of journalism is to democratize information. If only the elites have access to high-quality information, then your democracy suffers.
    Virtually anywhere I go in Canada, the CBC is accessible to me via radio.
    While things have changed with the advent of the Internet (although broadband hasn't yet extended out to all remote areas), through the CBC, you can participate in national life despite living outside the central regions.
    I work for the online arm of a private TV broadcaster, but I listen to CBC Radio constantly.
    A populist approach to news and current affairs has its pluses, but to my mind, this would be an intellectually poorer country without the CBC — but not if it chooses to chase popularity by dumbing down.