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May 24, 2001 CBC's future lies in concentrating on what it does best, say panelists




by David Weatherall

If you tune into the CBC regularly, you’ve undoubtedly heard news anchor Peter Mansbridge trumpeting the CBC’s loyal following. “When it comes to news, the eyes and ears of Canadians belong to one channel—and that’s the CBC,” he says, with great confidence.

It’s a bold claim, especially with the burgeoning of news and information sources in Canada in both traditional and on-line media, but it’s one that CBC news director Mark Bulgutch feels is an appropriate slogan for the CBC.

Reliable source of information

“Without a doubt, I feel that if there is a major event in Canada, such as election night, or a referendum, Canadians turn to the CBC to follow that story. They trust it to be a reliable source of information,” said Bulgutch, after participating in a panel discussion this term organized by students in Concordia’s School Community and Public Affairs.

The future of the CBC has been seriously questioned in recent years, due to massive funding cutbacks and ebbing interest in the channel’s programming.

Comedy and specialty news

According to Bulgutch, the future of the CBC lies in concentrating on what it does best.
“I think that comedy is internationally recognized as one of the things that Canadians do best. Shows like Air Farce and This Hour has 22 Minutes have enjoyed huge success, and so I think that we have to build on that,” he said.

Despite the success of these shows, the CBC is not without its critics. The most vocal of these is Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day, who in the last election threatened to hold a referendum for Canadians to see whether they still feel the CBC is necessary.

Bulgutch’s reaction to the critics: “It shows that Canadians feel passionately about the CBC, and that is a positive sign.”

Although he feels that comedy should be a staple of CBC programming, Bulgutch also highlights the success of the public broadcaster’s two specialty news channels, RDI and Newsworld. “Those two channels are far and away the most popular specialty channels on cable.”

Their success becomes interesting in light of the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Council (CRTC) awarding of digital cable licenses. Of an available 12, the CBC was awarded one; the rest went to corporate broadcasting organizations.

“There is a resistance at the CRTC to the CBC expanding in any direction and competing on a level playing field with our competitors,” Bulgutch said.

As for the future, Bulgutch said, “I know that the CBC has the history of Canada since 1952 on film and I know they are looking for an outlet for that, although I guess it’ll have to wait,” he said.

Also on the panel were Marc Raboy, professor of communications at the Université de Montréal, and Mark Goldman, of Friends of Public Broadcasting.