CanWest says CBC should be more like BBC

3/4/2002

Winnipeg, - The CBC is like Banff National Park, says the president of CanWest Global Communications Corp., nice to have, even if you never go there.

Leonard Asper used the analogy Friday as he told a House of Commons committee that the public broadcaster should get out of all but a narrow range of programming.

``It hurts our revenue streams to be competing against somebody who is not profit driven,'' Asper said. He would like to see CBC Television become more like the BBC and stick to arts and Canadian drama and a nightly national newscast.

He would eliminate local newscasts across the country, sports and any other program that the private sector can do for a profit. ``They drive down the rates we can get for our programming,'' Asper told the committee, which was holding the public hearing as part of its complete review of the Broadcasting Act.

A CBC spokeswoman said they would not comment directly on Asper's presentation, but would be setting out their own blueprint for broadcasting in Canada at a committee hearing in Ottawa in mid-March.

``We, like most Canadians, believe that the CBC is playing an important role as a public broadcaster,'' said Martine Menard. In a wide-ranging presentation broadened even more by the questions of committee members, Asper called for new streams of revenue for private broadcasters and dismissed claims that media concentration is a problem.

CanWest owns television stations and daily newspapers from coast to coast, but Asper said pooling resources does not mean Canadians are going to receive a less diverse blend of news and information. ``That means more people will have more sources of information, not the other way around.''

Jim Thompson of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting listened to Asper's presentation and said he was asking for more money but not offering anything in return that might improve broadcasting in this country.

``It was like your 10-year-old boy coming up to you as a parent and saying, `I'd like to double my allowance but I don't want to do any chores,' '' said Thompson.

Asper said increasing revenue for private broadcasters would let them spend more on Canadian content, although he offered no specifics. One of his suggestions was to allow broadcasters to include late-night infomercials under the Canadian content umbrella. Committee members took shots at Asper for his family's Liberal connections his father Izzy Asper once led the Manitoba Liberals and challenged his position on the impact of media concentration.

Bloc Quebecois MP Christiane Gagnon asked about national editorials that CanWest has asked its newspapers to run across Canada.

The issue has been a hot potato at the Montreal Gazette, where some staff temporarily withdrew their bylines in protest. Gagnon questioned whether the views of Quebec sovereigntists would get a fair airing in newspapers owned by the Aspers.

Asper said the policy on editorials has nothing to do with what appears in the news section and said the issue was overblown. ``There is a very, very vocal minority of people who believe this is a threat . . . Most Canadians don't think this is an issue, most Canadians don't care.''

His views were also questioned by another Manitoba-based broadcaster. Craig Broadcast Systems Inc. owns television stations in Manitoba and Alberta and is trying again to win a licence in Toronto.

President Drew Craig said media concentration is a serious concern and he read a long list of names that have vanished from the media in Canada over the last few decades. ``We think that diversity of ownership is how you get true diversity of voice,'' said Craig.

The committee also heard from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and the Saskatchewan Communications Network. Both made pleas for more support for alternative broadcasting in Canada. APTN would like to see aid to independent aboriginal producers in Canada more than triple from the current level of about $2.5 million.

David Debono of the Saskatchewan educational network said $500,000 a year would make a huge difference to the programs he is able to offer in a province where even the CBC no longer has a strong local presence. ``The idea is to create more debate, more diversity, more views.''



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