A new reason to support the CBC [diversity]
TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Sat Jul 30 2011. Don Tapscott
I recently attended the Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual gathering of the American intelligentsia and powerful to discuss global issues. I watched a session where Chrystia Freeland, a Canadian, was interviewing Bob Rubin, former secretary of the U.S. treasury and now chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. Rubin gave a brilliant description of the deep and seemingly intractable problems in the United States. The country is so divided it is increasingly difficult if not impossible to get anything done. The most recent example is the current fiasco on raising the debt ceiling.
Freeland, an adept journalist, asked Rubin if he ever thought about the role a strong public broadcaster could play in the United States. She referenced the role of the CBC in Canada, not in bringing the country together, but by creating a platform whereby various points of view are expressed and reasonable discussions could occur.
The interview became one of Rubin interviewing Freeland on how the CBC works in Canada and its effects on the country. Did just a tiny elite listen to and watch it or was it broadly accessed by the general population from different communities within the country? They discussed the difference between the CBC and its impact compared with the U.S.’s National Public Radio, which is listened to by a much smaller and narrower cross-section of the population. At the end, Rubin concluded that a strong public broadcaster like the CBC could be a simple yet powerful initiative that could help United States get out of its self-destructive funk.
It reminded me once again how important the CBC is to the country, and arguably never more important than today with the arrival of digital media. There is a fragmentation of all media, and we’ve gone from mass media to what I call “molecular media.” One upshot is that increasingly any Canadian can be awash in any particular narrow point of view. They can listen to, read or watch the views they support or hold. That means there is a real danger of balkanizing our society — we all may end up in self-reinforcing echo-chambers where all we hear is our own point of view.
In the United States, many conservatives seek out right-wing news organizations such asFox News, RushLimbaugh.com or the Wall Street Journal. Similarly, Democrats increasingly turn to centre and left-of-centre news organizations such as the Huffington Post andMSNBC. More and more news organizations preach to the converted. Tomer Strolight, president of Torstar Digital, says, “People can now spend their time in a media landscape that gives them comfort. When someone enjoys Fox News, are they being informed or just comforted?”
In 1995 I wrote a book called The Digital Economy, in which I predicted that broadcasting would soon be transformed — it won’t be broad and it won’t be casting. Audiences, especially a new generation of digital natives, expect media delivered on all platforms and they expect it to engage and even be interactive. Transforming from a traditional broadcaster to a national 21st century media company is no small challenge. In fact, it’s one that many media organizations are failing at
To be sure, there are a lot of strong traditional arguments as to why there should be stable funding for the CBC. There is still a role for great broadcasting. CBC/Radio-Canada spends more on Canadian programming than all other conventional broadcasters combined. This gives essential support to Canadian content and the independent production sector that creates it. The result is diverse voices in the media landscape, and distinctive programming not available from any other broadcaster.
But broadcasting itself is changing as prime time becomes any time. There are 1.6 million podcasts downloaded per week from Radio One. So the listener becomes the “programmer.” I look at what CBC Radio does with a program like Q. It is a radio program, a television station through online TV, a Twitter initiative and a community. It engages the country. Another excellent program is Spark.
I was recently interviewed by Peter Mansbridge on Mansbridge One on One. It triggered tremendous traffic on my Twitter account, not just from within the CBC but from all over the world — more so than any other interview I’ve had in recent years. It reminded me of the power of our uniquely Canadian platform and asset.
This is a time of great opportunity where the CBC can be enormously transformative and influential. Courtesy of the Internet, it is now available almost anywhere on Earth. The CBC deserves support for all the traditional reasons. But the digital revolution introduces a profound new imperative. The CBC needs new resources if it is going to reinvent itself for the digital age. A strong 21st century CBC is essential to help us achieve our proper leadership role in the world.
Don Tapscott is the author of 14 books about new technologies in business and society, most recently, with Anthony D. Williams, Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World. Twitter@dtapscott.
< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1032448–a-new-reason-to-support-the-cbc >