My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, freely available version) reflects on the current debate on the future of the CBC and public broadcasting in Canada. I argue that missing from much of the dialogue has been the recognition that technology and the Internet may provide the CBC with its best hope to bring new relevance to the role of the public broadcaster.
With its labour woes behind it, the CBC should demonstrate its value to the public by following the lead of other public broadcasters. In particular, it should leverage the Internet to provide unparalleled access to content, grant Canadians the right to use its content in creative new ways, and become an active public interest participant in the Canadian Internet policy process.
The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation provides a good illustration of how the Internet can be used to provide exceptional online access to content. It recently launched a new online portal that features more than 20,000 video clips and access to 12 radio channels. The portal includes three weeks of archives from its television broadcasts, creating the Internet equivalent of personal video recorder for the entire country. The CBC' s online archives are respectable, but they are not nearly as comprehensive as those now found in Norway.
The British Broadcasting Corporation has emerged as the undisputed global leader in providing its users with rights to use and interact with its content with several initiatives including the Creative Archive, BBC Backstage, and the forthcoming Digital Curriculum. The BBC Creative Archive allows users to download clips of BBC factual programming for non-commercial use, where they can be stored, manipulated and shared. The initiative currently offers roughly 100 programming extracts, but the public broadcaster is also running a pilot study that offers hundreds of hours of television and radio content to a trial user group.
I also argue that the CBC can also follow the Australian Broadcasting Corporation' s lead by becoming involved in the Canadian policy process. For example, earlier this month the Australian public broadcaster spoke out against proposed legislation that would grant new legal protections to digital locks, known as technological protection measures (TPMs).
While these are challenging times for the CBC, it is evident that similar issues face public broadcasters worldwide. For the CBC to meet the challenge and remain relevant, it must hearken back to an earlier time – not to wax nostalgically about the "golden era" of the CBC, but rather to restore its place as a leader on the new technological frontier.