Jeangagnon, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Jeangagnon, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Bill C-18 and the CBC’s Self-Destructive Approach to Government Digital Policy

I need to start this post by making it clear that I am a supporter of publicly funded broadcasting and the CBC. With the increased use of paywalls and dramatic shifts in the media landscape, there is value in a public broadcaster that fills the gaps in the privately owned media world by ensuring that all Canadians have open, freely available access to reliable news. That requires embracing all forms of distribution, maintaining steadfast independence, and limiting direct competitive overlap with the private side that is currently facing significant digital transition challenges. This should be an easy value proposition for the CBC and one that would provide a compelling case for public funding. Yet the CBC’s approach to Bill C-18 and other government digital policies seems determined to do the opposite and, in doing so, threatens its future support.

Simply put, the CBC should not be treated as an eligible news business under Bill C-18. It is bad enough that the private sector has to compete with the CBC for digital advertising dollars, but adding competition for tech company money only increases the problem for the competitive media landscape in Canada. As I’ve previously argued, the law serves to increase the CBC’s reliance on private sector money and makes it more like a private media company when it should be striving to be a compelling public alternative. 

But beyond the competitive implications, the problem with Bill C-18 and the CBC is that it runs directly counter to what should be a top CBC priority: universal, free access to the news for all Canadians (who fund that access through tax dollars). In an ideal world, that would mean open licensing CBC news content so that others could enhance its distribution and value. Even without open licensing, the CBC should embrace all distribution channels – including search and social media – not in the misguided hope of payment for links, but because that free distribution enhances the CBC’s value to Canadians and thereby makes the case for its continued public funding. By supporting Bill C-18, the CBC signals that it is no different than the private media sector and that those that increase its visibility and access should somehow pay for the privilege of doing so. If it is no different than private sources, the doubt about whether the public should continue to fund it will only increase. 

Further, the CBC’s recent advocacy on Bill C-18 undermines both its mandate and the perception of its independence. This week’s public letter to Meta urging it to stop its compliance with Bill C-18 by blocking news links is a misstep on both counts. Times of crisis are precisely when the CBC is needed as it has the widest range of distribution of channels in local communities including television, radio, and the Internet. Some of those communities did not have Internet access for days, meaning that Facebook wasn’t even available and CBC radio would be the ideal distribution mechanism to keep them updated and amplify official sources. The CBC’s focus on Facebook access is bizarre since what makes the CBC valuable in such situations is that Canadians do not need intermediaries to access the news. 

In fact, the letter may be less about Facebook blocking news links when communities went days without Internet access and more about an effort to curry favour with the government. Much like its decision to join the weak Competition Act complaint, CBC management has gone out of its way to support the government’s position on Bill C-18 (and Bill C-11 before that). When CBC critics focus on its independence, they typically turn to concerns about its news coverage. I think that’s a mistake. The perception of its independence is most undermined by its policy positions as it becomes difficult to determine whether its public support is grounded in policy or based on the fact that government is its primary source of funding. The CBC should be going out of its way to remove any hint of political leanings or biased policy positions, yet it continues to lean into them. It is a destructive approach that ultimately undermines the very case for its continued public support.



  1. “…for its continued public support.”.

    The CBC well understands it needs support, but it doesn’t trust “public support”. Why should it? The public is fickle! Every now and then the public actually vote in a Conservative government! The horror!

    Clearly the CBC needs a much more dependable, reliable and stalwart supporter and it has found it in the LPC. And the deal is obvious: The CBC supports all the LPC talking points, wokeness and other prejudices, and pushes the left-wing propaganda and fear-mongering from the LPC to the audience. In return, they get stable funding to keep that trough full.

    We are ill-served by the yellow media in Canada whether it’s public or private.

    • And yet a LPC government is responsible for the single largest reduction in public funding to the CBC, far greater than anything the Conservatives ever did. Back in the mid-90s, as part of the Chretien governments austerity budget, the allocation was reduced by around 20%. They walked back a portion of it a couple of years later. They really can’t depend on stable funding from any party forming government (of course, we don’t know for sure about what would happen if the NDP ever did form the government, but frankly I don’t think that we could assume that they would provide stable funding based on their performance as provincial governments).

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      • Don’t fall for politics. If the LPC dared to reduce funding for the CBC, they intended to make sure any shortfall was more than made up by C-18 getting plenty of lovely cash showered on the CBC.

        • I presume you are talking about cash by way of the Online News Act. In that case I would agree; the Act would allow the government to reduce the budget allocation by the amount that the CBC/SRC receives from agreements dues to the Act and still claim that they are supporting the CBC/SRC to the tune of $X (last I heard it was something like $1.4B).

          My point is that the focus on the Conservatives is simply political posturing by the CBC; they don’t want to see their federal budget allocation reduced and right now it is only the CPC that is openly talking about that.

          In addition, don’t forget that the Board and President of the CBC/SRC are appointed by the government, and reflects the social leanings of the government, so of course those folks don’t want to see the CPC form the government; when their term is up they would likely be replaced with someone who reflects the priorities of the Conservatives. That the Liberals have in the past reduced their funding is something that they don’t want to talk about, and for some in the senior management there, may have forgotten about. That doesn’t promote the immediate concern.

  2. Gorgonzola says:

    Great post.

    If you want news, it is faster to type “” than “”.

    • Alison Malis says:

      Maybe it is, but if I type “” I will at least get, via the wide selection of “likes” I have, some semblance of the “real story.” CBC is very much, at the moment anyway, a regurgitator of Liberal doctrine. Take for example anything posted about IRS. There is never a balanced approach on this topic. It’s slanted one way. Comments on CBC online are not allowed. Public perception of CBC is that it reports “the truth,” but that is not the case anymore, at least on some topics. I’ll take my “” over “” any day, or I would have. Now I have to type a lot more than either “” or “,” thanks to this bill.

  3. Kealy Wilkinson says:

    Strategic thinking of this kind was regular practice within the Corporation’s management (senior and middle) when governance, accountability and the commitment to public service mattered. On the evidence, those days are gone and the CBC/R-C’s masquerade as Canada’s national public broadcaster is no longer sustainable.

    Unless we are prepared to toss out almost a century of public investment in what once offered (and could again) unique and distinctive programming, it’s time to consult Canadians and determine what they want – and need – from a national, contemporary, 21st century public media service.

  4. A few facts about the CBC.

    1) CBC’s annual government subsidy could pay for Netflix with ads for every one of Canada’s 15 M households, and there would still be $120 M left over to pay for popcorn.

    2) CTV and Global each spend about $160 M a year on news. CBC TV spends $50 M on English news and $66 M on French news (numbers from reports filed with the CRTC).

    3) Under the Hockey Night in Canada deal, Rogers pays the CBC absolutely nothing. In return, Rogers gets 100% of HNIC’s ad revenue, studio space, and use of the full English CBC TV network.

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