Except for the occasional episode of The Nature of Things, I don't watch CBC Television. But I do listen to Radio 1. The Gomeshi Affair has revealed deep seated problems at CBC Radio. So I read Noah Richler's piece in today's Toronto Star with interest. Richler writes:
There are many bright lights at the CBC and some very accomplished journalists and perhaps even good managers, without question, but these are up against the obdurate culture of an institution under siege. Fighting to remain the same is not an option. Only radical change will save the place.
Great swathes of CBC airtime are handed over to single people. You would think, listening to CBC Radio, that only Eleanor Wachtel had ever read a decent foreign novel; that Bob McDonald was our only adjudicator of science and that Peter Mansbridge is the only person who can read the news.
Similarly, Jian Ghomeshi was awarded every single trendy arts beat in the country ad nauseam. Did we really need the allegations of his beating women to discover that Rick Mercer could do the Scotiabank Giller job better? Will the latter now do that show forever?
The point is that there are huge numbers of qualified and entertaining Canadians ready to be discovered that the CBC is shutting out by its reliance on just a few people to do the work. Indeed, one of the pleasing effects of the vacant seat at Q is that — as is ordinary, for instance, at the BBC — the audience has been enjoying multiple hosts. It would be proper for listeners to be treated to more of this, but this too is unlikely as the CBC’s complacency in this regard is exacerbated by the tendency to chase the grail of high ratings that celebrity brings to it in its ailing state.
Unfortunately, CBC Radio has followed the American model. If Peter Jennings or Morley Safer could become stars south of the border, why not encourage that culture in Canadian broadcasting? The powers that be concluded that we no longer needed any more gravel voiced Norman DePoes, bespectacled Knowlton Nashes or non-photogenic Peter Gzowskis. Stars they weren't. But they were journalists first.
We would do well to return to the maxim Journalists First.