Public television has never been on a tightrope like it is today. In Canada, in France and even in England.
No public television has the aura of the BBC. All dream of having their counter-power and of enjoying such generous funding. Under penalty of criminal offence, each British household must pay an annual permit of 159 pounds ($268) as soon as there is a television, computer, tablet, smart phone or any device capable of picking up a TV signal. This is $72 more than the royalty paid by French households.
The BBC receives $105 per head of pipe, France Télévisions, $73 and CBC/Radio-Canada, $34. To this amount must be added advertising revenue. Radio-Canada also benefits indirectly from the financial assistance received by independent producers doing business with it.
In London, it is the Minister of Culture herself who is leading the charge against public television. The BBC was asking for around 15% more to counter inflation and COVID-related spending, but the minister decided to freeze her budget for two years. If the Conservatives remain in power, they intend to abolish the license paid by the English for the BBC by 2027. Thereafter, its funding would be at the discretion of Parliament. Just like in Canada!
THE SECRET DREAM OF CONSERVATIVES
In France, the future of public television is not rosier. In his first presidential campaign speech, and to everyone’s surprise, Emmanuel Macron announced that he will end the TV license fee. France Télévisions could therefore be, here too, at the mercy of parliamentarians. Two of the president’s main opponents, Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour, are even more radical. If elected, France 2 and France Inter, the two flagships of public service, will be privatized.
Privatizing CBC/Radio-Canada is the Conservatives’ secret dream. Having always been too cowardly to follow through on it, they instead opted to chip away at its budget whenever they were in power. Jean Chrétien’s government, however liberal, was not left out. Under his leadership, CBC/Radio-Canada suffered the most drastic cut in its entire history: almost half a billion in one fell swoop. In the process, the former Prime Minister also declared that “not a single Canadian would take to the streets to protest if Radio-Canada closed its doors the next morning”.
THE YALE REPORT FORGOTTEN?
Each commission or committee report on Radio-Canada – and there have been several – has shaken management. Every election too. The next will be no exception, especially if Pierre Poilièvre manages to take the lead of the Conservative Party.
With the legislative work advancing at a snail’s pace in a minority government, there is no longer any chance of following up on the recommendations of Janet Yale’s committee on Radio-Canada. The Minister of Heritage already has his hands full with the Broadcasting Act, the contribution of the Internet giants to the press and to our audiovisual sector, not to mention the changes to the Copyright Act and a new hate speech.
The review of Radio-Canada’s mandate and the issue of its funding will be put off indefinitely. The English network will therefore continue to decline and the French network to compete without restraint with private television. Ultimately, the situation will undermine public television and make it increasingly vulnerable to attacks from all the Poilièvres of this world.