Monday, September 26, 2005

Anthony Germane? Hardly

In keeping with the above observation about the gems hidden in Letters to the Editor pages, there was an interesting letter in Saturday’s National Post from Anthony Germain, host of CBC Radio’s The House. Germain notes that his fellow lockee, The Hour host George Stroumboulopoulos, is taking a gig at Toronto talk radio station CFRB and concludes thereby that the money Newsworld spent promoting Stroumboulopoulos is improperly benefiting a private-sector competitor:

I’m writing to see if somebody from the National Post can offer CBC managers a training seminar on rational business plans. As an example, consider the case of George Stroumboulopoulos.

CBC-TV has spent hundreds of thousands of (tax) dollars to raise George’s profile for his show The Hour. Now I see that George is also going to host a radio show for Newstalk 1010 on CFRB in Toronto and its sister station, CJAD in Montreal. Standard Broadcasting owns CFRB and CJAD. They directly compete with CBC Radio in the country’s two largest markets. Is not the diffusion of George’s talents a loss for the CBC?

Er, no. I can think of a few things wrong with Germain’s thinking:

(1) George Stroumboulopoulos’ profile stems largely from his years in private broadcasting, not his six months hosting The Hour. Germain says the CBC has spent hundreds of thousands of (tax) dollars to raise Stroumboulopoulos’ profile for The Hour. First of all, Newsworld – where The Hour resides – is funded through cable fees (or at least it’s supposed to be), not the tax dollars that go to the CBC main network and radio. Second, most people know Stroumboulopoulos from his years at private broadcasters Much Music and CITY-TV. So applying Germain’s premise, this private-sector funded profile actually accrued to Newsworld’s benefit when they hired George.

But what’s the core of Germain’s argument? That the CBC should not raise the profile of people who appear in private media and vice versa? Yet every day journalists from the Star, the Globe, CanWest and Sun Media appear on the CBC/Newsworld. I think I’ve even heard some of them on The House.

(2) Standard Broadcasting is not a competitor to the CBC. The notion of competition for listeners in broadcasting is only relevant where advertising is being sold. CBC Radio has no ads and as a publicly funded broadcaster is free of the commercial imperative to seek or maintain a large audience to maximize its revenue. Therefore the CBC does not – and by definition should not – compete with private radio. Germain’s attitude hints at what many believe is a fundamental problem with the CBC: they want to be high in quality but mass in their appeal and influence.

What’s more, CBC and Standard Broadcasting are actually partners in a satellite radio bid recently approved by the CRTC and rubber-stamped by the federal cabinet. Germain should be more concerned with what the CBC’s partnership with private broadcasters in satellite radio might do to his future prospects, not its imaginary competition with private radio. And no, I don’t endorse Standard Broadcasting working with the CBC. Lenin predicted that “the capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Some not-so-bright capitalists seem intent on making that prophecy come true. When they do something as stupid as helping the CBC achieve more reach and revenue, it’s not selling them the rope – it’s giving the rope. And when did the CBC ask their shareholders – or at least our MPs – for permission to expand into private satellite radio? But I digress.

(3) A strike or lockout is not a normal situation. As the public sector unions never fail to remind us when they shut down government services, a strike is “not business as usual” and the public should not expect to be served as if it were. After the lockout, Stroumboulopoulos will presumably be back on the CBC (the CFRB show is only one night a week), making good the bucks the CBC spent to promote him. If he keeps the CFRB show, then his profile on CFRB may enhance his profile at The Hour.

(4) Germain’s anger should be directed at Stroumboulopoulos, not CBC management. By taking another paying job during the lockout, Stroumboulopoulos is “lockout breaking” and betraying his brothers and sisters on the picket line who do not have any employment income.

Not only has Germain missed in his attempt to embarrass CBC managers, he has missed the larger picture. The George Stroumboulopouloses(!) of the world have figured out which way the bus is headed. I hope for Germain’s sake he figures it out too, before it runs over him.


PAN said...

This week's Hill Times has a lovely piece about all the volunteer hours that CBC lockees are giving to Ottawa-area charities. Some are feeding the homeless and others cleaning up riverbanks -- all on the $200-per-week Guild lockout pay. Julie Van Dusen has been filing stories for the Hill Times and I see Don Newman doing the crossword at Starbucks, but that doesn't get mentioned by Germane et al. And when does Peter Mansbridge walk the picket? Only when there are cameras covering it?

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