Could BBC subscription reform work at CBC?

Once a subscription model is implemented, BBC will only survive if it produces content people actually want to watch

Jack BuckbyIn February, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the government had “no intention” of imposing licensing requirements on news organisations and will not “try to regulate new content.”

The clarification came after Guilbeault told CTV’s Evan Solomon precisely the opposite. During an episode of Question Period, he explained how Canadian news media organisations should be regulated and licensed.

At this point, we don’t know what the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning, but we do know these rumoured proposals came about as part of an effort to curtail the spread of fake news online.

When imposed under the guise of stopping the spread of fake news from small and unprofessional channels or websites, it may be easy to defend. However, it’s based on the incorrect assumption that smaller media organisations are more likely to spread fake news than larger, more established outlets.

Yes, it’s true that there are rogue, unprofessional, small media outlets that spread dubious stories, exaggerated claims, and sensationalist opinion pieces and video reports.

But giants like the CBC are guilty of the same things.

In November 2019, CBC columnist reporter Jeff Yates, who often uncovers fake news, ironically published fake news of his own. As the Post Millennial reported, he claimed that American journalist Andy Ngo was suspended from Twitter for just 12 hours and tagging Ngo’s account proved as much. Both claims were untrue and despite being proven wrong, Yates refused to delete the post.

More seriously, in January 2019, CBC referred to Covington Catholic School students as “teenage bullies.” It was part of a wider mainstream media campaign to portray young Christian students as racist bullies when they were approached by an angry Indigenous protester in Washington, D.C. Nick Sandmann, a Covington student, ultimately sued CNN before reaching a settlement. CBC was forced to acknowledge its claim was wrong.

Mainstream outlets, newspapers and networks do more than just lie. They also use their positions of power to distribute what can only be described as radical progressive propaganda.

CBC Kids News, a show hosted by children from the age of 10 and up, talks to young viewers about issues like marijuana, sex, and even transgenderism – and it’s paid for by taxpayers.

This is a symptom of a wider problem: an inherent bias within the mainstream press across the Western world.

In the United Kingdom, Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson is taking a remarkably different position with the media than his Canadian counterparts. Johnson made the unexpected move to forewarn the BBC that he intends to strip it of its TV licence fee income and force it to implement a subscription model.

The move has long been discussed but nobody believed it would happen. It’s not the kind of decision any normal Conservative government would make.

Senior Conservative MPs also told the press in late February that Johnson plans to sell off Channel Four, a part-state-owned broadcaster often criticized for left-wing bias. Johnson refused to appear on any of the channel’s leadership debates during the December election campaign and repeatedly denied interview requests.

State-funded broadcasters can produce virtually any kind of content they like. There can be ideological bias in their programs so long as they have plausible deniability.

A Netflix-style subscription model, as Johnson suggested, would change that.

It will please the large swaths of British public who don’t want celebrities to be paid millions for hosting shows nobody watches. These same people don’t want to fund left-wing programming and don’t wish to see people harassed about unpaid TV licences. In the United Kingdom, you must pay your TV licence even if you don’t own a television.

The move will also will force BBC to reconsider its output. Once a subscription model is implemented, BBC will only survive if it produces content people actually want to watch.

Nicknamed “Auntie” by Brits, the BBC is a network for the whole family, including the elderly. If it’s to survive transformation into a subscription service, it can’t rely on woke teenagers who already share their Netflix passwords with all their friends. It will need to provide a compelling argument for older generations to pay for content.

Admittedly, such a move in Canada could be a hard sell. Public opinion seems to be quite different than in the U.K. A 2019 poll found that fewer than one in five people want to cut public funding to the state broadcaster.

But if the switch to a subscription model for BBC works – and should it change the direction of programming – it could be the basis of a new pitch to the Canadian people.

When viewers vote with their wallets, broadcasters must listen.

Jack Buckby is a research associate with Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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