Document compares CBC, BBC as Liberals review public broadcaster

The Liberal government promised the CBC an addition $675 million in its March budget, but also indicated changes are coming. An internal document produced by the Canadian Heritage Department suggests officials are looking at the BBC as one model for reform, especially with regard to governance.

Liberal review of CBC's future includes comparison with BBC

Federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly has said she wants the CBC to be a risk-taker as the government assesses the future of the public broadcaster. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

The Liberal government is looking at the British Broadcasting Corporation as it examines the future of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a newly-released document indicates.

The Canadian Heritage department, whose minister Melanie Joly is responsible for the CBC/Radio-Canada, produced a detailed comparison in April of the two public broadcasters.

The document, obtained under the Access to Information Act, compares the mandate, funding and governance of the CBC and BBC, and looks ahead to coming changes for both institutions.

The Liberal government is closely examining the British Broadcasting Corp. as it reviews of the future of the CBC, an internal document indicates.

During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised to restore CBC funding that was cut by the Conservative government. The new $150 million in annual funding was "to be delivered in consultation with the broadcaster and the Canadian cultural community."

The party also promised to review how directors are appointed to the 12-person CBC/Radio-Canada board of directors "to ensure merit-based and independent appointments." Currently, directors are appointed by the prime minister through cabinet.

The March 22 Liberal budget provided $75 million to the CBC for 2016-17, with the amount rising to $150 million annually for the next four years.

Strings attached?

But the budget also suggested there will be strings attached to the money, as the minister works with the CBC "to develop a five-year accountability plan." Joly has said she is willing to modify the mandate of the CBC.

An internal comparison of the BBC with the CBC notes that the British broadcaster has an outward-looking mandate of bringing the UK to the world, unlike the CBC's more domestic mandate. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

"I really believe a public broadcaster is relevant and important. But it needs to be adapted to our times," she said in a December radio interview.

"I like the Vice magazine approach, where it's really talking about different subjects in a different manner. So I would like to see the CBC be somehow a risk-taker in terms of content, and that's how I think ultimately it will make sure to attract new audiences and again be relevant."

The five-page document comparing the BBC and the CBC was prepared April 27 this year by Catherine Beck, of the broadcasting and digital communications branch, for the deputy minister at Canadian Heritage. It appeared shortly after the minister launched a public consultation on "Canadian content in a digital world."

Among the differences highlighted in the April 27 document:

  • CBC's mandate "is anchored more explicitly in the idea of building a shared national consciousness and identity," unlike the BBC which is focused more on "sustaining citizenship and promoting cultural excellence."
  • The BBC is more outward-looking, with a mandate "to bring the UK to the world," while CBC's international service is an add-on rather than a core purpose.
  • The British government has an arm's-length procedure for appointing BBC directors, unlike the CBC.
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