Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quality Public Broadcasting as a Thing of the Past

In social democracies it has been the norm for the entertainment airwaves to be controlled and utilized by the national government. First radio and then television broadcast over-the-air were, everywhere outside the USA, managed by a government-sponsored and publicly-funded broadcasting authority. Even when private broadcast networks became legal and began offering their own programming to owners of receiving equipment, public broadcasting continued. Thus the major Commonwealth countries all still have a public broadcaster - the BBC, ABC, CBC, and so on.

These state-managed broadcasting authorities were initially organized around what has often been called the Reith Doctrine, after Lord Reith, the first Director-General of the BBC. Reith summarized the BBC's purpose in three words: educate, inform, entertain; this remains part of that organization's mission statement to this day.  This credo has also been adopted by broadcasters throughout the world, notably the donation-funded Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States. The term 'Reithianism' speaks to equal consideration of all viewpoints, probity, universality and a commitment to public service. This contrasts with a free-market approach to broadcasting, where programming aims to attract the largest audiences or advertising revenues.

What we have had in Canada since the turn of this century is the worst of all broadcasting worlds, a publicly-funded national broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), that has been ruined by managers who have attempted by abandoning Reithianism to compete unsuccessfully with our nation's private broadcasters.  Recently control of the broadcasting of our national sport, ice hockey, whose professional teams were a mainstay of CBC television, has been lost to a private network. This has prompted a long overdue howl of outrage over how badly the CBC is being managed and how far from quality broadcasting it has strayed.

While, as in the links above, much of the current umbrage is focused around televised programming, the same sins are true for the radio programming of the CBC and Radio Canada (its French language operation). It can be argued that radio is still as or more influential than television in cementing a sense of national identity across such a vast country (one only exceeded in size by the Russian Federation).  On CBC broadcast radio, talk has been dumbed down and professionally knowledgeable presenters replaced by 'celebrities', many of whom are barely articulate. Quality music like classical and jazz, once the mainstay of public radio, has largely been sloughed off to a morass of cheap and unexplained internet channels. Advertising commercials, long a mainstay of CBC TV, are now also appearing on CBC radio broadcasts, which used to brag they were 'commercial-free'.

Locally here in Southern Ontario educational and commercial-free TV is available still through a provincial government and donation-funded channel (TV Ontario) and from a PBS broadcaster just across the US border, one that also provides commercial-free and well-curated classical music radio programming.  What a shame that Canada's largest urban region should have to rely solely on our province's government and a US-based station for material that doesn't treat us all as airheads with virtually no attention span!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Les Trappes de la Langue..or..Living Between Two Worlds

As one who is Mother Country-born, one of the things that still can get me into trouble after more than forty years in North America is what a teacher of French once identified for me as “les nuances de la langue”.  Although one might think she might have been referring to those problems that can be created by differing, even opposing, meanings, of the same word by geographically separated speakers of a single language (being ‘knocked up’ is one that most native English speakers know), her caution applied to the way we use verbal conventions and voice tone and emphasis in what we say.  Witness the habit of English-speaking North Americans, especially the young, to go up or lilt at the end of a standard sentence, versus the tendency of most native English speakers elsewhere to drop. 

Watch out also for the degree of verbal foreplay that goes with opening up spoken communication. A striking example that I came across during my business life is people phoning from Scandinavia. Right after directly identifying themselves they go straight into what they need. There is no “how’s the family?” or even a “how are you?" unless you have become very close.  They are not being unfeeling, but you would not know unless you had spent time there.

In contrast, upon meeting or connecting over here we almost always enquire after the other’s status, whether we know them or not. So much so that it is necessary to place emphasis if you actually want a true response to queries like: “how are you?” (answer: fine!) or “how’s it goin’?” (fine!) or “wassup?” (not much!).  It took me an age to learn I never need to expound on my state unless I have determined for sure that is what is really wanted; something I now know is quite a rare event since Canadians are an outwardly un-inquisitive people.