OTTAWA - The Canadian War Museum was a fitting venue Thursday to debate whether the taxpayer-funded CBC is as outdated as the vintage army vehicles housed in the memorial bunker.
Post Media columnist and CBC contributor Andrew Coyne argued the state broadcaster is no longer necessary in a multi-channel, digital universe and that all taxpayers are paying for something the majority don't watch or listen to.
Coyne told an overwhelmingly CBC-friendly crowd that today's viewers and listeners have a menu of pay-as-you-go options "to suit every taste, high or low, broad or narrow" that don't rely on scarce public funds.
"At a bare minimum, then, I would put the CBC on pay. It could still be a public broadcaster, but one funded by its audience, rather than taxpayers. If its viewers are as devoted as claimed, they should be happy to pay."
Mark Starowicz, a stalwart of documentary programming and creator of CBC Radio's As It Happens and other shows countered that every time there's a technical revolution in broadcasting, CBC naysayers call for its demise.
Like Coyne, he acknowledged that cable, satellite and the Internet have changed the playing field when it comes to choices and delivery.
But he suggested private networks cheat when it comes to Canadian content by showing news programming between 6 p.m. and midnight to meet broadcast requirements and fill the middle hours with American shows.
"Without the CBC, there would not be a single player of any scale that produces Canadian programming," he said.
"Let's have one honest player who will produce news for more than profit, who will investigate wrongdoing, who will produce the history of Canada ... even if it's unprofitable."
Coyne said the CBC would be better off dividing itself into a "constellation" of specialty channels and charging viewers.
"That would be better for taxpayers, for viewers and, I'd argue, for the CBC itself."
Starowicz said the CBC would never abandon its viewers and "fragment ourselves into a hundred tiny private and toll-gated entities that don't serve Canadians equally."