CBC: love and loathing on the airwaves

(Canscene) –Each year the Sikh Centennial Foundation celebrates the settling of the first Sikhs here in Canada, thus becoming early pioneers of  Canadian multiculturalism.  I was privileged to be invited to attend this  year’s glittering gala which honoured four persons who’d made  significant contributions to society.

Richard Stursberg, executive vice president of the CBC’s English  services was the keynote speaker.  His subject? Diversity in CBC programming which now includes Punjabi narrated NHL games for cable  subscribers and the over-the-air Little Mosque on the Prairie hit  series.

But two swallows hardly make a summer and over-the-air diversity has  been around for a long time now. Noticeably absent was Stursberg’s nod to its pioneers.

In 1979, OMNI Television had pioneered daily over-the-air ethnic  broadcasting as CMTV before changing its name to OMNI. Specialized cable services such as Fairchild and Telelatino followed. The popularity of  ethnic television was directly responsible for the CRTC developing its  ethnic broadcasting policies for multicultural radio and television.

It can safely be said that without the initial pioneering of
that  Toronto enterprise that has led to multicultural/multilingual stations in  Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgarythere would have been no exemplars to give heart to CBC.

Which leads to the age old question. What is it about CBC that combines sometimes admirable programming with the blondness of bureaucratic stupidity? My first years in Canada saw many friendships with CBC radio types like Syd Brown, John Rae and Alan McPhee and listening to their beefs about their employer’s brass made Canada broadcasting seem like a curious service indeed. When we consider the current state of affairs at our national broadcaster are we not tempted to the same sentiments today?
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