Ideas: the great underrated aspect of daily life

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My favorite radio shows are on Radio-Canada as the French CBC network is known. While their English language counterparts seem to have lost their way, this is the golden age of Canada's French language public radio.

Marie France Bazo hosts Indicatif Present, the flagship morning public affairs show which this season is celebrating ten years on air. Highly recognized in Quebec — it gets high ratings and wins awards — the show is high-spirited, intelligent and informative.

Listening to Mme. Bazo explain what the show is about I was struck by the simplicity of its philosophy. We exist to put our audience in contact with ideas, she said. That means finding thinkers, authors, artists, public figures with something of interest to say.

That is “interest” in the sense of significance, and importance to life on the planet, not “human interest” stories, the trap which contemporary media have fallen into, head first, CBC included.The prime weapon of the show is humour. I have heard visitors from France remark on how much they enjoy French Canada, where unlike in the mother country, joie de vivre is still such a part of daily life. It is certainly the trade mark of Indicatif Present.

This week it has gone outside the studio, broadcasting in front of a live audience in that typical Montreal location, a bar, in order to be closer to their audience. People are lining up at a bar in the morning, but if you happen by, do not get the wrong idea about what to expect, the host points out as she introduces the show.

In the afternoon, Monique Giroux wears the headsets in the Radio-Canada Montreal studio. She brings to the microphone a marvelous speaking voice, and draws on a magnetic on-air personality, for a most sophisticated radio show: it has taste. Her choice of music, of artists, critics and subjects for discussion, by turn illuminate, surprise, thrill and enchant.

One News Years Eve, we had undertaken a long journey by car in a driving snow storm. Mme. Giroux was doing the honours. For a few hours she reviewed the artistic record of the year. It was so nicely unexpected, to be allowed to forget the world outside, and to enter a better one, the world of the imaginative spirit, with her as a guide.

Ideas are the great underrated aspect of daily life. Most people have no idea how bad most of the dominant ideas really are, until someone points out why it is so. When the right dynamic is in place, say in a good radio show, those ideas become accessible, critical thinking takes over, and bad ideas have serious trouble surviving.

When Graham Spry and Alan Plaunt set up the Canadian Radio League to lobby for what became CBC/Radio-Canada, they knew exactly what they were doing and why. Ideas have a geography and a history, as Canadian philosopher Leslie Armour likes to point out. Without our own media, we do not get our own ideas, except by accident when they come winging back from abroad. Commercial media cannot be trusted to protect independent thought because it is controversial, and advertisers do not want to associate with controversy. So publicly owned, noncommercial media was what was needed. The choice is between the state or the United States, as Graham Spry put it.

The English language CBC can be very good, it has been in the past, and it can certainly be better than it is today. For inspiration I can think of nothing better than for the corporation to tune in to Radio-Canada.

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