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Dear Ryan: The importance of the CBC

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Ryan Leef
Member of Parliament for Yukon
Letter #3 - July 13, 2011

Dear Ryan,

Congratulations on your maiden speech to the House of Commons. Yukoners were pleased to hear The Lost Patrol honoured; even though the Mounties' deaths resulted from a decision to travel without an experienced native guide.

The subject of this letter is the renewal of CBC licences and the future of independent media in this country.

Many Canadians have posted their opinions on the CRTC site over the future licensing of the CBC. Sadly, many of the postings, with strangely similar wordings, merely indulge in name calling. Hopefully, the CRTC will disqualify for consideration any angry rants. I wish to address the more reasoned critiques in this letter.

Many people complained about having to pay for a service that they don't use and questioned CBC's usefulness to ordinary Canadians.

The CBC is an important life line for many Canadians, especially those in the North. They provide intelligent programs and a plethora of local daytime shows that keep us in touch with our communities. With its focus on Canadian stories the CBC unifies our great country. It is a major presenter of our rich Canadian culture that would otherwise be lost in the noise of McWorld and would never be replaced by commercial media outlets.

CBC provides critical balance and forces compromised media to report stories that they might not otherwise cover. For example, in 2005, a fragile diabetic went on a hunger strike to protest the terrible conditions of her nursing home in Alberta. The media, not wishing to embarrass the Klein government with its campaign to privatize and deregulate health care, suppressed this story: except the CBC. After Marie Geddes' death at 85, the Calgary Herald briefly mentioned her in a tiny article buried in the back pages. Without the CBC, no one would have been aware of this tragic and important story.

Some people have said that the CBC is elitist.

Shows such as Republic of Doyle, The Hour and The Debaters are smart and entertaining. Cross Country Checkup is very inclusive. How simple-minded does programming have to be to ensure that no one feels talked down to? I would suggest that television and radio are like a diet. If you are used to eating at fast-food joints, you might not enjoy a delicious and nutritious meal prepared by a great cook.

There was one criticism that I agree with. Kai Nagata nailed it in his blog, Why I quit my job. The CBC has changed The National from an intelligent news program into wallpaper in order to appease those who felt it was elitist. Hopefully, it will go back to the kind of in-depth coverage that we still get from CBC radio.

Ryan, you stated at the Arts Forum this spring that the CBC was biased without explaining why. Some commentators echo that view. Do you see critical and thoughtful reporting as a sign of bias? A free press is a foundation to any healthy democracy. Journalists make political leaders answerable on behalf of all citizens. In times of oppression, journalists are the first to be "disappeared."

Regrettably, Prime Minister Harper and some members of your party have trouble with journalists asking pertinent questions. For a prime minister who once promised to run a transparent and accountable government, his disdain for the media is surprising. One would think that he had been subjected to the kind of predatory treatment we now are seeing exposed in the News of the World scandal In England. The exact opposite is true in Canada. The privacy of his family life has been respected, just as it has been for previous prime ministers.

However, the other source for feeling picked upon may come from satirical humour. All I can say is that Rick Mercer takes the tar out of every Canadian political figure. Ryan, you might wish to reassure Mr. Harper that it isn't always about him.

Some writers accused the CBC of being liberal.

These conservative critics are likely correct when they accuse some CBC personalities of having left leanings. But the nature of what is considered left-leaning has changed dramatically. Traditional Progressive Conservatives would never have equated being an intellectual, a feminist or an environmentalist to being left wing. CBC has contributors who are clearly fiscal conservatives such as Rex Murphy and Andrew Coyne. Jian Ghomeshi has frequently, and I might add patiently, sat through diatribes by conservatives such as Anne Coulter and Ezra Levant. Don Cherry certainly fits even the new idea of being acceptably conservative. I believe there is a healthy balance of opinion at CBC.

So Ryan, I hope you will support continued licensing and funding of the CBC. If you wish to leave a comment or view other comments, you can go to the CRTC Online Consultation on CBC's Radio and Television Licence Renewals. The deadline for comments is July 18.

Good luck with your first term in office, Ryan. May your time in Ottawa be constructive and may you always walk on the high road.

Respectfully yours.
Linda Leon

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