Canuck celebs urge pubcaster to back local content

Push comes as CBC heads into license renewal talks

MONTREAL — Canadian cultural personalities came out Wednesday morning to an event in Toronto to put pressure on CBC to stay true to its roots, as the pubcaster preps for its first license renewal hearing in 13 years.

The fear is that the CBC is becoming too much like commercial broadcasters CTV and Global.

Those arguing for the importance of keeping a strong public broadcaster included actors Gordon Pinsent and Eric Peterson, author Vincent Lam, playwright Michael Healey and opera singer Mary Lou Fallis.

“Because of the reduction of resources, CBC is becoming more and more commercial,” said Ian Morrison, spokesman for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, which organized the event.

The federal government announced last year CBC’s budget would be cut by more than $200 million over the next three years and then by $115 million each subsequent year. It has already axed 175 hours of programming because of that budget shortfall.

The group wants broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, to slap a number of conditions on CBC’s license, when it considers it next week, including forcing it to carry a certain amount of children’s programming, drama and local programming.

“Otherwise the CRTC is just giving the management of CBC a blank check,” said Morrison. “CBC is important in this country and the priority should be programming. It should be distinct from what the private sector offers.”

CBC unveiled its winter TV schedule on Tuesday and there is only one new show in the line-up, the police procedural “Cracked” about cops probing crimes tied to mental illness.

CBC’s financial state is weakened further by the ongoing National Hockey League lockout which deprives the network of its most lucrative show, “Hockey Night in Canada.”