View my bio

Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, February 18, 2008

"Happy is the Country..."

A weekend in Toronto away from the battles to the south. On Friday afternoon, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a politics program on it's all-news channel. I tuned in to hear host Don Newman (an old friend) talking about the budgetary implications of infrastructural renewal.

Newman inteviewed an economist who talked knowledgably about the possibilities of rebuildings highways and bridges which, as in the US, have been seriously neglected.

The two men were sitting in a studio in Ottawa. It was a sober discussion and the set reflected the serious tone of the content. The backdrop showed the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. The camera shots switched back and forth from Newman to his guest. It was content rich, but pretty dull.

After about five minutes, I switched over to CNN and was jolted by Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room." US Red Bull to Canadian camomile tea. The CNN set was whirling and twirling. Each shot had at least four or five icons or journalists vying for my visual attention. It was, after the CBC, almost hallucinogenic. Self-referentially, Blitzer introduced each personal as part of "the best political team on television." Most of the talk was speculative in nature about Obama, Clinton and McCain (Huckabee is really an afterthought now). It was visually stimulating but content poor.

Are those our only tv alternatives?

In the Sunday New York Times, Charles McGrath mused on how poorly PBS serves Americans with dated discussions, demographically limited choices (he mentioned Antique Roadshow and Lawrence Welk reruns) and harshly described The Newshour's original audience as being in assisted living. In fairness, he also mentioned the powerful documentary tradition of PBS' Frontline and Ken Burns brilliance.

I think that McGrath sells PBS short. If you look at the range of documentaries, produced overwhelmingly by independent producers, the offerings are rich indeed. But McGrath is right in one important respect - PBS is not as nimble in providing up to date and timely news and information. But that aside, the depth of public broadcasting informational and cultural is truly astonishing. McGrath praised NPR for doing precisely what PBS doesn't do - give Americans high quality news and information on an hourly and daily basis. The relative success of US public broadcasting is precisely because it offers an alternative to the dreck on commercial broadcasting.

Poor old Canada where the public broadcasting seems to be going through another tedious self-inflicted identity crisis. Perhaps I've drunk the waters of the Potomac for too long, but the CBC looks and sounds a government department - trying to please everyone in Parliament (east, west, urban, rural, native, minority, English, French, male, female, etc.) and ending up doing too much programming that offends or inspires no one.

But that may be precisely what the CBC's political masters really want.

No comments:

Post a Comment