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Now the Details

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

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Trolling for Ratings in German and Canadian Public Broadcasting

My friend, colleague and mentor, Eric Koch kindly points to his blog where the existential questions of "whither public broadcasting?" are being asked as well in Germany.

The system of public broadcasting is much more decentralized than in Canada or the US. Broadcasters are owned and operated at the provincial or Länder level. That may make the broadcasters more local and accountable. But they also seem to suffer from the same identity crisis that bedevils other pub-casters especially in Canada.

Eric's blog is worth reading for this and other issues. But to highlight only a couple of shared concerns:

* "Difficult" subjects are removed in favor of light and breezy entertainment programs.
* "Difficult" subjects are usually turned into consumer-protection stories.
* Media critics bemoan both the lack of serious programs and the failure to garner large ratings.
* Management remains aloof and unaccountable while any serious discussion of the role of public broadcasting is dismissed.

While the similarities with the condition of public broadcasting in Canada are remarkably striking, there is one large difference: in Germany, at least they are talking about it.

Canadians (with some exceptions such as John Doyle in the Toronto Globe and Mail) seem to have all but abandoned their public broadcaster. It has ceased to be a subject of discussion because, as my students tell me, it looks irrelevant and deeply un-serious.

CBC Radio remains a marginal exception, but that may be changing as well.

But CBC TV can have astonishing ratings successes as long as there appears to be some connection to hockey (thus re-inforcing the stereotype of Canada as a place with 11 months of winter and one month of bad skidooing...). At the same time, budgets for serious programs including news are being stripped away and given to the "reality entertainment" department.

As long as we are imitating our German colleagues, at least we should have some debate about whether this is what public broadcasting should be.

Otherwise, the Germans have a word for this: "Schrecklich!"


  1. No argument at all about the central theme.

    (And that's a very funny observation about the 11 months of winter, heheh.)

    We do need to raise our voices more and encourage support for a genuine public broadcasting system.

    If the public broadcaster were to focus on just 4 areas, the budget could probably be halved.

    News and Current Affairs; Drama and Theatre; Music; Comedy.

    Keep Radio intact.

    Oddly enough, the Americans through PBS have developed an impressive TV model.


  2. Jim - I agree completely. One exception - PBS is more of a distribution system while NPR is closely connected to local stations thus engendering tremendous loyalty.
    CBC could learn from that.