Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Woe is CBC

One of the hard things about being a patriot in Canada is that it's like a secret club but without the cool handshakes or harshly-whispered passwords.

Even worse, when it's time to stand up and criticize something that you love -- from an honest place of wanting to see it improve -- well, in Canada, you're pretty much doomed to get lost in the boos and hisses of all the haters.

I don't want to come off as a hater.

And yet, I can't help fearing that I will.

So please know that I don't do this to be belligerent, but I can't in good conscience be silent about what I've been noticing so far. It's a trend that seems erroneous from the get-go, and I hope that it's something that'll be rectified in the future:

For a Canadian show called 'The National' it sure likes to spend a lot of time dealing with American issues... and issues that have little to no meaning for most of the country -- a fact that it proudly states in one case -- yet are still allowed to take up valuable air time (*cough* royal family visit *cough*).

I've watched 2 episodes of The National now and I have to say that so far I've been left out in the cold by what's been offered thus far.

See, I like to think of News shows as Merchants. You walk up, they show you what they've got on special and then it's up to you to decide whether or not to buy in with your valuable time.

Last night's 'special': "Is NASA a waste of Money?"

I'm sorry, but really?


Listen, I loved Wendy Mesley in Marketplace. I think that it was a truly fantastic Canadian show (one which I feel I've discovered far too late). But watching her do the NASA segment had me cringing in my chair.

I've never felt physically embarrassed for someone the way I did as I watched that unfold.

"NASA has a budget of $17.4 billion -- that's 40% of what the US gives for the Department of Education in the States!"

Followed by lame commentary from some random American who I don't know or care about talking about how NASA is basically useless now and should exist to give money to the private sector in the form of prizes, etc.

Wendy was quick to segue into the Canadian angle with: "well, we've managed to find a few Canadians who agree with him".

And by 'a few' she really wasn't kidding. 6 people in the segment. Including one guy who stood there looking dumbfounded and one little girl who thought NASA had a budget of a 'million' dollars and was utterly flabbergasted to learn that they, in fact, have '18 billion dollars' (apparently 17.4 billion rounds up to 18 rather cleanly).

The little girl's response?

"Woooooooooow! That's a lot of money!".


Wendy has 2 jars: 'NASA' and 'Education'. She gives people a poker chip (representing the $18 billion budget of NASA) and asks them 'where would you put your money?'

3 put their 'money' into Education, 2 (who are shown only as hands) put their 'money' into NASA.

REALLY? That's where you decide to take your coverage? Are you kidding me??

No mention that the $150 Billion they're spending on the space station is to be spent over a decade (a fact that the CBC themselves covered in a story in Feb, 2008). No mention of what was learned by 'bombing the moon' -- only that it made NASA a laughing stock.

Only numbers quickly thrown up, without context, in order to support a thesis (?) that has, by this time, become: 'NASA is a waste of money'.

But then, just to make it more confusing, they sit there and detail all the cool stuff we wouldn't have without NASA. Things like Weather Prediction and Air Traffic Collision Detection and Cell Phones.

That's right, after spending all that time slamming NASA, they go on to say how great it is... and then, just to stick the boot farther in your craw, Wendy ends that part of the segment with (and I kid you not) "Soo... a lot of arguments there".

Leaving no actual stance or answer to her own question... leaving me to question why the hell they gave 8-9 minutes to a half-baked segment that added nothing to the conversation, let alone shed any real light on the issues.

Seriously, what did I, as a viewer, gain from watching that?

Oh, and Peter Mansbridge's contribution? "Good arguments, both sides".

** Side note: Quote of the Show: "Wouldn't Africa argue: can we please have a snack?" - A smarmy, chuckling Wendy Mesley on what's 'owed to the Human race'. (37:15 into Oct 27th's online video)

What bothers me is that there's utterly no recognition that this is a Canadian show spending 8-9 minutes of a 44-ish minute show grilling an AMERICAN space program that has little to no direct bearing on present-day Canadian lives.

Why not take our own Space program to task for something? Or talk about how our space program is in need of more funding... or less, or why Canadians SHOULD care about NASA... or anything that impacts Canadians?

(EDIT: according to Peter, our CSA is incapable of launching satellites, that's why we rely on NASA and our allies to do it for us -- thanks Peter!).

Guess it's just not sexy enough to talk in 'millions' rather than 'billions'.

Here's an idea: Why not spend 8-9 more minutes with the guy who wants to take down the Ozone Machine seller from BC? Why not have more than ONE 'expert' to explain the situation, why not show some data to back up claims that the machine not only doesn't work but is potentially fatal? Why not talk about the kinds of numbers we're talking about here? How many Canadians have bought these machines? Is there any other purchaser who's willing to talk about their experiences?

Here's another idea: why not take some more time to talk about the H1N1 and the 6 children who've died in Canada from the virus -- rather than just proclaiming, with large RED letters that "6 children have died in Canada!".

See, those two pieces were actually somewhat interesting... until it started to slide into farce.

A nurse is brought into a hockey rink, before some concerned parents, to answer their questions.

What did the nurse tell the scared hockey parents to do? Sanitize their hockey equipment and pull their kids out of playing in games if they start to show any symptoms.

You know, like a cough.

Ummm... okay. I can understand the whole 'rather safe than sorry' thing, but isn't most of this what my grandmother would call 'common sense'? What about some facts on the flu shot... you know, like how long it takes to kick in? Or if the vaccine is good for people already infected (probably not, but what do I know, I'm not a doctor)? Or any other kind of medical advice I wouldn't have been able to get by calling up my mother...?

You know who I want to hear from?

I want to hear from the doctor who sent the most recent boy home to die from H1N1.

See, the boy complained of a sore throat so his mom took him to the doctor, who sent him home with some Tylenol.

And, to be clear, I don't want him on TV to publicly scorn him, or to make him feel like crap, I want to know what tests he did or didn't do. I want people to know how easy a mis-diagnosis with H1N1 can be.

I want doctors (of some credibility) to be on there explaining any symptoms that seem out of the ordinary, to be aware of, that might hint that it's H1N1 instead of any other virus.

Or telling people to ask their doctors to ask for their children to get an H1N1 test before being sent home -- yes, it can take between 1 and 5 days to get results... but it's still more help than 'wipe down your equipment with sanitizer'.

Or, since CBC is all about biting on American style, tell them to use the US government's H1N1 self-evaluation test. Again, may or may not work all the time, but it's still better than NOTHING.

In short: I want people to be warned by doctors to ask if they're unsure. I want them to help empower citizens rather than feeding them into the fear machine.

Finally, I want to know who's researching these shows and who's approving this crap to get on the air?

In my opinion, it looks like someone went and looked at The Daily Show and said 'make that, only serious and an hour long -- the kids will love it!'.

'Cause, say what you will, their NASA 'editorial' (...?) last night devolved into a skit.

A long, unfunny, skit... about something no one in Canada really cares about.

Speaking of 'things that nobody cares about' they continued their story from the night before about Canadians not caring about the Royal family.

Only this time they went out into the streets and asked people!

And guess what...?

No one, in fact, cared about the Royal Family. Well, except for the strangely obsessive lady with the fine dinnerware.

Which also makes me wonder: Did they run that obsessive lady in the story in order to mock her? (the footage presented certainly makes me think so).

Which then leads me to the real rub:

Near the end of the program, they choose to stick in -- by far -- their most interesting story. It's a story about the growing number of incidents of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among RCMP officers.

I don't know why they felt this was not worthy of being closer to the beginning of the show, or even the middle of the show, but this was the closest thing to an interesting segment they've had so far.

Told through the perspective of Corporal David Gibbs -- an RCMP officer who works 7 days a week, 365 days a year -- he describes the toll that seeing 50+ horrible car crashes per year is taking on him and how it's slowly breaking him down.

I felt that this was a touching story about the stresses of a man who's overworked and well-aware of what's happening to him yet unable to get to the resources he needs to keep himself from falling victim to PTSD.

It, unlike any of the other stories, made me feel something -- made me WANT to connect. (segment starts at 44:30 of the online version)

Unfortunately, that feeling was short-lived as they segued into a preview of what's to come: A story about "American bailout money and how it's made many corporate titans 'change their ways'... but is that about to end?!"

Bah! I don't care.

You know what I care about? I care about finding out what's going on with all those CANADIAN businesses who got CANADIAN bailout money.

How're they doing?

What's the status update there?

What's the sitch with our crazy amounts of CANADIAN deficit?

I'm sorry but Peter Mansbridge, Wendy Mesley, seriously, you're so much better than this crap.

Please, please, please don't fall for the whole "your job is to read the news" B.S. Your job is to keep Canadians informed about Canadian issues. And I dearly hope you're fighting for us behind the scenes 'cause I'd hate to think that your jaw isn't clenched in disgust as you read some of these inane excuses for Journalism.

You're the faces of the station. Put your foot down, dammit.

'Cause it's not the format that bugs me, it's not the pretty colours, it's the fact that the egg has been genetically redesigned without its yolk.

Yes, it seems good for you; yes, it seems nutritious... but it's not.

It's hollow.

And I -- as a tax-paying, proud, Canadian citizen -- am demanding better.

I sincerely hope that The National improves, I hope that these are all just stumbles on the way to discovering its stride.

But as of right now, I'm very deeply concerned.

Good Luck,


lovethescents said...

I just had to check the claim that the NASA budget is 40% of the US education budget.

So, what did I find?

They are right: the federal education expense is only 42 billion and NASA is a whopping 19 billion; which makes not just 40, but an entire 45% or almost half of education budget of United States of America!!!

What stupid Americans, let’s laugh at them and mock them NOW!!!

Alternatively, we can go into details about the budget (our media will probably not like this– the issue is becoming less sensational and scandalous).

42B is just a direct, approved program.

There are other programs, such as student grants, loans, guarantees etc. that is out of the scope of the conservative number, but still goes directly to education. Sorry CBC, but that is an additional 58 billions dollars that you missed, which makes NASA spending a modest 19%.

Another trick of the media is the wording, which is especially important when dealing with a nation that has a different system. What first comes to mind when CBC claims that NASA spending is 40% of the education budget? For me it sounded like the total education spending.

So, let’ go to even more details. 100B of spending excludes expenditures for HIGH SCHOOLS, TECHNICAL SCHOOLS, and UNIVERSITIES!!!

These are funded SEPARATELY!

High schools are on municipal budgets, technical schools and community colleges are state responsibilities, and Universities are private (so, they are not on the budget at all!).

I have no idea what the amount would be if you add these ACTUAL expenses in addition to 100 billion (which are just minor, supplementary spendings), but for sure the total will dwarf NASA’s ridiculous 19B.

Think that’s all? Too early! Americans (despite their stupidity) know the deficiency of their college education and privately set up numerous charities that provide grants and scholarships. I have no idea what the total amount is, but just direct private donations to the educational institutions are $30,000,000,000USD; yes,$30B additional dollars.

Oh, by the way, tuition fees cover only 35% of Universities budgets, the rest the Universities earn through sponsored programs, publications, and the aforementioned donations.

What does this mean in numbers? The budget of one of numerous Universities around US is 1.4 billion dollars or 7.5% of entire NASA’s budget and unlike CBC I did not cheat: it is not Harvard or Yale, it is the University of Pennsylvania.

Now what about our Canadian Federal budget? Here it is, I highlighted my favorite parts:
Federal Budget 2009 and Post-secondary Education

* $2 billion (OK!) to support deferred maintenance and repair projects at post-secondary institutions with half the funding to be provided by the institution from private sources

* $150 million to increase funding available for the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, to provide investments in facilities and equipment for research at Canadian universities, colleges, research hospitals and not-for-profit institutions
* $600 million for future activities of the Canadian Foundation for Innovation
* $50 million for the Institute of Quantum Computing, a research institute at the University of Waterloo to support construction and the establishment of a research facility in science and technology
* $87.5 million over 3 years to federal granting councils to temporarily expand the Canada Graduate Scholarships program
* Reducing (??? Yes, Reducing!!!) the base budgets of the 3 federal research granting councils by $87.2 million over 3 years
* $3.5 million (YES 3.5 million is a separate budget line) over 2 years (so it is actually 1.75 million?!)600 graduate internships in science and business through the Industrial Research and Development program

I suggest the CBC cut on some traveling all the way to Texas and Florida and find some problems here, at home.

Thanks for reading,

Brandon Laraby said...

Hey Andrei!

Thanks for writing in!

Yes, I think one of the things that's really getting under my skin about all of this, the more I watch of it, is that the 'in-depth research' really is low-level stuff; Skimming the surface and out-right cherry-picking in some cases (NASA facts, for sure).

I really hope that it's just a case of laziness as opposed to something that's done on purpose, but I'm getting more and more skeptical as we go along here.


Ms. V. said...

Hi Brandon,

Just happened upon your post ("Woe is CBC"). Thank you for voicing everything I thought during that newscast. The one word that kept going through my mind was "seriously?" Yes, we should expect more from our public broadcaster. With so many compelling issues and stories to choose from, you really have to wonder why they'd opt to give so much airtime to this. I felt very cheated.