It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Right after the brutal $115-million budget cut — while its enemies bash it for opacity and profligacy and its friends laud it as sacred Canadiana — the network has a triumphant evening.

As evidence, I offer two of the CBC News department’s most venerable programs —Marketplace and the fifth estate, which followed one another last Friday.

For supporters of public service broadcasting, it’s an evening to remember.

To cherish.



Episodes: Marketplace, the fifth estate (CBC)

Date: Friday April 6, 2012


The show is 40-years-old and obviously nowhere near a mid-life crisis. It starts the evening with what it calls “The Busted Edition.” Co-hosts Erica Johnson and Tom Harrington spend the hour ripping apart shoddy practices at some of Canada’s biggest and most respectable companies.

Would you believe that these same companies together spend millions of dollars buying commercials from TV networks, including CBC?

Talk about biting hands that feed you!

Talk about public service broadcasting!

Talk about guts!

Briefly, just so you know some of the rascally schemes Marketplace uncovered:

For the last 40 years, Bell Canada has been making an extra $107-million a year charging for touchtone service, even though all phones today are automatically touchtone.

KFC (née Kentucky Fried Chicken) proudly advertises that one of the reasons its chicken is different is that’s it’s “hormone free.” In fact, by law, no Canadian chicken farmer is allowed to add hormones, and using the term “hormone free” is likely illegal.

BestBuy sells something called the Ultimate Protection Plan which means that if you buy a $400 computer you’ll have to pay almost double that original price over three years for mostly unneeded services.

Unlike almost every other food and beverage we buy, Health Canada doesn’t demand nutrition facts on booze be published. Recommended calorie intake is around 2,000 per day. So three glasses of wine or beer (150 calories each) are already nearly a quarter of your daily calorie need. But you have to work that out for yourself.

If you’re older than 59, all Canada’s big five banks offer you free cheques, no monthly fees and unlimited transactions. But unlike the other two, TD Canada Trust, Scotiabank and CIBC don’t do it automatically. You have to ask. If you don’t, it saves the three banks millions of dollars in unearned profit every year.

World Vision Canada, one of the country’s biggest relief organizations, has a new moneymaking plan. It rakes in more than $19 million extra dollars a year by raising signed-up contributions for a month — unless you contact them to opt-out first.

Kleenex anti-viral tissues, which cost twice as much as regular tissues, do nothing to stop the spread of cold and flu.

Mr. Lube in Toronto charges up to 100 to replace a couple of auto air filters. In Ottawa it charges half that. Actual filter cost is around $20 and you can install yourself.

All-Canadian airlines offer credit for a year if you have to cancel a flight. Only Air Canada keeps any left-over money if your next flight doesn’t cost as much as the cancelled flight.

The ostensibly locked-in Rogers TV, phone and Internet contract has arbitrarily increased its rates — which can cost customers another $100 a year.

Private broadcasters are as likely to air a program like this Marketplace — zapping really powerful advertisers — as they are to break open their piggy banks to help solve the CBC’s budget problems.

the fifth estate

Following Marketplace comes Canada’s gutsiest investigative news magazine. The fifth estate has been investigating wrongdoing for 37 years and claims more awards than any other Canadian information program.

Hosts are three avenging angels, Linden Macintyre, Gillian Findlay and Bob McKeown (who hosted last week’s edition with his usual intelligence and passion). All are first-class journalists, long dedicated to public service TV.

Friday’s program is “Kidnapped The Search for Graham McMynn,” and according to the website “recreates a real-life kidnapping minute-by-tension-filled-minute and lets viewers decide what to do to catch the perpetrators each step of the way.”

It’s all a bit complicated. But I can report with confidence that it involves viewer voting, QR codes, TV, smartphones, computers, Facebook, Twitter, and God knows what other modern marvels, mostly on the Internet.

On Twitter for instance, the fifth asks such questions as:

“You are the judge. What sentence would you give the kidnappers? Vote now:…”


“You are the hostage. The kidnappers may kill you before you are rescued by police. What should you do? Vote now:”

At one stage, Kirstine Stewart, who is head of CBC English Service, claims an average of 30,000 people a minute are voting—

“Over 500 people per second.”

Hard to believe.

the fifth estate is a brave and worthy step into the Internet age.

The whole evening was an example of what the very troubled CBC news department can do when it honours its mandate as Canada’s public broadcaster.


P.S. CBS’s star of 60 minutes, Mike Wallace, has died. Back in the seventies when I was an anchor/reporter for a PBS show called Behind the Lines I interviewed him about interviewing. I remember him being courteous, patient and rather obviously sceptical about my interviewing skills.

P.P.S. My promised exposition on the beauties of the “Free Marketplace of Ideas” is held back for my next column.


This article was originally published on the Huffington Post on April 9, 2012: CBC Cuts Produce — Surprise! — Good Programming

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