The CBC came under fire Tuesday at the Commons committee inquiry into the effect of the digital news revolution onÂ media and communities, as the publisher and CEO of The Globe and Mail said theÂ public broadcasterÂ is squeezing out private-sector news outlets in the competition for online advertising.
âWe do like to play on a level playing field,â Globe publisher Phillip Crawley told the House of Commons Heritage Committee. âItâs not level if taxpayer dollars directed to the public broadcaster make the competition for digital ad dollars more difficult.â
âThe CBC is the Globeâs largest competitor in the digital-ad space amongst Canadian based media,â he said, telling MPs that other colleagues in the news industry also oppose the growing online ad share CBC is acquiring as it expands its digital presence not just in straight news, but also coverage of the arts and, more recently, opinion columns.
Mr. Crawley askedÂ MPs to considerÂ proposed restrictions from the British governmentÂ onÂ digital advertising for the BBC.
Much of the spotlightÂ has beenÂ on the CBC in this inquiry as theÂ Heritage Committee probes the state of local media as more eyeballs turn to the Internet for news, smaller community newspapers across the country close, and larger papers continue to downsize.
Mr. Crawley pointed out how TheÂ Globe and Mail‘s print advertising revenueÂ plunged by 40 per cent betweenÂ 2011 andÂ 2015.Â At the same time, heÂ said itÂ has been ableÂ increaseÂ online subscriptions and derive “significant revenue” from this platform.
âNo other paper in Canada has been able to derive significant revenue from readers paying to access content in digital,â Mr. Crawley said.Â âOthers have tried and failed because the content is not sufficiently compelling.”
Mr. Crawley cited a list of long-term projects the newspaper has mounted, including an investigative series on the British Columbia real estate market explosion, and a series on Canadian veteran mortalities that involved aÂ reporter scouring obituaries across the country for more than a year because of government resistance to providing information about veteran deaths.
TheRebel.media co-founder Brian Lilley, a formerÂ Sun News Network TV host, told the committee he opposed public funding for the CBC andÂ that there’sÂ âno reason on Godâs green earthâ that CBC should have expanded its digital sphere to include a music streaming channel that competes directly with private-sector radio states and commercial online sources of music.
Asked byÂ Conservative MP TonyÂ Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) what the CBC should do with its $1-billion annual budget from Parliament, Mr. Lilley, who battled against the government subsidy for years while with Sun News, said: âI wonât flog that dead horse. Iâll just say stick to your knitting.â
In its first budget following the 2015 federal election, the new Liberal government increased CBC spending by $150 million, directed specifically to the broadcaster’s online programs and growth.
Mr. Lilley told the committee how he and conservative political figure Ezra Levant have beat the odds by creating a successful website in TheRebel.media, launched about two years ago. That came with no government funding, he noted.
âPeople laughed at us,â Mr. Lilley said, informing the committee that the conservative-oriented news and commentary site now has 25 staff and 425,000 YouTube subscribers.Â âWeâve been able to grow by providing content to the audience.”
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