Saturday, September 24, 2005

Switch It Back On! Rally Demands Real CBC

OTTAWA – As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz "there's no place like home, there's no place like home." Last night, I came home to Ottawa where I was born and where I began my time with CBC Radio 25 years ago.

The activist group Our Public Airwaves staged a night in support of public broadcasting at Glebe Collegiate Auditorium. I hope no fire marshals were there...the place was packed. It was a vocal, robust, raucous crowd...young, not so young, multi-hued, multi-lingual.

The brainchild for the evening came from a long time Ottawa activist Gil Levine. Gil just thought something ought to be done. And he felt the public was not being heard. Or listened to, by the government.

If the name Levine tweaks your ear as a CBC listener, you're right. The longtime producer Karen Levine is his daughter. Karen has been executive producer of As It Happens and is now (well is not now, but will be when this mess is over) the overseeing documentary producer for The Sunday Edition. Engagement with the world runs in the Levine blood.

The line-up included musicians Ian Tamblyn, Ember Swift, the Mighty Popo (whom I finally got to meet after many years of interviews over the line), former CTV reporter and now Senator Jim Munson, former mayor Marion Dewar, the author Heather Menzies, the inimitable Luba Goy – who actually began her career on that very stage at Glebe Collegiate, the recently retired
CBC news correspondent David Halton, Anthony Germain – host of The House...

And I got up there, too.

It was a homecoming for me. My friends and colleagues from "back in the day" were in the audience. It was emotional to return to where I had started...and criminal to see so much talent, commitment and probing intelligence silenced. I get angry thinking about this...angrier with every passing hour. And I am far from alone. It is still beyond me why a lockout of employees was necessary. In fact, I had never felt like an employee...until I was locked out.

You can probably tell this is not my most objective moment. And when I think about last night I get all I am going to hand the overview of last night over to my dear friend and former CBC Ottawa colleague, Wendy Robbins, who produced the following for the Ottawa Guild Website.

Wendy has been a long time radio and tv producer and before the lockout was producing Studio Sparks with Eric Friesen. We re-produce her account below with her permission

I'll be staying in Ottawa a few days, catching up with Mom, Dad and stepmother Pat. And I will be at Parliament Hill on Monday morning at around 8 am with hundreds of my colleagues, picketing the first day of the new session of the House of Commons. If you can make it, I hope to see you there.

And now, here's Wendy:

The people of Ottawa spoke out on Friday night, and the message, which came loud and clear, was "Bring Back Our CBC!" The auditorium of Glebe Collegiate Institute was packed to the rafters with about 1,700 enthusiastic supporters, as writers, politicians, musicians, and locked out CBC workers made passionate presentations on behalf of public broadcasting.

The CBC headliners included David Halton, Luba Goy, Anthony Germain, and Shelagh Rogers, who commented that, "It was wonderful to be in a room where David Halton is treated like a rock star.'"A long list of Ottawa-based musicians that included Jennifer Noxin, Ember Swift, Ian Tamblyn, and the Mighty Popo shared the bill with a former mayor, Marion Dewar, and the current mayor, Bob Chiarelli, as well as writer Heather Menzies, Chamber Fest artistic director Julian Armour, city councillor Clive Doucet, and others.

Many speakers lamented the impact of the lockout on public discourse, and on Canadians' knowledge and understanding of different parts of the country. Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli noted that CBC, a popular choice for Ottawa residents, is missing. "When we don't have choices...our society is weakened," he said, and called for a quick, fair resolution. "Our public demands it," he said.

David Halton, retired foreign correspondent after a distinguished 40-year career, talked about the damage the lockout is causing. He reminisced about how the late Peter Jennings, a U.S. network anchor with enormous resources at his disposal, was envious of the breadth and depth of the CBC's international coverage. "Ramp up the pressure in any way you can,'"Halton told the crowd, "Pressure the government to tackle the underlying cause of the problem, chronic underfunding of the CBC."

Locked out host of Ottawa Morning, Anthony Germain, apologized to listeners for the news and information they are no longer getting, such as the recent shutdown of the Queensway. Luba Goy, who grew up in Ottawa ("Not very well," she added, she "only made it to five feet"), said she didn't want to play the blame game in the lockout. "I have no trouble pointing a finger," she said. "It's just a matter of which finger I'd like to point." Shelagh Rogers invoked the name of Peter Gzowski, saying, "He would weep, and call it a crime.'"

Ottawa Chamber Fest artistic director Julian Armour talked about driving around in his car trying to find something to listen to... among the stations that play Rod Stewart all day, and those that boast about being a background service. He finally found a repeat of Sounds Like Canada, which caused him to muse that radio, "may be the only industry where you can be locked out and have yourself as a replacement worker." More seriously, he noted that for arts groups and festivals, "the damage (from the lockout) is deep and continues to get worse."

Still pumped by the audience's enthusiasm, Shelagh Rogers said afterwards, "It was so good to be home, I was just blown away by the support. It was an evening that bolstered all of us who have been locked out. We have to send a signal that any democracy worth its salt has to have a public broadcasting service operating at the top of its game and this is proof that this is what people want. And this is what they deserve as citizens."

Ottawa CMG local president Marc Philippe Laurin, was ecstatic about the public support. "It shows we're on the right track, fighting this," he said.

The "Bring Back Our CBC" event was launched by longtime Ottawa activist Gil Levine, who wanted to find a way for the people of Ottawa to show support for public broadcasting. It was organized and produced by Chris White, artistic director for the Ottawa Folk Festival, which also provided volunteer stage crew and technical support for the event. Alex Munter, who is among his other roles is a locked-out contributor to both French and English local CBC morning shows, hosted the event. In addition to directing traffic on stage, he also made time to thank the many businesses that contributed goods and services to make the evening a success. Arthur Lewis, whose organization Our Public Airwaves has launched an email campaign to send messages to
Paul Martin, is also part of the organization.

We encourage you to use the blog comment feature below to pass on your thoughts and/or you can write Shelagh while she’s on the road at:

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Anonymous Dwight Williams said...

'Twas good to finally meet you and thank you in person, however briefly, Shelagh. Hoping you found the time to visit 'round the neighbourhood to keep up with your local friends of longer standing during all the hubbub yesterday.

Overall, the show was very good, very lively, and I got a good sense of what it must've felt like for my paternal great-grandfather once upon a time when he was politically active.

Safe travels to all the Caravan gang!

2:38 PM  

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