Well informed citizens are essential to a healthy democracy. In ancient Athens, usually considered the first democracy, citizens who wanted to hear the latest news and views went down to the public square or Agora. The Agora, also known as the Forum of Athens, was the place for doing business and discussing the state's commerce, culture and politics, a marketplace of both goods and ideas.
Modern democracies are rather too large to accommodate all their citizens in one place so we depend on mass media to do the job. Unlike the Athenian Agora, however, the media are not publicly owned. On the contrary, they are the property of owners who have their own agendas, and who reflect those agendas in their newspapers and TV networks.
Hopes were high that the Internet would sever our need for the traditional media however, except for the websites of those same media, it is a marketplace corrupted by anonymity and lack of responsible gatekeepers. (The Athenian Agora lacked gatekeepers but was saved by an equal lack of anonymity: people had to defend their views face to face.) The Internet has developed a reputation as much for fake news as real news and as much for irrational opinion as rational. It has also seriously undermined daily newspapers by effectively stealing their advertising. Ironically, the Internet has deepened the need for a responsible public medium.
On the national level that role is filled by public broadcasters, in our case the CBC, owned by and responsible to all of us. Most democratic countries recognize the need for a public broadcaster and most seem to recognize the need much more than we Canadians do, at least as indicated by their financial support. Norway's public broadcaster gets $162 per person per year, the BBC $100, compared to the measly $34 we provide the CBC. We are third lowest among 18 industrial countries, ahead of only New Zealand ($21) and the U.S. ($3).
Facebook may be Canada's number one news source (shiver) but corporate press giants such as the Thomson family, owner of the Globe and Mail, and Postmedia with its dozens of dailies, complemented by multimedia corporations Corus (Global TV) and Bell (CTV) still set the news agenda. Our only serious choice as an alternative is the CBC.
In preparation for the rapidly approaching election, the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting are revving up their #CBCFightFor50 campaign, calling for increasing CBC funding to $50 per person per year. As part of the campaign, they are attempting to send a 50,000-signature petition to all federal leaders. You can sign the petition here.