Andy Barrie wants Canada to step up

Andy BarrieFormer CBC Metro Morning co-host Andy Barrie on our country’s lacklustre public broadcasting funding and why Canada should stop comparing itself to the United States.

By Melissa Wilson

Canada’s public broadcasting system is doing better than that of the United States, but only slightly. This was the message Andy Barrie, recently retired radio host of CBC’s Metro Morning, gave during the 2010 Atkinson Lecture hosted last week by the Ryerson University School of Journalism.

“When I left the United States in 1969, the radio world I was leaving came out of a history very different from the country I was leaving for. Unlike virtually every other country in the world, U.S. radio, from its very early days, was a business,” Barrie said. “In every other country, radio was seen as much too important to be left in the hands of commercial interest. It was to be a public service, designed to inform, educate and entertain.”

Barrie went on to lament the fact that Canada comes in third-to-last in terms of per capita spending on a public broadcaster, ahead of only New Zealand and, of course, the United States, which spends five dollars per person on public broadcasting. Canada, by comparison, spends about $33 per person, falling behind the systems in much of Europe.

Barrie also picked on Canada’s odd tendency to compare itself to the United States, which besides being virtually the only country in the world to not have a national public broadcaster, is also the only industrialized country that doesn’t yet have universal health care.

“It always drives me crazy when Canada compares its health care system to the United States, and it always drives me nuts when we compare out broadcasting system to the United States,” Barrie said. “Why should we? Why should we take that very unique country as a measure of anything? Why not compare ourselves to France, which has an infinitely better healthcare system than we do? Why not compare ourselves to Switzerland, which funds its public broadcasting at a rate of 8-10 times what we do?”

“And it’s because we do compare ourselves constantly to the U.S., we can get ourselves to a false and sometimes smug sense of superiority. And I hope that won’t be the case in the future.”