Meet two people who invisibly influence the future of CBC

Canadian Media Guild presidents Kam Rao and Jonathan Spence bring opinions from the public broadcaster’s workers to key decision makers

Robert Ballantyne for Artsculture
Canadian Media Guild's Jonathan Spence and Kam Rao Robert Ballantyne for Artsculture

Love it, hate it or barely notice it: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's future continues to stir passionate national political debate. Even the public broadcaster's biggest supporters can't agree on its role in a fractured media landscape dominated by non-Canadian conglomerates like Netflix, American networks and YouTube.

Beyond the polarizing conversation from politicians, the public and various media columnists from either the left- and right-spectrum of opinion, the voices of CBC's thousands of employees are nearly invisible. Publicly, at least.

It's now been over a year since the CBC was promised a $675 million infusion of cash from the Liberal government over five years after significant downsizing, and the internal debate over how that money should be spent is ongoing between CBC managers and union leaders representing the public broadcaster's employees.

The Canadian Media Guild (CMG) represents the vast majority of CBC's employees — journalists, producers, technicians and freelancers — and two of its elected leaders are directly responsible for bringing the voices of those workers to CBC management. Those leaders are Kam Rao, 47, national president and Jonathan Spence, 49, CBC branch president. The pair are long-term CBC employees and started their new union roles on Jan. 1st and will play a huge role in helping to define the future of the CBC during their three-year terms.

sat down with Rao and Spence to get a sense of their vision and the struggles ahead for the public broadcaster and its employees.

Do you think CBC workers' voices — the people most deeply involved with creating its content — have been heard amidst public debates over the future of the public broadcaster?
Jonathan SpenceCBC's history, size and structure doesn't always scale in tandem with the times. Individual voices within the CBC have their own ideas on how the money should be spent, and while management likes to hear from workers and encourages feedback on whether the corporation is moving in the right or wrong direction, the corporation's vertical structure makes it a challenge to hear that in a robust way.
Kam RaoI don't think our members' voices are considered as much as they should be. Reinvestment should be more in consultation with our members because nothing happens at CBC or gets to air without CMG members... The CBC received an additional $75 million last year and $150 million this year. It's a shame that too little of it is going to places where we believe it should go. Wherever I go, from Whitehorse or Prince George, members want to see the money spent back on producing morning shows and evening shows. We believe that's not happening on the scale it should be. The real gift that CBC can offer Canada, because it is the largest journalism organization in the country by far, is to be the gold standard for journalism in Canada.

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Robert J. Ballantyne is Artsculture‘s Creative Director. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star and other media outlets. In addition to leading the Artsculture Collective, he built and designed Artsculture‘s website. He is available for freelance web development and graphic design at Artsculture Creative.

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