Getting what we paid for as Canadians

Jesse Brown is guestblogging over at boingboing, and he's asking a question I've asking for a long time:

The real question here is, since CBC content is funded by the public, shouldn't the public own it? Or at least have access to it? Actually, the CBC archives are just the tip of the iceberg: the overwhelming majority of stuff made for Canadians with Canadians' money is inaccessible to Canadians.
I spend a lot of quality time with the CBC (radio, at least), and I've spent hundreds of dollars buying archived Ideas shows.  Often I want to listen to something from an author or thinker who has been interviewed in a past show.  Here's what you get if you click on something pre-2005:
Please note: We regret that we are no longer able to provide our program audio files and apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

You may still order audio copies and transcripts of our programs. Information about ordering can be found in the Transcripts section of our web site.
And here's what you see if you click on a show after 2005:
Please note: A few of our programs are available as audio files, they are indicated with an audio icon and a link. You may also order audio copies and transcripts of our programs. Information about ordering can be found in the CDs and Tapes section of our website.
I find this incredible.  It's not that they don't have the audio.  I've heard retrospective shows on CBC that pull audio from the past going back 20 or 30 years.  They can get it, it's just that I can't.  I'd feel somewhat better if this was just a case of the old audio not being digitzied--that takes time and money, I get that.  But even shows recorded within the past month aren't available.

We see the same sort of thing going on with the discussions about the canceled Canadian Portrait Gallery.  The reality is that if you want to make this work truly accessible, there's only one logical way to do it: put it on the web, all of it, not just the preview that's there now.  Building a brick-and-mortar gallery won't come close to reaching as many people--it turns out it costs a lot to fly to Ottawa in a country as large as Canada.  If, as the CRTC claims, 95% of Canadians have hi-speed Internet, put some Canadian content at the other end of the wire.

We don't need to look too far a great example of this being done right on the web.  The NFB's film archive is really an interesting starting point.  I think we can go a lot further.  But this is the path we want to see our government and cultural institutions taking.

If youtube has taught us anything, it's that people don't necessarily want what big media is selling.  Crappy footage of wedding dances, camcorder versions of impossible to find documentaries, clips of things that will never be on TV again, interviews with our children--that's where we spend our time online.  We don't need you to create new culture so much as give us access to the culture we already have.  Producing high quality Canadian content is hard to do and compete with the Americans?  What if you just opened the flood gates on all the stuff that's already been created over the years?  I think you'd be surprised how popular it would become.

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