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Our Story | FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting

Our story

We amplify the voice of citizens

Our story
FRIENDS is the citizens' advocate for Canadian journalism and storytelling.
We don't take a cent from industry or governments
364 000
Our work is driven by our 364,000 supporters – real people who care deeply about defending public broadcasting, advancing Canadian culture, and maintaining accountability in our democracy.
Our founding story
A movement born of necessity

In 1984, the new Mulroney Government slashed $100 million from the CBC’s budget, a move that would cost the CBC many cherished programs and employees. By the end of that year, CBC had to fire some 1,150 people just to stay afloat.

CBC is the one thread that ties Canadians together and helps us define who we are. Mulroney’s cuts were unacceptable, un-Canadian even. They had to be resisted.

In February 1985, Ian Morrison convened a group of concerned citizens and prominent Canadians to fight back. They took out a two-page ad in the national edition of The Globe and Mail, containing an open letter to Prime Minister Mulroney, signed by 1,200 people, each of whom had donated $20 to cover the cost of the ad. It helped that The Globe's publisher gave us a deal. The two-page ad was unprecedented, and it caused quite a stir. But most importantly, it gave rise to an enduring national movement standing in defence of Canadian public broadcasting.

FRIENDS' first ad

FRIENDS' first act was a two-page ad in The Globe and Mail back in 1985.

Ever since that 1985 open letter, our movement has grown exponentially. Under Ian’s leadership, FRIENDS grew from those initial 1,200 supporters in 1985 to over 364,000 today. With this steady base of support, FRIENDS delivers cutting-edge public policy research, maintains an active presence in Ottawa, and works with supporters across the country to mount grassroots campaigns that pressure government to do the right thing for Canadian journalism and storytelling. We are honoured to amplify the voices of the majority of Canadians who believe that Canadian culture and democracy are worth defending, and who understand that CBC is a key part of that defence.

Standing Up for Canada since 1985
Key Moments

1985

1986

1987

1991

1993

1995 - 1997

1998 - 2001

2002

2003 - 2004

2006 - 2007

A Globe and Mail advertisement by the ‘Friends of Public Broadcasting’ displays the names and signatures of 1,200 Canadians who payed $20 each to finance the ad.

First Friends Globe and Mail Ad 1985

Peter Newman signs FRIENDS’ first fundraising letter, and Walter Pitman gives our first public speech at the Financial Post conference.

1986

Friends of Public Broadcasting becomes FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting. Pierre Berton and Adrienne Clarkson champion the cause and take on fundraising duties. Frank Peers first appears on FRIENDS’ behalf before the CRTC.

FRIENDS and the Council of Canadians launch ‘One Hundred Days of Action’ to stop deep CBC budget cuts set out in the 1991 federal budget. The public outcry forces the government to partly mitigate the cuts it had planned. Later that year, parliament passes a brand new Broadcasting Act, finishing a process set in motion by FRIENDS’ earlier advocacy and organizing.

FRIENDS takes on the cable monopolies and publishes its Manifesto on Broadcasting Policy in the lead-up to the federal election. FRIENDS commissions its first public opinion poll, and the results are presented to the newly-elected Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien.

The Chrétien government breaks its election promise and makes radical cuts to the CBC. FRIENDS rallies Canadians in response, commissioning a series of opinion polls and advertisements, including a full-page ad in the Globe and Mail and seven ads in the Hill Times. In the lead-up to the federal election, FRIENDS develops its first major electoral campaign. The Keep the Promise campaign focuses on Liberal swing ridings.

FRIENDS stops legislation (Bill C-44) that would give the Prime Minister authority to fire CBC’s President at will. FRIENDS mobilizes supporters to oppose successive cuts to the CBC by the Chrétien government. A Liberal caucus committee is formed to defend the CBC

FRIENDS launches the Dalton Camp Award for best essay on the importance of media and its relationship to democracy.

FRIENDS launches the Let’s Tell Our Own Stories campaign, which pioneers the use of satirical/viral video in a Canadian public service television ad.

FRIENDS warns Canadians that newly-elected Prime Minister, Stephen Harper harbours a Hidden Agenda for CBC. (P.S. We were right).

2006 - 2007
FRIENDS today

Following more than three decades of advocacy and some hard-fought victories, the CBC is in a better position today than it has been for some time. We’re taking advantage of this period of relative calm to continue the push for full independence for CBC’s board of directors. And if the government of today or tomorrow takes aim at CBC, we’ll be ready to fight back with the strength of 364,000 supporters behind us.

Many forget that we’re FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting, not just FRIENDS of CBC. It’s our job to stand up for all Canadian journalism and storytelling, much of which is currently under threat. Count on us to stay on the case.

Ian Morrison and Daniel Bernhard

Daniel Bernhard and Ian Morrison

FRIENDS tomorrow

Our mission to protect and advance Canadian culture and democracy is timeless. But the audio-visual environment is ever changing, and so are we. Standing up for Canada used to mean standing up to Hollywood and other commercial interests, whose priority is to make a buck, often at the expense of Canada’s cultural and economic interests.

Hollywood hasn’t gone away, but nowadays, standing up for Canada means taking on Silicon Valley too. The Canadian government has given tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Netflix a free ride for years, at Canada’s expense. Streaming giants like Netflix must be required to collect sales taxes and contribute their fair share to the creation of Canadian content. And we must ensure that Canadian journalism survives as advertising revenues shift to companies such as Facebook, that don’t pay content creators, don’t employ journalists, and don’t take responsibility for the mass of hate speech and fake news that they publish. FRIENDS is leading the fight to bring these tech monopolists under democratic control.

Canada needs a well-funded, independent CBC to fight fake news and tell compelling Canadian stories. Our culture and democracy depend on it.

Daniel Bernhard
Executive Director and Spokesperson for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting