Tower of Babble

Book review: Richard Stursberg, a former CBC executive, has released a tell-all book about the Mother Corp.


(Photo: Tristan Kong)

Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC
(Douglas & McIntyre)
Richard Stursberg

When the federal government tabled its March budget to Parliament, Canada’s Earl Grey–sipping literati gasped at the hefty $115-million funding shortfall for the CBC. With all the ensuing soul-searching about cuts at the Mother Corp., it seems an appropriate time for a tell-all book by former executive vice-president of CBC English Richard Stursberg to hit the shelves.

Tower of Babble chronicles Stursberg’s tumultuous CBC stint from 2004 to 2010, a stretch largely defined by the ongoing debate over what a public broadcaster is and should be. The title’s not-so subtle biblical reference is a hint at Stursberg’s view of the Ceeb as the place that business common sense forgot, and the book serves largely as a catalogued defence of his belief that audience numbers, not an ambiguous cultural mandate, would define the network’s success. Later chapters offer a detailed peek into how the Canadian media sausage is made, detailing the challenges of offsetting public funding with ad sales, the overwhelming importance of NHL hockey to the CBC’s operating budget, Ceeb-style office politics and the uphill battle against the private channels of Corus, Rogers and Bell. As the network struggles to define its future, this is a parting shot from the manifesto that might have been.