Archived - Notes for an appearance before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
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CBC/Radio-Canada licence renewal
Gatineau, November 21, 2012
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, hello.
Thank you for having me here today. Here with me today are Sylvain Giguère, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications, Marcel Fallu, Policy Analyst, Policy and Communications Branch, and Ms. Carolina Mingarelli, Legal Advisor. The CRTC hearings provide a rare opportunity for an in-depth discussion about CBC/Radio-Canada’s role. In recent years, public discourse about the public broadcaster has focused mainly on its programming, its funding and even how the Access to Information Act applies to its operations. These are, of course, important issues, and I acknowledge, in passing, the low levels of public funding that CBC/Radio-Canada receives compared with public broadcasters in other countries. However, these issues tend to overshadow CBC/Radio-Canada’s vital role in supporting Canadian culture and, specifically, official language communities—both English- and French-speaking.
My observations of CBC/Radio-Canada need to be taken in that context. I pay close attention to CBC/Radio-Canada because it is such an important institution for Canadians.
A large part of my submission focused on the impact of CBC/Radio-Canada’s decision to eliminate virtually all local programming at CBEF Windsor in 2009.
I have not come here to provide a technical or detailed analysis of licence applications. My role as Commissioner of Official Languages is not to dictate content-related programming choices to the national public broadcaster.
In particular, I believe that Radio-Canada’s decision to cut local programming at CBEF was made without taking into account its obligations under Part VII of the Official Languages Act. This decision also goes against the expectations set by the CRTC in its last licence renewal decision and the principles of the Broadcasting Policy for Canada. The policy states that CBC/Radio-Canada’s programming must reflect the different needs and circumstances of not only the two majority language communities, but also the minority communities.
My office’s investigation revealed the negative impact this decision has had on an already vulnerable community and that CBEF’s programming no longer meets the community’s needs. People from the community have told us that they no longer see themselves reflected in CBEF’s morning show, which should, in fact, be dedicated specifically to them. CBEF listeners are now turning to English-language stations to get local content.
Therefore, I am asking you to require Radio-Canada to maintain a minimum number of hours of local production at CBEF as a condition of licence in order to prevent the gradual yet persistent erosion of this official language community’s vitality and to encourage Radio-Canada to respect its mandate.
My submission also touches briefly on issues that I feel are significant in relation to official languages. I call on the CRTC to impose a regulatory framework that would ensure CBC/Radio-Canada fully carries out its mandate under the Broadcasting Act and the Official Languages Act in a predictable, constant and continuous fashion.
The cutbacks in cross-cultural programming that have been announced could very well undermine an activity that is at the core of CBC/Radio-Canada’s mandate under the Broadcasting Act: namely, to contribute to shared national consciousness and identity. As I indicated when I appeared before you in 2009, I hope that progress continues to be made on that front, now that there is a risk of going back to square one. I think it is important that the CRTC clearly spell out CBC/Radio-Canada’s requirements in terms of accountability in this regard.
Some of my observations concern Quebec’s English-speaking communities directly. To begin with, I note that the licence application makes very little mention of the role that Radio One and Documentary should play to reflect the realities of Quebec’s English-speaking communities—especially those outside Montréal. The CRTC must also state that the aspects of Broadcasting Decision 2011‑441 concerning the concept of regional production, under which English-language production in Montréal is now considered to be regional production, also apply to CBC/Radio-Canada. The application submitted by the national public broadcaster has not been updated to reflect this fact.
Where French-language programming is concerned, it is essential that the CRTC maintain licensing conditions and expectations that will ensure that the communities’ realities receive in-depth local coverage and are reflected in national programming, and to support healthy independent production in these communities. The CRTC must also continue to make sure that, in the case of French-language programming produced in the regions, the accountability it requires makes it possible to differentiate between programming that is produced in Quebec’s regions and programming that comes from official language communities.
In recent years, a good part of local television programming in French-speaking minority communities was made possible through the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF). I would like to draw attention to the CRTC’s efforts in 2009 to amend the criteria for accessing the LPIF so that all Radio-Canada stations outside Quebec could benefit from it. As a result, the LPIF became a vital source of funding for CBC/Radio-Canada. Since the decision was made to gradually eliminate the LPIF, CBC/Radio-Canada has announced, as I am sure you are well aware, that it will hang on to some gains, mainly in terms of its news programs. However, setbacks are inevitable for other types of local programming, such as cultural programs and serial dramas. I firmly believe that communities cannot be reflected solely through local news shows. It has to happen through other kinds of programming as well.
I also have concerns about the regulatory concessions being sought concerning CBC/Radio-Canada’s children’s and youth television programming. According to the public broadcaster, young people can simply change channels or switch to the Internet. The problem with that is television choices are not the same everywhere. A young French-speaking Edmontonian who does not have access to a premium cable television service will not have the same choices as a young French-speaking Montrealer who can get Télé-Québec and likely a number of specialty channels, or a young French-speaking Torontonian who can tune in to TFO.
It is useful to keep in mind just how important children’s and youth programming is for the survival of minority communities. In its decision last month concerning the acquisition of Astral by Bell, the CRTC mentioned that “. . . Internet platforms continue to be complementary to the traditional broadcasting system.” The new media platforms are a major vehicle through which CBC/Radio-Canada can carry out its mandate, not to mention a key tool for promoting linguistic duality across Canada. Clearly, a “television-only” approach would not be suitable for reaching Canadians. However, the time has not yet come to abandon television. There are indications that television continues to hold a unique role and an important place in Canadian households and families, including with youth.
To this day, it remains the flagship of public broadcasting.
Thank you for your attention. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.