FLASHBACK: Our submission to parliamentary cttee

Below is what our Committee submitted to the Canadian Heritage Committee in 2001 in an attempt to protect the international mandate of Radio Canada International. (You can see the Standing Committee’s response here.)

Radio Canada International and the Broadcasting Act:
The Need to Protect RCI’s International Mandate and its Operational Autonomy

A submission to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage
from the RCI Action Committe
e

In 1991, the passage of a revised Broadcasting Act [1] made providing an international service a condition of CBC keeping its licence under the rules of the CRTC. Yet in the decade since the law came into effect, Radio Canada International’s continued existence has been put into question several times.

As employees and supporters of Radio Canada International, we feel there is only one solution to this precarious situation: there must be a formal guarantee in the Broadcasting Act that RCI is a separately funded and independently managed body which will continue to be Canada`s voice to the world, through shortwave and other means.

We feel this is necessary because, as past history has shown [2], the broadcast goals and mandate of the CBC and RCI are different.

Even though the Broadcasting Act makes no attempt to define “an international service,” RCI’s goals are spelled out quite clearly in CBC’s own Corporate Policy No. 14 which came into effect May 13, 1980:

“Radio Canada International is directed by the CBC to provide a program service designed to attract an international audience with the purpose of further developing international awareness of Canada and the Canadian identity by distributing, through shortwave and other means, programs which reflect the realities and quality of Canadian life and culture….”

That same Corporate Policy emphasizes that: “Responsibility for the implementation and application of this policy rests with Radio Canada International.”

RCI’s unique role of explaining Canada to the world means we have to explain that Regina is a city, that Manitoba is a province, and that Quebec is Canada’s predominantly French-speaking province. That context allows any international listener to understand our news and current affairs programming. It is a role we have perfected over 56 years. This expertise, and our reputation for presenting honest journalism, has attracted millions of loyal and enthusiastic listeners around the world.[3]

In fact, we are very often the first and sometimes the only contact people have with Canada. For some we are Canada.

This special relationship and RCI’s unique expertise is not understood by the domestic service. The CBC’s audience is Canadians. The Corporation is concerned with making the best use of its budget for a national audience. When the then CBC President, Gerard Veilleux, was making budget cuts in December 1990, he said CBC could not afford to pay for an international service, and told the government if it wanted an international service it was up to the government to pay for it.

For a broadcaster in any country, particularly a public broadcaster, the need to preserve services for taxpayers will always outweigh the needs of an audience outside of its national borders. [4]

But if Canada’s interests abroad are to be served properly, it is the federal government which must guarantee Canada is known internationally, and that means strengthening RCI’s role as our voice to the world.

This support must go further than just a general statement to “provide an international service.” The Broadcasting Act must outline RCI’s mandate to “attract an international audience” and develop “international awareness of Canada.” It must specifically oblige RCI to prepare such programming in both official languages, English and French.  There should be sufficient guidelines in the Act to ensure most regions of the world are covered, and to ensure RCI broadcasts in major foreign languages, and any others deemed important or useful.  Without necessarily enumerating each region and language, these directives must be strong enough to prevent anyone but Parliament from being able to change the mandate of RCI. At the moment, there is very little that prevents the CBC from cutting services back radically. This despite the fact that all of RCI funding comes from the Canadian Heritage Department.

In fact, in June of this year (2001), RCI-produced newscasts in seven languages were eliminated on weekends. Live programming was also cut on weekends. Morning shows in English and French to Africa, the Middle East and Europe, were eliminated, as well as an evening broadcast to India. One hour broadcasts to Russia and Ukraine, were cut to half an hour. Drastic cuts to live programming in English and French are scheduled to begin in October 2001.

The impact on audience listenership will be enormous and negative.

The new management is implementing a “Redeployment Plan” that is dramatically reducing both RCI news coverage and live programming. At the same time, the management is proposing “maximum synergies, maximum integration” of RCI within the CBC.

The benefits of a strong RCI may not immediately be evident to Canadians. However, any change to RCI is immediately noticed by the outside world. Any reduction of programming is a signal of Canada’s attitudes and policies. We may wish to have a role internationally, but if we cut back on our international voice, we would be contradicting that goal.

There are two major problems with the mandate of RCI, as expressed in the Program and Corporate Policies of 1980 and 1994.

First, these policies are internal policies of the CBC, which can be changed by the CBC’s Board of Governors.

Second, even though the international role of RCI is spelled out in these policies, there still remains a clear confusion within the CBC about its implementation. A Senate Report in 1994 pointed out the dangers of not spelling out more concretely what RCI must do.[5] Without clearer protection within the body of the Broadcasting Act, RCI is vulnerable to the changing fortunes of the domestic service and its priorities.

“I cannot think of any government service that deserves more support than this one does,” said CRTC head Keith Spicer to Senate Communications Committee in 1994, describing RCI’s history as “series of intermittent terrors with reprieves” [6]

A few years after his December 1990 decision on RCI, Gerard Veilleux admitted he had not fully appreciated the things RCI was doing and praised it for its dynamism.[7]

But regrets and hindsight do not protect RCI. Nor can we expect our international audiences to continually come to our rescue each time new administrators at the CBC or new politicians in Ottawa forget or never learn the importance of having a daily voice to the world.[8]

As much as a flag is a signal of nationhood, an international voice is a confirmation that we have come of age. RCI’s innovation and passion, energy, enthusiasm and experience, must be rewarded with concrete protection. It’s the least we owe a trusted institution which has proven itself over and over for more than half a century.

———————
The RCI Action Committee is an ad hoc group of RCI employees and supporters determined to turn back the cuts of programming in June, 2001, prevent the scheduled cuts in October, protect the international mandate of RCI, and its autonomy. In the early 1990s, as the Coalition to Restore Full RCI Funding, we managed to help stop the closure of RCI several times. As well we were key to the setting up of the 1994 Senate inquiry into the drastic budget cuts at RCI in 1991. Website: www.geocities.com/rciaction E-mail: rciaction@yahoo.com

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[1]Broadcasting Act [Assented to 1st February, 1991]
Article  46 (2) Sets out the CBC’s obligations to keep its licence under the rules of the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission: “The Corporation shall, within the conditions of any licence or licences issued to it by the Commission and subject to any applicable regulations of the Commission, provide an international service in accordance with such directions as the Governor in Council may issue.” See:

http://lois.justice.gc.ca/en/B-9.01/6845.html

[2] See partial chronology of relationship between RCI and CBC at:

http://www.geocities.com/rciaction/RCIandCBC.html

[3] See listeners comments on the latest round of cuts at RCI at:
http://www.geocities.com/rciaction/comment.html Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps made the point very clearly in 1998 when announcing special infrastructure funding: “The Government’s decision to keep RCI alive responded to strong public support for our voice abroad, our international broadcaster.”
See: http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/bin/News.dll/View?Lang=E&Code=7NR154E

[4] In the case of Radio Australia (RA) and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the Australian Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence And Trade References Committee concluded in May, 1997:
Chapter 6.87  “It is also apparent to the Committee that because RA is a small and discrete unit within the broad range of services provided by the ABC, it has not attracted the level of attention and support it needs to fulfil its important international role. Consequently, it would benefit from having a separate board to oversee its operations and give it direction, particularly at a time when globalisation of broadcasting services is evolving very quickly…”
See: http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/fadt_ctte/radio/ch6_0.htm
Chapter 5.156 “Whether it is in international diplomacy, business, education, tourism, the arts, sport or any other human endeavour, the goodwill engendered by RA will give Australia a base from which to start. You cannot measure goodwill as you cannot measure respect in dollars and cents.”
See: http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/fadt_ctte/radio/ch5_0.htm

[5] “The main disadvantage of this mandate is the confusion it creates with regard to an evaluation of its fulfilment…Thus the Committee feels that the mandate is too fungible and subject to too much interpretation. For example, the mandate uses terms such as: to provide, to distribute, and to broadcast. The mandate does not use the terms: to produce, to present, or to create. The subtle differences in the meanings of these terms are at the heart of these conflicting and argumentative interpretations.
“Furthermore, the mandate uses terms such as: “designed to attract an international audience…”; to “further developing international awareness of Canada…”; and to “reflect the realities and quality of Canadian life and culture.” These terms are very much expressions that are qualitative rather than quantitative. The relevance of this subtle fact becomes apparent with the aid of examples. Non-targeted programs produced by the CBC, such as As It Happens, or by the SRC, such as Le Magazine Économique, are specifically designed to attract a domestic audience, not an international audience. An international audience can only be qualified as “collateral” demand for such broadcasts, and, as such, these programs are certainly not an effective way to attract an international audience.” Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communication on the Mandate and Funding of Radio Canada International, June 1994, p. 13-14

[6] Keith Spicer, while still head of the CRTC, was unequivocal in his support of the international service when he testified in June 7, 1994, at the Senate Transport and Communications Committee inquiry into the funding of RCI: “The basic fact is, the history of RCI has been a series of intermittent terrors with reprieves at the last minute for a few years and then it starts all over again with a new breed of politicians who again do not know about it…I cannot think of any government service that deserves more support than this one does, because of the enormously high payoff for so little…..… I think this service deserves massive support. It does not deserve a few more pennies.” Transcript, the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communication on the Mandate and Funding of Radio Canada International, June 7, 1994, pages A-3, A-8

[7] Gerard Veilleux’s comments are cited in the book: Radio Canada International – History and Development by Arthur Siegel, Mosaic Press, 1996, page 177.

[8] As Joyce Zemans, the John P. Robarts Professor of Canadian Studies, Tenth Annual Robarts Lecture wrote in 1996: “Public institutions have a role to play in interpreting Canada and Canadians to the rest of the world. The writings of Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies and Lucy Maud Montgomery are among our most successful exports. Like Radio Canada International, they have the capacity to shape the understanding of Canada in the imaginations of people around the world.”
See page 15: http://www.robarts.yorku.ca/pdf/zemans.pdf

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Article by Admin RCI Action

Admin RCI Action: Wojtek Gwiazda is the spokesperson for the RCI Action Committee which is supported and funded by the union that represents almost all RCI employees: the Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada (SCRC). E-mail: rciaction@yahoo.ca Read 78 articles by Admin RCI Action
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