CBC letter to signatories about “confusion”, Committee response

Two days after our open letter to the Prime Minister and three of his ministers (see here), Shaun Poulter, the Executive Director of Strategy, Public Affairs, and Government Relations for our public broadcaster and RCI’s administrator, CBC/Radio-Canada, wrote an email to some of the signatories of the open letter.

It appears that signatories whose email addresses were public, including that of RCI Action Committee spokesperson, Wojtek Gwiazda, received a form letter because “I saw that you had added your name to a letter calling for a halt on CBC/Radio-Canada’s planned changes” to Radio Canada International. The letter sought to make sure signatories had “all the information you need about the service” because “There has been some confusion over what we’re doing…” The letter copied the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Affairs Minister, and the Canadian Heritage Minister.

The next day, February 18, 2021, our spokesperson sent the Committee’s reply.

Since neither CBC nor the government has shown any movement on our appeal to stop the implementation of the new CBC policy taking RCI away from its core mandate of programming for external audiences, we felt it was important to make this letter public, and our response to it.

The following text is the reply. The original text of the CBC’s Shaun Poulter is in blue italics.

*****************

Dear Mr Poulter,

Thank you very much for your email, which you shared with me, and some of the other signatories to our open letter. Thank you also for sharing it with the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Affairs Minister and the Canadian Heritage Minister.

We are appreciative of the fact that you wanted to share your perspective.

What follows is a response to your email. It does not address every comment you made but will help us all to be on the same page.

Hello,

I wanted to reach out to you because I saw that you had added your name to a letter calling for a halt on CBC/Radio-Canada’s planned changes to Radio-Canada International. There has been some confusion over what we’re doing and I wanted to make sure you have all the information you need about the service.

First I would like to correct the way you referred to Radio Canada International.  Perhaps this was a typo? There is no hyphen between Radio and Canada. Order in Council 2012-0775, states in English and in French, the name of our international service is “Radio Canada International.”

First, we are not changing the mandate of RCI. It remains an international service projecting Canada, Canadian stories and Canadian perspectives, to the world. That has not changed.

A reading of the CBC press release of December 3, 2020 would suggest otherwise. Within the outline of all the ways CBC will “modernize” RCI there is no mention of an international audience.

There is also no mention of international audiences in  “Radio Canada International’s transformation is focused on three key areas:”

And there is no mention of international audiences in the final paragraph of the press release:

“By becoming more relevant, more visible or more widely available in the languages spoken by the largest number of new Canadians, the new offering will allow Radio Canada International to better connect and engage with its target audience. RCI will also make all this content freely available to interested ethnic community media.”

In fact, this last paragraph confirms what we have said, the new transformation very clearly puts the focus of RCI on a target audience in Canada, which is not part of Order in Council 2012-0775.

What has changed is the way people around the world today access news about Canada.

Once, RCI on shortwave was the only way to get news about Canada. Today it is through the Internet.

Radio Canada International has been on the Internet since the mid 1990s at the same time as CBC. We have successfully used the Internet since then, independently of the CBC.

The challenge we have is that our international audiences are overwhelmingly using our traditional websites, CBC.ca and Radio-Canada.ca to reach us, bypassing RCI.

It is difficult to react to this statement. How much of this is Canadians abroad, and how much is non-Canadians, RCI’s international audiences?

The number of weekly visits to the RCI site from outside of Canada is less than 0.05% of outside visits to CBC.ca or Radio-Canada.ca. Inside Canada, it’s less than 0.01%.

Again, are these Canadians abroad? Also we are not quite sure about the importance of this statement. CBC’s budget is more than a billion dollars, RCI’s is about $2 million. We might be able to raise those figures you mentioned if we were better funded.

We are trying to change that by increasing the visibility of RCI with a home page presence on CBCNews.ca and Radio-Canada.ca, along with a languages portal page, in addition to adding it to the CBC News and Radio-Canada Info mobile apps. In this way, RCI’s international reach will be increased, not decreased, by our proposed changes.

How will international audiences know where to find RCI within the CBC and Radio-Canada websites? And why are RCI’s existing mobile apps being deleted? As is stated in the CBC press release: “the service’s five existing apps will be deleted.”

We are also going to increase the amount of content offered on RCI by using more of the great content already produced by our journalists at CBC and Radio-Canada and adapting it for international audiences. RCI staff will also begin offering weekly podcasts tailored to each language.

How is firing two of the three people in each language service, going to increase content offered by RCI? Surely you would agree, three people can produce more content than one person?

How is translating and adapting CBC and Radio-Canada content better than having trained international broadcasters who create content for their target audience?

How is firing all three English and all three French host-producers going to increase programming for international audiences?

And you point out that under the new policy there will be one podcast per language per week under the new policy. How is that better than what RCI does right now?  Each language section produces 18 audio reports per week.

Finally, on languages, we are going to be able to offer content in two additional languages, Tagalog and Punjabi, in addition to the English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin already offered. We are also adding a reading option in traditional Chinese.

We acknowledge that CBC is adding two languages, as the press release pointed out:

…the addition of complete sections in Punjabi (the third-most-spoken language among immigrants to Canada after the main Chinese languages, Mandarin and Cantonese) and Tagalog (the language of the Philippines and increasingly spoken in Canada).

This raises the important point, that the languages chosen were ones spoken in Canada, and not languages that were chosen to attract international audiences.

We truly believe that these changes are necessary and will make RCI a better, more used international service for the Internet age. It will also help new Canadians learn more about their new country. In order that RCI complement other ethnic media services in Canada, we will also offer the RCI content to them at no charge.

Again this appears to really focus on an internal Canadian audience, which is very laudable, and perhaps CBC should embark on creating programs for this audience, but that is not the mandate of RCI. And the mandate of RCI is given to it by Parliament through the Broadcasting Act and Orders in Council, not by the CBC.

I know that some of the changes, particularly the job cuts, are concerning to many. Wojtek Gwiazda, who runs the RCI Action Committee, has been particularly dedicated since his retirement a decade ago.

I appreciate you singling out my efforts, but would correct you though. As concerned by the job cuts as I am, my main concern over my 30 years as the Committee spokesperson, has been with protecting Canada’s Voice to the World.

And I retired in 2015, so coming onto six years.

What he is proposing is a completely separate service. Unfortunately that is not how we will reach, and better-serve global audiences in the Internet age.

We are not proposing a “completely separate service”. We are proposing a form of financial and editorial autonomy, something that existed well into the beginning of the 1990s.

In case you haven’t seen it, our full announcement from last December is here: https://cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/media-centre/radio-canada-international-transformation

Thank you for that reminder. You might be interested in reading our analysis of the press release, which was published on our website on December 17, 2020, two weeks after the press release: http://rciaction.org/blog/2020/12/17/major-transformation-does-not-respect-international-mandate-of-rci-2/

And also this analysis published the day after the new policy announcement was presented to RCI staff: http://rciaction.org/blog/2020/12/04/modernizing-rci-to-death/

We appreciate your continued interest in, and support of the service. Please let me know if I can provide any other information to you.

Sincerely,

Shaun Poulter

Shaun Poulter
Executive Director, Strategy, Public Affairs, and Government Relations

Directeur général, Stratégie, Affaires publiques et relations gouvernementales

CBC/Radio-Canada
Cell: (613) xxx-xxxx
shaun.poulter@cbc.ca

We also appreciate your continued interest in our attempt to protect the international mandate of Radio Canada International.

Please let us know if you need any further information.

Wojtek Gwiazda

Spokesperson, RCI Action Committee

Cell: 514-xxx-xxxx

Email: wojtekrciaction@gmail.com

RCI Action Committee

Website: http://rciaction.org/blog/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RCI_Action

bcc: Open Letter Signatories

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Article by Admin RCI Action Committee Website

Wojtek Gwiazda has been the spokesperson for the RCI Action Committee since 1991. The Committee is supported and funded by the union that represents almost all RCI employees: the Syndicat des travailleuses et travailleurs de Radio-Canada (STTRC formerly SCRC). E-mail: wojtekrciaction@gmail.com Read 105 articles by Admin RCI Action Committee Website
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