RCI a bridge between Canada and the world

reprinted with permission The Hill Times

By WOJTEK GWIAZDA MARCH 29, 2021

The CBC never understood that the uniqueness of RCI is that we explain Canada to the rest of the world. And at a time when Canada needs to be understood, Radio Canada International should be expanded and be ready for the challenges of the future. But the CBC is making sure it won’t be.

Wojtek Gwiazda, who is the spokesperson of the RCI Action Committee, was a host-producer with the English section of Radio Canada International for 35 years and retired in 2015. He says the new RCI will be reduced to a translation service of CBC and Radio-Canada web texts to be translated by the few remaining survivors of a 30-year campaign to destroy RCI. Photograph courtesy of Wojtek Gwiazda

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MONTREAL—One of the amazing advantages of working at Radio Canada International (RCI) was having international experts just steps away from me. I knew I could count on them, whether it was trying to understand the latest developments in the Middle East, an aspect of Chinese political culture, or Brazil’s place in Latin America. These experts were my fellow host producers at Canada’s world service who daily informed their audiences about the latest from Canada and the latest in country-to-country relations.

This was our normal. Unfortunately there are those who have forgotten or never understood the wealth of our expertise. And at a time of disinformation, when so many around the world are searching for reliable sources of information, that is something none of us can afford to forget.

Our broadcasters acted, and act, as bridges between Canada and another country or region as they prepare contextualized programming specifically with the listener/reader in mind. It’s not always easy to explain constitutional matters, political alliances, or government decisions in Canada. The complexity of explaining that to someone outside of Canada just increases the challenge. But that’s what we have done for 76 years. And clearly, it is even more essential right now, and will be in the future.

And for RCI staff, it’s not just a one-way communication. Emails come in, not only to comment on our programming, but also to get advice, more information, and assurances. And we answer them. Because over the years, a complicity has been formed. We respect and are fired by the responsibility of sharing the reality of our nation with others, and on the other end there is the appreciation of the reliable honest source that it comes from, and the people who bring it.

In the 1990s, when CBC tried to shut down our international service three times, hundreds of letters inundated the offices of RCI, MPs, and Senators, and the listeners won back their link to Canada.

But since then it’s been a death by a thousand cuts. A language service here, the removal of our audience relations department, taking RCI program schedules out of Canadian embassies around the world. And gradually, we lost listeners. As budget cuts reduced our staff and our programming, there was less and less to hear.

But we didn’t give up. Even when CBC showed so clearly we were not a priority. In 2012, the government at the time told CBC to cut 10 per cent of its budget. It decided not to cut 10 per cent across the board, but by priorities. RCI was hit with an 80 per cent budget cut. We lost two-thirds of our staff. But we soldiered on. We soldiered on even though in 2012 the CBC decided we would not be allowed to be a radio station anymore. We would only be allowed to continue our web presence. We soldiered on. We did our best, even as the CBC IT department failed to give us proper web support. We soldiered on, because we were not going to let the CBC cut our link to our listeners.

Then on Dec. 3, 2020, CBC came in for the final cut. A dagger covered with the velvet tones of a PR press release promising more languages, higher visibility, and more content. A smoke and mirrors sleight of hand that could be admired, if not for the devastating carnage that it will entail. Far from offering more content, the new RCI will be reduced to a translation service of CBC and Radio-Canada web texts to be translated by the few remaining survivors of a 30-year campaign to destroy RCI.

In its wisdom, CBC has decided the experts that I worked with are only good enough to translate what CBC and Radio-Canada has decided is important. CBC is convinced that its media content, conceived only for a Canadian audience, will bulldoze its way into the hearts of RCI’s remaining listeners and web readers. The CBC is wrong, because it never understood that the uniqueness of RCI is not that we have programming in many languages, it’s that we explain Canada to the rest of the world. And at a time when Canada needs to be understood, Radio Canada International should be expanded and be ready for the challenges of the future. But the CBC is making sure it won’t be.

Wojtek Gwiazda is the spokesperson of the RCI Action Committee. He was a host-producer with the English section of Radio Canada International for 35 years and retired in 2015. He is based in Montreal. A technical note: Since 1972 the name of the international service has been Radio Canada International in both English and French. There is never a hyphen between Radio and Canada.

The Hill Times – reprinted with permission

https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/03/29/rci-a-bridge-between-canada-and-the-world/290457

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What you can do to help us (in five languages): http://rciaction.org/blog/what-you-can-do/

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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 108 articles by Admin RCI Action Committee Website
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