FLASHBACK: What’s wrong with Senate testimony on RCI’s 80% budget cut?

On May 1, 2013, the director of Radio Canada International (RCI) Hélène Parent and her boss Hubert Lacroix, the president of Canada’s national radio and television public broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada were before a Canadian senate committee to explain the 80% budget cut to RCI.

Lacroix made the opening statement before the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications. In the statement he addressed the question of why CBC/Radio-Canada, which manages RCI, cut 80% of the international broadcaster’s budget as part of the larger CBC/Radio-Canada cuts in 2012.

What’s striking is the use of studies by Graham Mytton, formerly with BBC audience research, as justification for eliminating shortwave broadcasts at RCI as of June 25, 2012 in favour of the Internet.

What’s also striking is the emphasis that both Lacroix and Parent put on the “new” website, almost as if there had not been one before, and conveniently not mentioning RCI was a pioneering leader on the Internet in addition to its shortwave, satellite and partnering with local broadcasters.

Also surprising was the insistence that the Internet now gave RCI access to a bigger audience around the world.

Most disturbing was the belief expressed by both Lacroix and Parent that RCI’s shortwave broadcasts could not be heard in Canada – they most certainly were.

What was also disturbing was the overall sense from the testimony and the reaction of the senators that did speak, that the 80% budget cut was perhaps the best thing that happened to RCI, given this new website which only started in April, ten months after RCI has shutdown its shortwave radio broadcasts.

The entire testimony of the two before the senators can be found on line here. The video of the testimony is here.

Below are a few excerpts of the testimony. Please bear in mind that we are not in agreement with some of the interpretations, or even some of the facts presented to the Senators.

If you have any comments please make them below or contact us at rciaction@yahoo.ca

From his prepared speech CBC/Radio-Canada President Hubert Lacroix:
Our decision to end shortwave broadcasts of RCI and move the service to the Internet was not an easy one, The reality is that the use of shortwave around the world has been declining since the end of the Cold War. That, combined with the growth of cellular phones, Internet, traditional radio and television, has led broadcasters around the world to cut back on their shortwave services, if they do maintain them at all.

The trend is clear. While it is difficult to measure worldwide audiences to shortwave, a 2009 study by former BBC shortwave expert Graham Mytton identified a significant drop in shortwave listeners to Radio Canada International, beginning in the 1980s and continuing through the 1990s. He attributed the decline to the limited types of content offered and the very limited number of broadcast hours. In fact, that is one of the key advantages of moving RCI to the Internet.

Because RCI did not provide round-the-clock programming on shortwave, listeners had to tune in at the right time during the day or night in order to catch the one hour of programming each day in English or French; the 30 minutes a day in Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish and Russian; and the 30 minutes each week in Portuguese. We would repeat these programs depending on the market.

On the Internet our programs are available anywhere, at any time. They can also be downloaded and listened to later. We believe that transforming RCI into an interactive, Web-based service actually increases its value for Canadians at a lower cost.

Furthermore, in countries where governments attempt to block access to foreign websites or shortwave transmissions, our local partners can download free audio content from a dedicated server. RCI also offers a daily cybermagazine available by email. You will find samples of these cybermagazines in your folders.

From Senator Stephen Greene question and answer:
Senator Greene: Tell me if this impression I have is right or wrong. You cut 80 per cent of the budget of Radio Canada International, but my impression is that the cut of 80 per cent has not diminished the service by 80 per cent because you have skilfully been able to expand your Web presence, et cetera. In terms of service delivery of Radio Canada International, where is it now, if you could estimate, in percentage terms with respect to where it was?
Mr. Lacroix: You are absolutely right. I will ask Ms. Parent to come in here in a second. We think we are a much more relevant service because now, through social media and the Internet, we can actually know who the audience is. We can count clicks and we can count the presence. It was nearly impossible to do that in the shortwave world.

Ms. Parent: What we want is to have a greater international presence, because Graham Mytton’s study told us that in 2009, Radio Canada International was no longer a relevant player over shortwave, and even recommended that we go over to the Internet. A few years later, especially given the cuts, this change had to be implemented faster.

Ms. Parent: On the Radio Canada International website, you will note — and this is important for us — a link for our listeners. We are appealing to Internet users. On the right hand portion of the screen they are invited to share with us their comments as well as photos they take of Canada. As you know, our mandate is to raise Canada’s profile around the world.

Mr. Lacroix: To answer your question, Senator Greene, you heard we are more connected to the audience in order to have the ability to follow the audience, to understand and connect with them so that we get feedback. When you transmit shortwave, there is no way in the world to know whether people are actually listening and whether they are on their little set at the exact time that your 30 minutes or hour is going through. We think this is a neat way to transform RCI, not to have made it disappear but to have transformed it into something that is easy to access, vibrant and in tune with the digital virage.

From Senator Art Eggleton question and answer:
Senator Eggleton: It is very impressive what you are demonstrating to us, but I want to go back to the topic of shortwave. I notice that a number of other broadcasters are reducing their shortwave, but some of them are keeping some of it, and I sense that it might be because there are people you cannot reach through these means. You pointed out, Mr. Lacroix, in your comments that in Africa, Internet access is only about 3 per cent. Then there is the question of oppressed countries, where people are denied Internet access. Throughout history, certainly modern-day history, one associates the ability to get to these people using shortwave means as being very important in expressing what Canada is about by getting Canadian stories and messages through hopefully to many of these people living in oppressed situations.

Mr Lacroix: You talk about reaching people in these countries. We think that through the ability we have of delivering stuff through mobility and partnerships with local radio programmers in those countries — I will ask Ms. Parent to tell you more about this as well as the famous dedicated server. The numbers we have right now indicate that 3,000 hits — I am going to look for my number. People are coming to our site and downloading — here it is. Between September and November of 2012 on this famous dedicated server — which is a server available to our partners. If you are a partner of ours, let us say an organization in another country, you can come here, it is free, you download it and add it to the program that you have in your own country as programs coming from CBC/Radio-Canada. To show how relevant we are, we had 3,000 clicks from our partners where they downloaded this and incorporated that programming in their own stuff.

Senator Josée Verner question and answer:
Senator Verner: Thank you for your opening statement. It was clear and removed the drama which could have come with the cutbacks which were announced in the supplementary estimates for Radio-Canada and Radio Canada International.

What happened to you almost constitutes good news. I don’t want to exaggerate, but what you have achieved is fairly extraordinary. My question follows on those asked by my colleagues.

We know that in Africa mobile phones really are the best way to connect with others. In your opinion, do you reach more people this way than the traditional way?

Ms. Parent: That is our objective and we firmly believe that we are going to reach more people. We also broadcast on the FM dial. Our partners broadcast on local radio stations. BBC and Voice of America can confirm this. But what is very important in Africa today is to be a presence on local FM radio. These radio stations broadcast our productions, and, for us, the fact of being available on mobile phones is really a significant step forward.

Senator Verner: The fact that you were asked to make cutbacks in your budget in fact accelerated the process, because ultimately, when you look at what came of that, we could almost be tempted to ask you whether it should not have happened earlier.

Ms. Parent: I believe the team from Radio Canada International was thinking about this thing for many years. Moving to the Internet, on the recommendation of Graham Mytton, was something we had started to do. This is not without precedent. We did have a website before, but it was a complement to our programming. But sometimes it is important to resort to creative thinking.

Senator Betty E. Unger question and answer:
Senator Unger: Thank you for your presentation. I would like to know a little bit about the audience that RCI had in terms of numbers, composition, age, region, country, et cetera, and how that has changed. You have been the voice of Canada for years, so I am just wondering about who these people are that will now be served by this new technology that, quite frankly, at my age, I would never be interested in.

Mr. Lacroix: I will ask Hélène to tell you about our current listenership.

It is difficult for us to tell you what it was before because we could not count. It was very difficult to count the number of people picking us up on shortwave because there was no connection. We had to rely on data that came and was delivered to us in a very incomplete way.

With this technology, we can actually count now, and Ms. Parent will tell you who the audience is and whom we speak to. About 55 per cent are Canadians in Canada, and about 45 per cent are outside of Canada. Perhaps Ms. Parent can elaborate.

Ms. Parent: Forty-five per cent of our listeners are abroad. We have not identified the profile of our Canadian listeners. People who listen to Radio Canada International are between 50 and 65 years old. They are educated. In fact, they are basically the same people who listen to CBC/Radio-Canada, but to be precise, 31 per cent of Canadians are aware of Radio Canada International, which is excellent, given the fact that Radio Canada International was not very wellknown and did not have a deep penetration rate in Canada in the past.

It should said that with shortwave radio we were not broadcast in Canada and Canadians from diverse backgrounds did not have access to RCI content; now, we focus on people who know little or nothing about Canada, no matter their background.

We focus on citizens of the world because with the Internet there are no borders. We still target the same audience, people around age 35 and older, people who want to educate themselves and learn, who have that ability to reach us. We are aware that for some, it is important to have a certain level of income, especially for Internet lines, except for wireless where now, in Africa, it has become accessible.

We are targeting a much larger audience and we are targeting a Canadian audience, in addition. We did not have access to Canadians.

Senator Leo Housakos question and answer:
Senator Housakos: Congratulations on the initiative and the presentation. I have mostly a comment to make, which you can speak to, and then I have a question.

It is amazing how you have become innovative and efficient with 80 per cent less money and one third of the employees. You have managed to reach out using modern-day technology and technology that, over the last decade, has established itself as the way of the future. The question is, though, why did it take so long.

The other question is that, as parliamentarians and as taxpayers, we would like our Crown corporations to be looking for initiatives to be able to become more efficient and the most cost-effective possible without having to have governments send down draconian envelopes to force our Crown corporations, be it the VIA Rails of this world or the CBCs of this world, to take cost-saving initiatives. This is an example of how a major, drastic cost cut has spun out to great innovation and positive results. That is a comment from my point of view.

The other question I have, and forgive my ignorance, is how many shortwave radios were sold in Canada in the last year? What would be the number of shortwave radios that Canadians would possess living in the Middle East or Eastern Europe or wherever?

Mr. Lacroix: Frankly, I have no clue. I cannot answer that question.

Senator Housakos: The last time I walked into Future Shop or any one of the electronic stores, it does not seem that they sell shortwave radios anywhere

Mr. Lacroix: They could not pick us up here, so that would not be helpful.

Again, the entire testimony of the two before the senators can be found on line here. The video of the testimony is here.

Please comment below or write us at rciaction@yahoo.ca

FLASHBACK: Whole barracks around small shortwave receiver for Canadian federal election

“It pains me to hear that RCI will be leaving SW in June. Over the years I’ve counted on RCI to keep me connected with home, be it during my travels in Europe, Asia, and even the depths of the Amazon. Most of those areas have no access to the internet.

I vividly recall during my time serving with the Canadian military in Europe, in the 1980s, the whole barracks hovering around my small portable SW receiver, and listening to the Canadian federal election report via RCI.

For the sake of a few dollars, RCI is going to be lost forever. Don’t let it happen.

Sincerely, Walt Salmaniw,

Victoria, BC, Canada”

[Admin editor: message used with permission]

FLASHBACK: Certificate of Recognition for the RCI Action Committee

In 2002 the Association of North American Radio Clubs (ANARC) awarded the RCI Action Committee with a Certificate of Recognition for our work in defending Radio Canada International. Here’s the text of the certificate:

Certificate of Recognition for the RCI Action Committee

The Association of North American Radio Clubs proudly presents a group Certificate of Recognition to the RCI Action Committee.

For over 10 years their tireless and ongoing efforts have sought to restore full funding to Radio Canada International. Their efforts still continue today to help RCI, struggling to maintain its service, its integrity, meet its mandate, and to serve the shortwave listeners of the world as the voice of Canada abroad.

The RCI Action Committee is currently in one of its most difficult and challenging battles, attempting to counter the integration of RCI into the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the re-deployment of new strategies of the new RCI management team.

With this Certificate ANARC gladly recognizes their efforts.

All of the awards were presented during the 15th Annual Winter SWL Fest Banquet held during the weekend of 8-9 March 2002 in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania, USA.

Mark Meece, ANARC HQ

Association of
North American Radio Clubs
Association of
North American Radio Clubs

FLASHBACK: 1945 first broadcast of int’l service

From the CBC Archives:

Broadcast Date: Feb. 25, 1945

The Second World War is winding down in Europe, but Canada’s new international shortwave radio service is just getting started. From its studios in Montreal and a web of shortwave transmission towers in Sackville, N.B., the service targets both Canadian and foreign listeners. In this inaugural broadcast, Prime Minister Mackenzie King says the International Service of the CBC will extend Canadian ideals of equality and freedom to the world.

King is joined by Justice Minister Louis St-Laurent, who addresses the audience in French, and by Howard B. Chase, chairman of the CBC board of governors. The three talk about the service’s goal of reflecting Canada beyond its borders. The International Service will broadcast to the United Kingdom and western Europe in three languages — English, French and German — with a signal that is strong and clear.

TO HEAR THE BROADCAST please go to: http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/arts-entertainment/media/radio-canada-international-canadas-voice-to-the-world/broadcasting-to-the-world.html

Radio Canada International employees still strive to tell the world about Canada in the best tradition of honest Canadian journalism, despite attempts to shut it down, or change its international mandate.

To find out more about the international mandate please go here.

For the latest news also check out our twitter feed at twitter.com/rci_action

FLASHBACK: 2008 Cttee spokesperson suspended!

February 2008 – Action Committee spokesperson suspended!
Radio Canada International tries to “muzzle” communications union which represents RCI employees

From left to right, Wojtek Gwiazda, spokesperson for the RCI Action Committee, and Alex Levasseur, president Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada

The Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada (FNC-CSN) is outraged by and condemns the three day suspension without pay of one of its union stewards, Wojtek Gwiazda. For years he has defended the international mandate of Canada’s Voice to the World, Radio Canada International (RCI).

The union’s president Alex Levasseur says he’s shocked at CBC/Radio-Canada’s actions, “As a union we defend not only our members’ salaries and rights, but we fight to preserve and defend the idea of public broadcasting. Since 1991, when RCI faced closing,” continued Levasseur, “Wojtek Gwiazda and employees at the international service have fought to prevent the closing of the service and from having it’s mandate changed. This tireless effort was done as part of the RCI Action Committee, an inter-union committee.”

Unfortunately, in the last year and a half, RCI’s international mandate has been radically changed to focus on broadcasting to new immigrants in Canada, and has re-directed resources away from the core mandate of telling the world about Canada.

Last November, concerned by what was going on at RCI, Gwiazda as spokesperson for the RCI Action Committee contacted members of the Canadian Heritage Committee, which is examining the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada (and Radio Canada International). As a result, members of parliament questioned outgoing CBC President Robert Rabinovitch and French Vice-President Sylvain Lafrance.

Following this questioning, Gwiazda was informed he was being investigated for disciplinary action, and then called in for a disciplinary meeting. In a letter dated February 6, 2008, he was informed that he could face more serious penalties if he continued to raise questions about the change of mandate at RCI with the House of Commons Canadian Heritage Committee.

“By taking this action, CBC/Radio-Canada is not only interfering in internal union matters, but the public broadcaster is attempting to muzzle the Syndicat des Communications. This is unacceptable,” concluded the union president.

Source: Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada (FNC-CSN)
14 February 2008

For more on the mandate of RCI, the RCI Action Committee’s efforts, and the actual questions raised by a member of parliament which led to the suspension, please go to the following link

FLASHBACK: 1982 – Ottawa news was important

On March 26, 1982 RCI inaugurated its Ottawa bureau. RCI Director Betty Zimmerman (fourth from left) with staff: three English and three French journalists. At the time, they were all kept very busy covering the nation’s capital. In 2010, one of the two (!) journalists of our reduced Ottawa bureau was sent to the city of Halifax, in Atlantic Canada. We now have one journalist in Ottawa. Priorities have certainly changed in only a few years.

See other photos from our past in our photo gallery ( which is growing from day to day).

With the policy change of December 3, 2020, there will be nine ( 9 ! ) employees left in all of RCI, no daily reports, no one in Ottawa. For more details on the radical change in the mandate of Radio Canada International please go here.

FLASHBACK: KMPG: RCI Should Have Independent Funding

Study says RCI should not be integrated into the domestic service, the CBC/Radio-Canada

In October 1996, the Canadian component of KPMG, a accounting, tax and professional firm, released a report on RCI commissioned by the domestic radio and television service, CBC. The report came out at a time when RCI’s financial future was unsure. The report made numerous suggestions, some of them unworkable, or unlikely, even in the minds of the authors of the report. But they had some very clear recommendations about the future financing of RCI. And there was absolutely no ambiguity in their opposition to the integration of RCI into the CBC.

Prepared for: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
Toronto, October 29, 1996

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, with the participation of the Department of Canadian Heritage, commissioned KPMG to conduct an operational review of Radio Canada International (RCI)…

In carrying out our work, we reviewed the existing costs and cost structure both in relation to their historical levels and benchmarked against equivalent players from other countries. The objective was to determine whether, from a straight-forward efficiency and effectiveness perspective, RCI is operating in an appropriate manner…

In terms of efficiency, we believe that in its own right and benchmarked against other similar organizations, RCI is an efficient operator…

In a nutshell, we found that RCI is minimally funded compared to other broadcasters, and is an efficient operator, carrying out significant activity with the resources at hand….RCI is shown to be a very low-cost programmer…

With respect to the minimum level of funding necessary to maintain RCI, given its current mandate, we suggest that the figure is in a range of approximately $16 million to $16.5 million, roughly the same as its 1996/1997 budget…

If RCI is relatively efficient and if external sources of revenue are not the answer to its financial difficulty, what next? We believe the answer is for Canada to determine if it wants to have an international broadcaster and if so, with what mandate…

Given our findings, the realities and perceptions about RCI’s role in Canada, we believe the choices faced by the CBC (and the government) are clear and involve fundamental public policy decisions: either commit to funding it appropriately, reduce its mandate significantly, or close it…

[Some of KPMG’s recommendations:]

If RCI is continued in the long term (whatever its mandate and funding level), independent funding is needed to avoid the difficulty it faces today with being caught up in a domestic vs. foreign competition for limited CBC resources. If the CBC management and Board have to choose between serving Calgary or China, Calgary will almost certainly win….

While RCI and the CBC should cooperate as much as possible (and there is significant cooperation today), we do not recommend integrating RCI into one of the CBC radio services. The focus of RCI is necessarily foreign and, in our view, would be diminished if it were not a separate entity with its own direction…

If a decision is made to continue RCI with its current mandate, it should have a long-term funding arrangement (3-5 years). The financial stability provided by such funding would allow the organization to engage in planning for the long run, reduce employee stress, allow RCI to shape future financial goals and have the ability to seize unforeseen opportunities which may arise.

This text appeared originally on the web site of the RCI Action Committee:

FLASHBACK: It’s always been about int’l mandate

An overview of the issues involved in RCI’s international mandate.

November/December, 2007 – Questions about the international mandate of Radio Canada International (RCI) were once again raised at a parliamentary committee as it prepares to issue a report on Canada’s public broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada. The public broadcaster is responsible for RCI. And according to Canada’s Broadcasting Act it is part of the CBC/Radio-Canada’s condition of licence to provide an international service.

However, RCI employees and others are raising questions about how the mandate of Canada’s Voice to the World has been affected by its focus on programming on immigration and new immigrants in Canada.

Nothing preventing more changes

On May 25, 2007, the union representing most of RCI’s employees (Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada) called on parliament’s Canadian Heritage committee to protect RCI’s mandate saying “there will be nothing preventing the CBC from changing its international service” unless “the Broadcasting Act has been amended to protect RCI’s Mandate.” See testimony parliamentary committee here.

On November 27, 2007, at the parliamentary hearings in Ottawa, Maria Mourani, the Heritage critic of the opposition Bloc Quebecois Party questioned the CBC/Radio-Canada Vice-President responsible for RCI, Sylvain Lafrance about the mandate: “I am not saying that it has been abolished. Does one mandate take precedence over another? If so, how can that be done without contravening the act?”

Lafrance testified that the “basic mandate has absolutely not changed” but suggested it was “evolving”. See testimony parliamentary committee here.

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is now in the process of writing a report on the Role of the CBC/Radio-Canada as a Public Broadcaster in the 21st Century, including services such as Radio Canada International.

Not first time Committee hears warnings

However, this is not the first time the Standing Committee has dealt with the issue of RCI’s mandate.

In its 2003 report “Our Cultural Sovereignty”, the Standing Committee quoted the RCI Action Committee submission extensively and called on the “appropriate department [to] review the mandate of Radio Canada International, with a view to identifying the necessary resources required to strengthen its services.”

RCI Action Committee proposes Broadcasting Act changes

The 2003 report highlighted the following from the RCI Action Committee submission:

“The Broadcasting Act must outline RCI’s mandate to “attract an international audience” and develop “international awareness of Canada” [the CBC's Corporate Policy No. 14]. 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.”
See entire submission here. See report here.

Mandate guidelines eliminated

In 2005, two years after this report was released, CBC/Radio-Canada abolished Corporate Policies No. 14 and 18, which specifically outlined the need for RCI programming to be adapted to attract an international audience. See details here.

Programs and positions eliminated

In the autumn of 2006, programs for Africa, Europe, and India were replaced by generic programs in English and French focussing on immigration and new immigrants. In addition, an increasing number of contractual employees were hired, and a number of permanent positions eliminated. See details here.

In 2007, the integration of RCI into the domestic service (CBC/Radio-Canada) has been so pronounced that even the news copy on RCI’s website has been replaced by links to CBC (see here) and Radio-Canada (see here) news links which have not been adapted to the needs of an international audience.

The above text is from the RCI Action Committee web site:

FLASHBACK: Parl Cttee: RCI essential int’l service

Ottawa, 11 June 2003 – In a massive report on broadcasting in Canada called “Our Cultural Sovereignty”, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage described RCI as “an essential international service.”

Among its 97 recommendations the Committee called on the “appropriate department [to] review the mandate of Radio Canada International, with a view to identifying the necessary resources required to strengthen its services.”

In the two and a half pages devoted to RCI, the Heritage Committee reported that “Two groups, the RCI Action Committee and the Canadian International DX Club, made passionate submissions to the Committee.”

Quoting from the brief of the RCI Action Committee, the Heritage Committee wrote:

“The RCI Action Committee told the Committee that the government’s support for an international service:

… 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” [the CBC's Corporate Policy No. 14]. 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.”

The Heritage Committee has requested that the government respond to its report.

The entire report is available on the Heritage Committee’s Website Link to site
The text on RCI is in Chapter 7, page 253 in the section on International Services.

See the RCI Action Committee’s entire submission here.

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

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

[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:


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


[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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