RCI jobs eliminated, immigration mandate set aside

Last week was tough for Radio Canada International employees as we finally found out the impact of the $500,000 budget reduction because of the station leaving Sirius Satellite Radio. RCI’s new director Helene Parent had warned employees back in February (See Update from the new RCI Director ) that because of the drop in revenues, cuts had to be made.

Last Monday, May 16, she individually spoke to each employee that was cut. Then the next day in a public meeting with employees she announced that seven (7) contractual positions, mostly researchers, would be eliminated. She explained that she did not cut back all the contractual positions that had been created by the Sirius increase in revenue, and the longer duration of programs. She announced she was keeping one position extra in each language section so that there was manpower to work on more web oriented content.

She also announced that as of June 27, the English and French daily programs, The Link and Tam Tam, would be reduced from two hour, to one hour programs. And that all the one hour language programs, would be reduced to half hour programs. Untouched would be the English and French weekend programs.

She was asked about how many RCI employees had taken a special retirement package, but preferred not to name the exact number, saying it wasn’t totally official yet. But it’s clear that at least four employees, and probably five in total took the package. A retirement package that offered a bit more money to eligible employees than normal. And it also eliminated those jobs permanently from RCI’s staff. What this means is that RCI has five fewer permanent staff positions. (This retirement package was offered across all of the domestic English and French networks.)

Two days later, on Thursday, May 19, Helene Parent held two meetings with staff to outline her vision of RCI until 2013. She first reminded everyone of the Order-in-Council that outlines RCI’s obligation to raise awareness of Canada abroad. She very quickly also said that the immigration mandate of talking to future immigrants abroad or to those already in Canada, would no longer have a central role in RCI programming.

As she did in the past, she emphasized the increasing importance of the Internet and the RCI website, while admitting that the present website has serious problems. She outlined a comprehensive list of ways RCI could interact with listeners and web users. And she suggested there should be more collaboration between RCI and the domestic English and French networks – CBC and Radio-Canada.

Ottawa news was important for RCI in 1982

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).

Bittersweet memory – March 22, 1991

Monitoring Times May 1991It’s hard to believe it’s already 19 years ago that our reality at RCI changed so radically. In December of 1990, our parent company the public broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada announced that the international service would be eliminated unless the federal government paid for it (CBC actually had up until then budgeted about $20 million for the service). After months of lobbying, and weighing numerous scenarios, staff learned what would happen to Radio Canada International on March 22, 1991.

In a Monitoring Times article published in May of that year I began by describing the minutes before the staff meeting:

10:10 AM FRIDAY 22 MARCH 1991 – Two RCI journalists are asking where the meeting is. A production assistant asks if this is really the end of RCI. This morning two supervisors told staffers we’d probably find out at ten, but it’s already ten minutes past.

What we found out was we were losing half of the language services, half of our staff and about three quarters of RCI produced programming.

We were saved, but at a huge price.

It would be the first of three times, 1991, 1995, 1996 that RCI was scheduled to be eliminated.

So many years later, walls are being demolished, we lose colleagues one or two at a time, and the whole reason of our existence, our international mandate to tell the world about Canada, continues to be undermined.

But you know what, we’re not giving up the battle to protect the mandate, nor the autonomy of Radio Canada International, we just can’t.

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:
http://www.rciaction.org/RCIHeritageCttee20071127Mandate.html

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
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

—————————-
[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

Parliamentary Committee highlights our position

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.

FLASHBACK: Union on RCI mandate at Parl Cttee

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.

Why were two key corporate policies eliminated in 2005?

Being Canada’s Voice to the World and explaining Canada to the world, is at the heart of what Radio Canada International (RCI) is all about, and so it’s more than a little surprising to see how that mandate is being dismantled.

For example, CBC/Radio-Canada, Canada’s national public broadcaster is obliged to maintain the international service. And for years RCI’s mandate was defined within the Corporate and Program Policies of CBC/Radio-Canada.

In 2005, these policies (No 14 and 18) were eliminated.

CBC Corporate Policy No. 14  (Effective: May 13, 1980) clearly outlined RCI’s mandate: “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….”

CBC Program Policy No. 18  (Effective: July 6, 1994) reinforced the international mandate: RCI’s program personnel, in carrying out the various elements of this objective, must consider the following:…. 2. To “attract an international audience,” RCI programming must be adapted to target audience interests and knowledge. The emphasis within information programming must be on topicality in order to reach the interested audience for shorwtwave…”

The abolition of these corporate policies and the integration of RCI into the domestic national service suggests how CBC/Radio-Canada interprets, and is changing, the main mandate of RCI to be Canada’s Voice to the World. This despite its obligations under Canada’s Broadcasting Act to provide an international service.

Details here of how the mandate continues to change.

Details of Corporate policies 14 and 18 here.