News coverage of the battle to save RCI

Two news stories, one from the Ottawa Citizen newspaper link, and the other from the Canadian Press news agency link, are focusing on the fact that Canada’s Heritage Minister James Moore changed the 2003 Order in Council regarding Radio Canada International programming. On June 7, 2012, the obligations for RCI to broadcast on shortwave and to consult with the Foreign Affairs ministry about geographic target areas and languages for broadcasts, were eliminated. This came two months after our national radio and television broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada announced the end of shortwave broadcasts and an 80% budget cut. And it came just days before we were planning to ask for a court injunction to stop the shutting down of the shortwave broadcasts.

The news coverage raises some interesting questions.

In the Ottawa Citizen, journalist Chris Cobb starts:

In apparent collaboration with the Conservative government, CBC is slashing 80 per cent of Radio Canada’s budget and busting the venerable Voice of Canada international shortwave service down to an Internet radio station.

The $10 million cut — from $12.3 million to $2.3 million — will shut out access to Radio Canada broadcasts for swaths of the world’s population — including China, where RCI’s Internet site is blocked, and to millions of people in India and South America — all major Canadian trading partners.

In other developing nations, access to the Internet is either limited or non-existent, with vast portions of the population relying solely on radio for national and international news and information.

That, coupled with Russian and U.S. surveys that show listening to Internet radio is one of the least favourite ways to access broadcasts in all parts of the world, has critics of the CBC furious.

CBC says it is simply transferring existing content from radio to the web, which veteran RCI host Wojtek Gwiazda said gives a false impression.

“As of June 25, most of the original content will disappear,” he said, “because we won’t have the people to do it.”

In the Canadian Press article by Mike Blachfield, there were comments from the office of the Minister and from CBC/Radio-Canada:

Moore’s office appeared to place the onus on the CBC for any federal rule changes that RCI supporters might find objectionable.

“These changes are the result of proposals the CBC submitted to us, and we accepted. The CBC has the money necessary to fulfil its mandate and we appreciate the CBC doing its part to contribute to balancing the budget,” spokesman James Maunder said in an emailed response to questions.

The CBC and Radio Canada continued Friday to defend the cuts to RCI as a necessary budget measure.

“Cost-cutting and efficiency measures were put in place in all the components and services of CBC/Radio-Canada. The transformation of RCI is one of these significant measures,” spokesman Marc Pichette said in an emailed response.

Pichette wouldn’t comment on the changes to the order in council.

The article also quotes Thomas Witherspoon:

Thomas Witherspoon, founder of an American non-profit organization called Ears to Our World, said it is shortsighted to cut RCI’s shortwave service because it represents a cost-effective way of showing Canada to the world.

Witherspoon, whose organization distributes shortwave radios to communities in the developing world, recently wrote an impassioned opinion piece defending RCI.

“Here on the overly-lit, information-saturated North American continent, it’s easy to forget that an estimated 1.6 billion human beings — a full one quarter of us — still lack access to reliable power and to the Internet,” he wrote.

The Ottawa Citizen’s Chris Cobb talked to Paul Dewar, the Foreign Affairs Critic of Canada’s Official Opposition Party, the New Democratic Party (NDP):

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar accused the CBC and the Conservative government of “taking Canada’s voice off the world stage.

“It is sneaky,” he said in an interview with the Citizen. “They are pretending they aren’t killing it, but they are. Our Commonwealth cousins and others in the G8 have made a commitment that the world should hear their voices. Why not Canada’s?

“How will we keep people in other countries informed about Canada and how will Canada’s voice be heard by the international community.”

Dewar says he’s hearing negative reaction to the RCI cuts from MPs in all parties, and the NDP has written to both Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Heritage Minister James Moore urging a reversal of the decision.

“We are appealing to them to find the money and put this essential service back where it belongs,’ added Dewar. “Canada needs its voice heard and we have to figure out a way to do it. It’s not a lot of money. Let’s find it. Let’s not leave RCI orphaned.

And the article also included this from RCI Action Committee spokesperson, Wojtek Gwiazda:

…Gwiazda said the real issue should not be money.

“It’s about who should be deciding on how strong or how weak Canada’s voice to the world should be, he said. “We’re arguing for financial autonomy because, over the past two decades, CBC/Radio-Canada has shown it does not understand our international mandate.”

Ottawa Citizen article by Chris Cobb link: here

Canadian Press article by Mike Blanchfield link: here

UPDATE – June 16, 2012 – 22:44 – There’s another article from Chris Cobb in today’s paper titled: Web-only presence for RCI a shortsighted decision, says American broadcast expert See link here:

The article starts off with:

If CBC carries through with its plan to reduce Radio Canada International from a shortwave radio service to an internet radio station, it will effectively be taking Canada out of international broadcasting, a U.S. broadcast specialist said Saturday.

“Just having a web page or internet presence isn’t enough,” Kim Andrew Elliott told the Citizen. “You can build a website but they will not necessarily come. It’s easy to get lost among the thousands of other internet sites.”

Later Cobb quotes Elliott on the advantages of shortwave:
“Shortwave is wonderful medium,” he said. “It can get through when the internet is blocked by a dictator, cyber war or a natural disaster like an earthquake — or extreme weather events that seem to be increasing.”

The journalist once again tried to get more information from the Canadian Heritage ministry which is responsible for Radio Canada International, and from the Foreign Affairs ministry, which until June 7, 2012 was supposed to be consulted on geographic target areas and broadcast languages:

A spokesman for the Department of Canadian Heritage confirmed the change had been made but refused to say why.

A spokesman for Foreign Minister John Baird contacted Saturday refused to say whether his department had been consulted on the issue.

This article by the Ottawa Citizen’s Chris Cobb can be read here:

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

For those of you both outside and inside Canada, the best thing is to get a hold of Members of Parliament, Conservative (government) MPs, as well as those of the opposition. You’ll find names and e-mail addresses here: 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 105 articles by Admin RCI Action Committee Website
One Comments Post a Comment
  1. Sheldon Harvey says:

    What do we want the rest of the world to know about Canada, particularly those in parts of the world where free and open access to news and information from places in the “civilized” world can most easily reach them by means of radio?

    For us in the “civilized” world it is hard to believe that there are millions and millions of people around the planet who do not have electricity, running water, stable food sources, telephones and NO INTERNET! It is difficult enough for Canada to even register on the international media radar unless things like Luka Magnotta and student demonstrators happen.

    Are there not many more important and special things about Canada that need to be told to the rest of the world, and not to just those who can access us through the Internet? That is what Radio Canada International, on shortwave radio, has done for Canada every single day since 1945.

    By the end of this month, that will no longer be happening. The free and penetrating voice of Canada will be relegated to those who can access it through the Internet. Ironically those are the people who probably need it the least.

    If our government wants Canada to be a player on the international stage, out there with the “big boys” of the world, then simply reinstate the inexpensive, highly respected voice of our nation to the world. It’s not rocket science.

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