Broadcast regulator ignores crucial RCI questions

Canada’s broadcast regulator is ignoring charges that the CBC/Radio-Canada’s latest policy decision on Radio Canada International (RCI) is in violation of the Broadcasting Act. In a letter to the CRTC, the RCI Action Committee is asking for answers.

Twice last week at the public hearings of Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications agency the CRTC, investigating commissioners were told our national public broadcaster was violating the Broadcasting Act of Canada. Yet both times no questions were asked about the violations, despite the fact the hearings are being held to decide on the renewal of the national public broadcaster’s licence. The CBC/Radio-Canada is responsible for administering RCI under the Broadcasting Act.

On January 20, 2021, former RCI Executive Director Andrew Simon described the CBC/Radio-Canada’s “…incredible 30 year campaign to abandon its obligation to run Canada’s Voice to the World.”

… when I was Executive Director of Radio Canada International, and when we broadcast in 14 languages, 7 days a week, CBC tried to shut us down. Then it got a $12‑milion — $12 million from the then External Affairs to operate a much-reduced service. In 2012, it stopped broadcasting on shortwave and later demolished its Sackville transmitters. RCI continued on the Internet in only five languages.

Later in his presentation he said the new policy announced by CBC/Radio-Canada to transform RCI turned its focus away from RCI’s international mandate, which contravenes the Broadcasting Act.

The Broadcasting Act requires CBC, and I’m quoting, “to operate an international service which produces and distributes programming targeted at international audiences to increase awareness of Canada, its values, its social, economic and cultural activities”…

This needs further examination by the Commission and we certainly require an immediate ruling on CBC’s latest policy announcement that I just mentioned.

I think Parliament, and not the corporation, should decide if Canada has the Voice to the World, and how well such a service should be funded. As everyone tells us, the world needs more Canada.

Immediately, the CRTC chairperson Ian Scott, who was moderating the hearings, replied: “Thank you very much for your intervention. And you may know that we did have a discussion and some discussion last week about the current status of the service with executives from CBC Radio-Canada.” And then, there were no questions for Simon.

Yet searching several times through the transcripts of the hearings, we have only found two very brief mentions referring to Radio Canada International, and that in contexts totally unrelated to the international service.

On January 22, 2021, two days after Andrew Simon spoke, Pierre Tousignant, the president of the Syndicat des travailleurs et travailleuses de Radio-Canada was part of a larger presentation at the CRTC hearings given by unions representing media employees.

During his presentation in French, Tousignant described the “modernizing” of Radio Canada International announced in December as “another step in the slow death” of RCI. He said CBC/Radio-Canada did not respect RCI’s international mandate “to increase awareness of Canada, its values and its social, cultural and economic vitality.”

Nous soumettons respectueusement au CRTC et lui demandons d’examiner ce que nous considérons comme une violation par la SRC de l’article 46(2) de la Loi sur la radiodiffusion et du décret 2012-075. [Translation: We respectfully submit to the CRTC and ask it to review what we consider to be a violation by the CBC of section 46 (2) of the Broadcasting Act and Order in Council 2012-075.]

There was only one question to Tousignant about his statement and it was about the podcasts that would be produced under the new RCI policy. Again, no questions were asked about the violation of Article 46 (2) of the Broadcasting Act and Order in Council 2012-0775 which clearly outline CBC/Radio-Canada’s obligations to RCI’s international mandate as a condition of its licence.

We are more than just puzzled that the regulatory body, which refused the RCI Action Committee’s request to testify at the hearings because our request did not fit their request deadlines, did not deal with the violations brought up by the former Executive Director of RCI and the union president who represents RCI employees.

We immediately (January 25) emailed the Secretary General and the Chairperson of the CRTC requesting an explanation for the lack of questions on the charges made by the two intervenors.

We referenced in particular the statement made by the Chairperson following Andrew Simon’s presentation that  they “did have a discussion and some discussion last week about the current status of the service with executives from CBC Radio-Canada.”

First we asked: “…why would the Chairperson or the other commissioners not ask any questions, even if there were discussions, since the violation of the Broadcasting Act was at the centre of Andrew Simon’s presentation?

Second, after quoting the two short mentions of RCI in the transcripts of the hearings we asked:

Is this what Chairperson Ian Scott meant by discussion?

If these discussions “about the current status of the service with executives from CBC Radio-Canada” are not part of the public record of the hearings, what kind of discussions were they?

We ended our email with this request:

We count on the CRTC to act on this matter before the end of the CBC hearings this week.

As of today we have had no answer or any acknowledgement of our email.

We’ll keep you updated on the status of our request, and on the CRTC hearings.

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UPDATE – January 27, 2021: Today we received an email from the CRTC in reaction to our email on January 25 telling us “for reasons of procedural fairness, the Commission cannot comment on an ongoing proceeding.”

UPDATE – February 4, 2021: Today an email from the CRTC Senior Broadcasting Analyst confirmed our December 29. 2020 letter to the CRTC asking to testify at the CBC licence hearings about the public broadcaster’s violation of the Broadcasting Act Article 46 (2) will NOT be put into the public record by the CRTC.

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Detailed explanation of how the December 3, 2020 policy announcement does not respect the international mandate of RCI here

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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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