‘Modernizing’ RCI to death!

En français ici

On December 3, 2020, Canada’s national public radio and television broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada announced “a major transformation” of Radio Canada International (RCI) titled “Modernizing Radio Canada International for the 21st century. And if you didn’t know anything about the toxic relationship between the two, you would really think this was great news.

After all the budget cuts the national broadcaster has imposed on RCI (for example an 80 % cut in 2012) the news this time is more languages, greater visibility, and an expanded editorial line-up.

Let’s take these “improvements” one at a time.

How has CBC/Radio-Canada decided to give “greater visibility” for RCI’s Internet content? They’re going to bury it in inside the CBC and Radio-Canada websites, and not allow RCI to continue on a site that has existed since 1996.

In this same announcement, CBC/Radio-Canada says it’s adding complete sections in Punjabi and Tagalog to the existing services in English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. In fact it’s adding one journalist to work in Punjabi, and one in Tagalog – not whole sections.*

As far as the Spanish, Arabic and Chinese services which each have three seasoned experienced presenter-producers offering tailored content for their target audiences outside Canada, only one will remain, the other two will be fired.** Who will remain is one “journalist” (formerly host-producer) per language, who will be obliged to translate texts from the CBC and Radio-Canada websites.***

And now we come to the sections working in Canada’s official languages of English and French. Again, each of these services has three seasoned experienced presenter-producers offering tailored content for an international audience that needs explanations that the domestic service is not obliged to do. So what will Canada’s Voice to the World be obliged to do in this “major transformation”? Fire all six producers and have an editor at CBC, and one at Radio-Canada, choose some stories, and place it on the “RCI website” which is just a section of the CBC and Radio-Canada websites. Yes, the ones that give RCI “greater visibility”.

The CBC/Radio-Canada announcement speaks glowingly about how RCI has provided a Canadian perspective on world affairs, but then starts skidding into talking about “connecting with newcomers to our country”, “engaging with its target audience, particularly newcomers to Canada”, and making this new content “freely available to interested ethnic community media.” Certainly sounds like CBC/Radio-Canada is intent on servicing ethnic communities in Canada.

But there’s a problem. That’s not RCI’s mandate. And CBC/Radio-Canada has no right to change that mandate. Because Canada’s Broadcasting  Act,  Article 46 (2), makes it a condition of the national public broadcaster’s licence to provide an international service “in accordance with such directions as the Governor in Council may issue.”

And the latest Governor in Council, Order in Council, PC Number: 2012-0775, says Radio Canada International must “produce and distribute programming targeted at international audiences to increase awareness of Canada, its values and its social, economic and cultural activities”.

This latest announcement by the CBC/Radio-Canada is, unfortunately, yet another in a string of actions over the last 30 years to eliminate Canada’s Voice to the World.

After failing to shutdown the service in 1990, 1995 and 1996 when pressure from listeners from around the world, and from Canadian Members of Parliament and Senators stopped the closure, the national broadcaster went about dismantling RCI one section after another, one resource after another in a death by a thousand cuts.

This assault on RCI really started in earnest in 1990 when Canada’s Voice to the World was a widely popular and respected international service of 200 employees, broadcasting in 14 languages heard around the world. The 1990 cut removed half the employees, and half the language sections. Over the years, under the guise of streamlining and improving the service, it’s been one cut after another. With this year’s announcement RCI will have a total of nine employees!

Not satisfied with cutting resources, CBC/Radio-Canada has also continually tried to undermine RCI’s international role.

When in 2003 a Canadian parliamentary committee agreed with the RCI Action Committee, in emphasizing RCI’s important international role and suggested more resources should be given to RCI, CBC/Radio-Canada responded by removing two key corporate policies that specifically outlined the necessity for producing programmes for an international audience, again, despite an obligation under the Broadcasting Act.

The reductions in resources, the limiting or decreasing of RCI’s outreach, culminated in 2012 when CBC/Radio-Canada announced it was taking RCI off of shortwave radio broadcasts which had been the main way of communicating to the world since 1945.

This decision deliberately ignored the 2003 Order in Council that specifically obliged CBC as part of its licence to have RCI broadcast on shortwave. Two months after protests by the RCI Action Committee highlighted the illegality of this move, the Canadian Heritage Minister at the time, changed the Order in Council, eliminating shortwave from RCI’s obligations.

This whole sorry tale underlines a key problem facing Radio Canada International:

A domestic national broadcaster is deciding whether or not Canada should have an international voice to the world, and how well it should be funded.

Clearly however, the decision of whether Canada has a Voice to the World and how well it should be funded, should be a decision made by Parliament.

In the meantime, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault should tell CBC/Radio-Canada that it is not allowed to make this latest policy change. Then he should freeze any changes to the service until there is a serious renewal of the Voice of Canada, one that will give it financial and political protection from a toxic relationship with the national broadcaster.

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* Correction to sentence, it originally stated “In fact it’s adding one “field” journalist to work in Punjabi, and one in Tagalog – not whole sections.”  The word “field” has been removed. Corrected 2021-02-05

** Correction to sentence, it originally stated “As far as the Spanish, Arabic and Chinese services which each have three seasoned experienced presenter-producers offering tailored content for their target audiences outside Canada, well, they’re all fired.” Correction “…only one will remain, the other two will be fired.” Corrected 2021-03-30
*** Correction to sentence, it originally stated “What will remain is one “journalist”  per language, who will be obliged to translate texts given to them in English and French.” We now know that no one will give the journalists texts, they will translate texts from the CBC and Radio-Canada websites. “Who will remain is one “journalist” (formerly host-producer) per language, who will be obliged to translate texts from the CBC and Radio-Canada websites.” Corrected 2012-02-05 and 2021-03-30

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December 3 policy announcement does not respect international mandate of RCI, details here

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RCI Action Committee

Website: http://rciaction.org/blog/

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Email: rciaction@yahoo.ca

Spokesperson: wojtekrciaction@gmail.com

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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 106 articles by Admin RCI Action Committee Website
One Comments Post a Comment
  1. Jian Gang WANG says:

    I totally agree that “a domestic national broadcaster is No RIGHT to decide whether or not Canada should have an international voice to the world, and how well it should be funded’. Furthermore, this time, we are not only fighting for survive, but may also asking the Parliament to check Radio -Canada how they spent public funding, and how much the bureaucrats has been waste in recent years.

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