Oral remarks in their Diversity of Voices Proceeding (Broadcasting Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 2007-5).

September 17, 2007


Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners.

On behalf of CBC/Radio-Canada, we’re pleased to be here this morning to discuss our submission with you.

My name is Sylvain Lafrance, and I am Executive Vice-President of French Services. To my left is Jane Chalmers, Vice-President of CBC Radio. To my right, Richard Stursberg, Executive Vice-President of CBC Television, and to his right, Bev Kirshenblatt, our Senior Director, Regulatory Affairs.

In this proceeding, the Commission is examining one of the fundamental purposes of broadcasting regulation in Canada: namely, the advancement of a broadcasting system that reflects the varied demographics of the country and ensures that a diversity of voices remains available to audiences.

As you know from our submission, we believe that in this review, the Commission should be particularly mindful of the national public broadcaster’s involvement in providing a diversity of voices and thereby contributing to a healthy broadcasting system. Our review of the situation in other countries, and the international reviews of other parties to this proceeding, confirm that the national public broadcaster’s role in this regard is well recognised.

The presence of a strong public service broadcaster within a country’s system provides an important counterbalance to media concentration and ensures that a diversity of voices will indeed be available.

Today, we would like to discuss this concept further with you, and provide you with some concrete examples of how CBC/Radio-Canada is helping to promote diversity of voices across a variety of platforms, and therefore enrich the cultural and democratic life of Canadians.

Before I pass the microphone to Jane Chalmers, I would like to mention two related matters of importance. First, the unique circumstance of the Quebec marketplace. With its small size, highly concentrated media environment, and its proximity to the larger English-language markets that surround it, the Quebec marketplace is a challenging environment for maintaining a healthy diversity of voices.

As you know, vertical integration between broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDUs) and television broadcasters is very prevalent in Quebec. Québecor controls Vidéotron, TVA and LCN, while Cogeco controls TQS.

We also know that media concentration is particularly high in the Quebec market. It is not surprising that the Nordicity report concluded that if the Australian system were used to calculate media concentration, the metropolitan Montreal market would already be far below acceptable levels.

It is important to note, however, that the Australian calculation method factors in private commercial media groups only. It therefore excludes CBC/Radio-Canada, which plays a very crucial role in maintaining diversity of voices in an environment where, like their counterparts in a number of other countries, Canadian media outlets are amalgamating more and more.

In this environment, the benefits to the system made possible by public broadcasting are doubly important. I would be pleased to discuss this further with you through your questions.

The second matter is a critical element identified by the Commission in its Public Notice. This is the requirement for reasonable access to the system by Canadian programming entities in order to promote a diverse and healthy broadcasting system. The challenge of promoting access to the system for Canadian programming has never been greater, particularly in the case of television.

The Commission has a colossal task ahead, given:

  • the growing number and variety of foreign content posted on the Internet and multimedia platforms;
  • growing domination by foreign programming on Canadian English-language television;
  • increased control of New Media content by BDUs and telecommunications companies distributing such content; and,
  • the incessant constraints (related to small market size) to which Canadian French-language programming is subject.

While we will be discussing some of these issues with you in more detail in the context of upcoming proceedings, we would like to point out today that the Commission must view the diversity of voices issues in the broader context of not just programming types and editorial and ownership choices, but also ensuring reasonable access to the system for Canadian programming.

[Jane Chalmers]

Thank you, Sylvain.

As we noted in our submission, UNESCO and the Council of Europe in their assessment of diversity and the role of public broadcasting services have characterised four specific qualities of public broadcasting:

These are:

  1. universality of access to every citizen throughout the country;
  2. independence from commercial or political influence;
  3. diversity in program type, in audiences targeted and in subject matter; and,
  4. distinctiveness from other broadcasting services.

First, universality of access to public broadcasting services is an essential precondition to the provision of a diversity of voices in any broadcasting system. CBC/Radio-Canada has established near universal access to service in the analogue world. Our analogue over-the-air Television and Radio services are available to 99 per cent of Canadians. In the digital world, the challenge is greater as Canadians consume media across a variety of different platforms – both regulated and unregulated. We continue to work to secure a place for our services on traditional media platforms by extending over-the-air distribution and securing access to satellite and cable distribution. As well, we are broadening our reach onto emerging platforms like the Internet, mobile television, podcasting, and now are exploring the potential of Digital Multimedia Broadcasting. We have to reach every citizen in Canada as best as we can and we have to do that on every available platform.

The second characteristic of public broadcasting is its independence from commercial or political influence. CBC/Radio-Canada’s capacity to provide a distinct and unique perspective in the Canadian broadcasting system is rooted in that independence. In Radio we offer a commercial-free service: no other Canadian broadcaster is able to provide such a service.

In television, while we compete for advertising revenues, we insulate News and Current Affairs from the pressures of the advertising marketplace. We also enforce the highest standards with respect to journalistic accuracy and accountability across all of our services.

Our Parliamentary Appropriation provides the base on which our services are built, and it gives us freedom to provide services that are unique in the system and to program in ways that simply are not possible in the private sector.

I would like to turn things over to Richard Stursberg now.

[Richard Stursberg]

Thank you.

The third characteristic of public broadcasting is diversity in programming. CBC/Radio-Canada provides a diversity of programming both within its network services and in combination with its more niche-oriented services.

For example, within our network services we cover a range of program genres – from comedy, to drama, to sports, to variety, to performing arts, to News and Current Affairs, and documentaries – to an extent that other conventional broadcasters do not. There is literally something for everyone on the schedule. Our niche services play to our strengths as a public broadcaster and enhance our contribution towards our mandate: performing arts programming on ARTV, Canadian music on CBC Radio 2, News on CBC Newsworld and RDI, and documentary programming on The Documentary Channel.

With respect to the fourth characteristic of the public broadcaster – distinctiveness from other broadcasting services – CBC/Radio-Canada’s public service obligations are, as they should be, greater than that of other broadcasters, and that makes its contribution to a diversity of voices that much more vital.

For example, CBC Radio and Radio de Radio-Canada’s prime-time schedules are home-grown and distinctively Canadian. The schedules of CBC Television and Télévision de Radio-Canada are similarly distinctive and overwhelmingly Canadian at 80 per cent and 88 per cent in prime time. To sustain this high level of content, 95 per cent of CBC/Radio-Canada’s programming budget is expended on Canadian programming.

CBC/Radio-Canada provides a level of distinctiveness that simply cannot be provided by the rest of the Canadian broadcasting system. For example, we operate 13 international bureaux around the world; CTV has, I believe, two bureaux outside of this country; Global has none; and TVA has one individual in Washington. Canadians simply would not have an original Canadian perspective on international events without us.

We do more Current Affairs, more documentary, more international News, and more Canadian drama programming than any other player in the system, and we do it when Canadians are watching and listening – in the heart of prime time. For economic and commercial reasons, this is just not available from other broadcasters. Because of simultaneous substitution, CTV and Global simply cannot consistently put Canadian shows in deep prime time. Only we can.

CBC/Radio-Canada provides a range of Canadian programming across this country, including in the North and to Francophone communities outside of Quebec. No one else can do this.

In conclusion, we believe CBC/Radio-Canada, as Canada’s national public broadcaster, is an essential counterweight to the effects of consolidation and concentration of ownership within the private broadcasting industry.

We also believe that the strength and vitality of public broadcasting should continue to be a key concern for the Commission, and CBC/Radio-Canada should be considered by the CRTC as a key pillar in the Commission’s efforts to encourage a diversity of voices in the system.

Thank you. We would be pleased to answer your questions.

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