CBC/Radio-Canada’s preliminary observations , review of English- and French-language broadcasting services in English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada, Broadcasting Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 2008-12

January 13, 2009

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Good morning Mr. Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen. I’m Sylvain Lafrance, Executive Vice-President of CBC/Radio-Canada’s French Services. With me today are four colleagues from the Corporation. To my left, Louis Lalande, Executive Director, Regional Services, French Services; and François Conway, Senior Director, Strategy and Planning, CBC Technology. And to my right, Patricia Pleszczynska, Regional Director, Radio and Television (Québec), English Services; and Anne-Marie Migneault, Director, Regulatory Affairs.

1. Introduction

We are delighted to be here today to discuss the availability and quality of services in English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada — along with related shortcomings and challenges, and the steps that should be taken to encourage and facilitate delivery of and access to these services.

These issues are particularly important, given the context of broadcasting in the 21st century — a context in which communications is becoming more concentrated and globalized, and media are ever more specialized. In this environment, cultural and regional identities are increasingly vulnerable. At the same time, they form the very fibre of Canada. If we want these identities to remain strong, we have to ensure that communities continue to have access to media that reflect their realities.

To do so, we need to recognize the profound connection between the production of high-quality local, regional and national programming and its accessibility. In an environment where over 90 per cent of Canadian homes now receive their television services via cable or satellite, any policy aimed at increasing regional production must be consistent with a regulatory regime that guarantees citizens access to their respective regional services, as well as to national services that reflect their own realities and those of all Canadians.

The Canadian broadcasting system cannot succeed without public policy support. Decision makers understood very early on that market forces alone would not be sufficient, and that providing services to regional centres and minority linguistic communities would require regulatory action.

The CRTC’s policies and regulatory frameworks have yielded concrete results and they continue to evolve. For instance, in October 2008, the Commission announced a new Local Programming Improvement Fund. We salute this CRTC initiative, which will help support the production of content aimed at minority francophone markets, among others. Unfortunately, minority Anglophone markets appear to be excluded — a topic Ms. Pleszczynska can discuss, if you wish.

Another example of a decision favouring linguistic minorities was the mandatory carriage order for RDI and CBC Newsworld in their respective minority markets. We’re glad the Commission recognised their important contribution to regional services.

2. CBC/Radio-Canada plays a vital role for linguistic minorities

It is very important that public policy support the activities of CBC/Radio-Canada, which plays a vital role for linguistic minorities. A number of intervenors have expressed with eloquence and passion the importance of Canada’s national public broadcaster in this regard. For example:

  • The Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique wrote in its report that, “The Corporation is one of the pillars supporting Canada’s official language policy.”
  • In its comments, the Fédération culturelle canadienne-française (FCCF) stated: “Radio-Canada continues to play a crucial role in building our francophone Canadian identity.” The FCCF also pointed out that media (radio, television and Web) integration and the complementary nature of all of our platforms make it possible for CBC/Radio-Canada to meet linguistic minority needs more effectively.
  • La Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne wrote: “The labour dispute that paralyzed the Corporation in 2005 revealed the extent to which many French speakers in minority linguistic communities rely on Radio-Canada to stay informed, in French, about events in their regions.”

CBC/Radio-Canada has the expertise and the capacity to provide Canadians with national, regional and local television, radio and Web programming, from coast-to-coast-to-coast, in both official languages. Regional realities are also reflected in the programming of its specialty services.

Part II of our report illustrates the exceptional contribution of all of CBC/Radio-Canada’s French Services to minority francophone communities. Part III shows the contribution of CBC/Radio-Canada’s English Services to minority anglophone communities.

3. Our recommendations to improve minority communities’ access to services in their language

We will now discuss steps that could be taken to improve the access of minority-language communities to high-quality radio and television services.

In the second half of the 20th century, one of the Government’s main priorities was to enhance broadcasting service coverage via transmitters in order to reach as many Canadians as possible, as quickly and as effectively as possible. Nearly 35 years ago, CBC/Radio-Canada received a special operating credit to expand over-the-air distribution of its English- and French-language radio and television services, with a view to serving all communities with 500 or more residents.

Today, most Canadians no longer receive their television services over the air, as 90 per cent of Canadian homes now use Broadcasting Distribution Undertakings (BDUs). This important shift indicates that the policies and regulations governing transmission and distribution of Canadian programming services must be reassessed.

Furthermore, the transition to digital offers many new opportunities to multiply the number of high-quality services available in both official languages. It does, however, present certain issues and challenges, as well.

In light of these developments and the new regulatory framework for distribution announced by the Commission in its decision of October 30, 2008, CBC/Radio-Canada offers some recommendations and comments in Part IV of its report.

A number of the recommendations and comments are linked directly to the new “one station per province” rule that the CRTC announced for Direct to Home (DTH) BDUs on October 30th. The CRTC has exempted the Atlantic Provinces, while specific rules will also have to be established for French-language television stations in Québec and Ontario.

On the English side, the “one station per province” rule will force DTH BDUs to carry some 40 stations belonging to CTV, Canwest, Rogers, and CBC/Radio-Canada, as well as to independent groups, across Canada. On the French side, the rule will force DTH BDUs to carry only seven French-language stations outside Québec — given the almost total absence of TVA and TQS stations outside of Québec. We believe that this gives the Commission significant leeway in applying specific rules to provinces in which French-speaking communities are concentrated.

We propose the following measures for Québec:

  1. That DTH BDUs be required to carry any French television network station that produces no less than 2.5 hours of local news a week, excluding headlines, during a regular season. That would be consistent with the goals established when the new Local Programming Improvement Fund was announced.
  2. Moreover, we ask that the existing requirement for parity between Radio-Canada and independent networks henceforth apply solely in Québec, rather than across Canada. This would ensure that the number of Radio-Canada stations carried in Québec would be at least equal to the number of TVA stations, and would thus promote a diversity of voices.

Such rules should not lead to problems for DTH BDUs, given the high number of local stations they carry already: Bell TV, for instance, already distributes 16 local French-language stations in Québec. It is worth noting that many of these stations broadcast almost no local content. The fact that Star Choice does not carry Radio-Canada’s Québec City station, which produces extensive local news and regional programming, is, in our view, even less acceptable.

As far as Ontario is concerned, we request that Radio-Canada’s Ottawa and Toronto stations both be distributed, given the distinctive nature and large amount of local content produced by each, as well as the size of the minority francophone communities they serve.

In our view, issues involving linguistic minority communities’ access to broadcasting services cannot be considered separately from issues involving services to the regions. Market forces alone are not sufficient to guarantee satisfactory regional services in minority or majority communities, with services to French-speaking communities being particularly vulnerable, as the CRTC noted in its June 2008 decision regarding TQS and in the decision involving the new Local Programming Improvement Fund. We thus invite the CRTC to view services to the regions from a global perspective as it considers regulatory solutions to issues involving linguistic minorities.

We also invite the Commission or any other intervenor, when examining CBC/Radio-Canada’s contribution, to take a broad view of the activities of all departments in all program categories. Providing Canadians with high-quality services in the language that reflects their reality goes to the heart of CBC/Radio-Canada’s mission and will continue to shape its plans in the upcoming years.

We thank you for the opportunity to present our views to you today and are happy to answer your questions.

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