As the wave of public support for CBC/Radio-Canada continues to swell, Quebecor President and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau has decided to weigh in.
I won’t speculate on Mr. Péladeau’s motivations for writing the letter published in Monday’s issue of Le Devoir, save to say that I question his claims to be looking out for CBC/Radio-Canada. Recent history casts serious doubt on the sincerity of his declarations of support for the public broadcaster.
First of all, there are the statements to the effect that CBC/Radio-Canada is attempting to subvert control and accountability through a lack of transparency.
Does Mr. Péladeau not read the Journal de Montréal or Toronto Sun, his own newspapers? How can he then say that we lack transparency? Over the past year, these newspapers have printed full-page accounts about CBC/Radio-Canada executive expenses, detailed salaries and bonuses, provided laundry lists of spending related to management retreats, and called into question employee morale. Most of those articles set out to tarnish our organisation and its executives with a consistently denigrating tone and to create scandal where none exists.
It’s important to note that other news outlets have chosen not join Mr. Péladeau and his newspaper chain on this witch-hunt.
Of course, Sun Media is fully within its rights to hold us accountable. So are many others. We wholly accept this, given our status as the national public broadcaster and the fact that approximately 65 per cent of our budget consists of public dollars.
CBC/Radio-Canada is subject to many mechanisms and statutory reporting requirements that render Mr. Péladeau’s claims of unaccountability utterly baseless. An independent Board of Directors reviews and approves our budgets. The Auditor General, which annually audits our books, has declared them sound. Our Annual Report and Corporate Plan are reviewed by the Minister of Heritage and the House of Commons on an annual basis. The CRTC reviews our performance with respect to conditions of licence. We regularly appear before Parliamentary Committees responsible for overseeing our appropriations and operations. We voluntarily disclose executive travel and hospitality spending on our website, and have put in place an elaborate and stringent internal process to ensure that this spending conforms to corporate policy before it is approved. And, last but certainly not least, we are subject to intense public scrutiny under the Access to Information Act.
When CBC/Radio-Canada was made subject to the Act in September 2007, it was inundated with requests — close to 500 in the first three months, and 841 to date. No one could have anticipated the unprecedented volume of requests. Of the other organisations that became subject to the Act at the same time as we did, the next closest in terms of volume was Canada Post, which received 77 requests in the same first three months, and a total of 314 to date. As was revealed by the Ottawa Sun on June 3, 2009, the vast majority of the requests that we’ve received have come from one source, namely Mr. Péladeau’s Sun Media Corporation via an ATI request broker. I wonder how Mr. Péladeau – who presents himself as a free trader and who has built a media business on the strength of public funding, regulatory protection and tax incentives – would react if he were subject to that level of scrutiny to explain how these “public” funds were spent by his company.
Make no mistake about it, CBC/Radio-Canada takes the management of public dollars very seriously. Expanding our service to multiple platforms while seeing our budgets dwindle annually has obliged us to become a remarkably lean and efficient organisation. A 2007 benchmarking study by The Hackett Group reveals that CBC/Radio-Canada keeps its administrative expenses at levels that are amongst the lowest in its peer group. And among 18 Western nations, Canada has the fourth-lowest level of public broadcasting funding per capita, at $34. The average is $76. We’re extremely proud, given the financial resources at our disposal, of the value we offer Canadians.
Mr. Péladeau is right on one point, however: CBC/Radio-Canada does indeed play a critical role in uniting us as Canadians and allowing us to “play our role as citizens.” We provide a diversity of voices and opinions, and high-quality programming that – in partnership with the private sector – ensures the balance and creativity that makes Québec’s television industry the envy of many. More than ever, Canadians and Québecers need a space in the global media landscape that they can call their own. That is the space that CBC/Radio-Canada will continue to create as efficiently and as transparently as the citizens who invest in public broadcasting deserve.
Claiming that we spend hundreds of thousands to “protect executives that abuse their power,” making out-of-context references to passages in judicial decisions, and suggesting that our behaviour hinders our mission as the national public broadcaster – these are tactics used by Mr. Péladeau that have no other end but to attack the reputation of our Corporation and its employees for the benefit of his empire, his newspapers and his television stations.