Dark day for public broadcasting: CBC/Radio-Canada denied value-for-signal by CRTC

March 22, 2010, Ottawa

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) today failed to fulfill its responsibility to maintain a healthy broadcast system that serves the interests of Canadians.

In its new framework for conventional broadcasting, the CRTC has allowed private broadcasters to negotiate a fair value for their signals with cable and satellite companies, but denied that same right to CBC/Radio-Canada. This is a piecemeal decision that deals with the decline in advertising for private broadcasters but not for CBC/Radio-Canada whose television budgets are 40 to 50 per cent dependent on commercial revenues. The decision recognises the market fragmentation that is harming private conventional broadcasters but is wilfully blind to the fact that CBC/Radio-Canada is subject to the same pressures.

Denying CBC/Radio-Canada access to the same revenue streams as other conventional broadcasters means that the CRTC has accepted that CBC/Radio-Canada’s budget and services should be reduced, and that the services offered by the public broadcaster are less important than those of the private broadcasters.

“The CRTC’s decision defies logic,” said Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada. “The Commission wants to save Canadian programming.

CBC/Radio-Canada invests more in Canadian programming than all of the other broadcasters combined. Denying us the same rights held by every other broadcaster in this country means that this supposed solution will not apply to over half of the Canadian content produced and aired in this country – over $650 million last year alone. This will solve the economic problems of private sector players but will not bring the system back into balance. It leaves the player who delivers more than anyone else in the system without a viable business model.”

Since the advent of television in 1952, successive governments have determined that Canada’s public broadcaster would subsist on a mix of public and commercial revenue. The CRTC has itself encouraged CBC/Radio-Canada to pursue commercial revenues in order to fulfill its mandate and conditions of licence. Like the private broadcasters,

CBC/Radio-Canada is dependent on advertising revenues to provide its services and is being severely affected by a their decline.

“We’ve been evaluating the potential repercussions of a decision like this for several months now,” continued Lacroix. “One thing is clear: this will force us to cut programs and services, and our ability to fulfill our mandate has been compromised. The independent production sector, the cultural community, and the public will all suffer as a consequence. But we need to study the decision in more detail and present a plan of action to our Board before I can share more.”

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