Speaking notes for Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO, CBC/Radio-Canada, at the University of British Columbia

October 18, 2011

Hubert T. Lacroix spoke to students from the University of British Columbia and their Graduate School of Journalism. This was an informal presentation during which students were invited to ask questions

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Introduction:

Ladies and gentlemen, students of UBC and the Graduate School of Journalism, thank you for coming tonight.

Vancouver is one of the world’s most beautiful cities and I always look forward to coming here. One of my favourite runs in the country is along your Seawall and around Stanley Park.

I’m still struck by the image of Clara Hughes, the great Olympian speed skater and cyclist, carrying the Canadian flag to open the 2010 Games here. And Wayne Gretzky’s torch-bearing pickup truck ride through your downtown streets, perhaps with some of you in that large crowd in hot pursuit, was pretty memorable as well!

I’m so glad to be here. One of the best parts of my job is to meet with Canadians across the country. It’s not only enjoyable, it’s extremely important that CBC/Radio-Canada stay tuned to what people like yourselves expect from a national public broadcaster.

Because, in this fast-changing media environment, we need to know how you are choosing to reach us—for your news and information, for your entertainment, sports or any other kind of content we offer.

But I’m pretty sure this is a journalism crowd; and I suspect you’re as passionate about the profession as we are, as it’s one of our core functions and something we’re proud of and ready to defend wherever necessary. More about that a little later.

The UBC Graduate School of Journalism has a great reputation and I congratulate you for it. We’ve noticed on your website that you’ve just received five nominations in the 2011 Online Publishing Awards. Fantastic.

I also notice you’ve just introduced a ground-breaking initiative that will foster stronger relationships between media and Aboriginal peoples in British Columbia. And I’m happy to note that one of our award-winning CBC Vancouver journalists, Duncan McCue, is teaching it. Thank you, Duncan.

This builds on the existing relationship between your school and us—I understand we have a number of CBC people on your faculty, including Kathryn Gretsinger, Candis Callison, our new English Services ombudsman Kirk LaPointe and Donna Logan, as well as Duncan.

Questions for the audience:

Perhaps I can get started by putting you all on the spot by asking you some questions:

What does CBC/Radio-Canada mean to you?

And even more fundamentally: Do you think it’s important to have a national public broadcaster? Why?

Don’t be shy! The thing I’ve learned in this job is that every single person in the country has an opinion about CBC/Radio-Canada and is usually very happy to share it!

(Discuss.)

Intro to Everyone, Every Way:

Now I’d like to take a few moments to talk about our overall strategy for the next five years, which you may already have heard referred to as “Everyone, Every Way”

This plan expresses our vision to be the country’s recognized leader in expressing Canadian culture and also of critical importance—enriching the democratic life of its citizens;

We’re very excited about the plan and I’d like to help introduce it to you with this short piece of video:

(Roll video: 5 minutes)

Any questions so far? Comments?

Summary of Everyone, Every Way:

Everyone, Every Way is our roadmap to the future. It defines our way forward.

It describes the means by which we will deepen our relationship with Canadians at the national level, within their communities and with them—you—personally;

Our plan is ambitious; as I said, we will be the recognized leader in the expression of Canadian culture and we will enrich the democratic life of all Canadians. Because, like the saying goes—true democracy requires and demands informed opinions.

We will achieve our goals in three ways:

With more Canadian content;

By expanding local services to Canadian communities and regions;

And by being a technology leader on our digital platforms and the web.

Let’s look at those one at a time.

First, it’s about the distinctiveness of our programming.

We will offer more stories by, for and about Canadians:

Over the next five years, our prime time programming will become even more distinctively Canadian; and on CBC—English Services—even more Canadian than it is today;

As well, every year CBC will create at least 10 of what we call Signature Events—projects like Hockey Day in Canada or Live Right Now—that feature multi-platform programming, public engagement activities and the participation of all parts of the country.

Everyone, Every Way is also about strengthening our regional presence and the role we serve in community spaces.

We will be extending our services to many communities across the country where we don’t currently have a presence;

We’ll do that in new and innovative ways, for example:

New multimedia stations that will allow us to be more nimble than our older, conventional stations;

New local and “hyper-local” websites to support our TV and radio operations;

And the third piece of our strategy is to create new platforms and digital spaces:

We will double our current levels of investment on digital platforms to 5 percent of our programming budget by 2015, which should represent about $70 million.

Accomplishments so far:

We’re actually well on our way;

As you’re a relatively young audience (younger than me, anyway!), let’s talk first about new media and new platforms:

CBC/Radio-Canada has always been a pioneer when it comes to giving Canadians access to programming however and whenever they choose. For example:

We were the first in Canada to stream audio online (1993);

We were among the first to steam video on mobile devices (2004);

First to make the Olympic Games available on mobile devices (2006);

Our websites are the most visited media sites in the country;

Our content is the most downloaded on iTunes Canada;

Radio-Canada’s TOU.TV is Canada’s largest French-language web TV entertainment site;

With Everyone, Every Way, we continue to lead the way in the digital world:

Our CBC News APP, launched this year, is the number 1 mobile news destination; HOW MANY OF YOU IN THE AUDIENCE HAVE THAT APP? LET’S SEE YOUR HANDS. GOOD! WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF YOU?

In June, Radio-Canada launched the Espace.mu online music website, which is generating more than a million audio streams since launch; it offers the largest repertoire of French-language music on the internet;

Radio-Canada’s TOUT.TV continues to raise the bar, launching a new mobile website, a new application for Android devices and it’s just announced an agreement with LG to make TOU.TV available directly on next-generation television sets.

Not bad.

Now, what about our regional services:

In May, we announced that over the next five years, we will introduce or improve local services to more than six million currently underserved Canadians;

BC residents were among the first to hear the good news; CBC in Kelowna is undergoing a building redevelopment which will assist in expanding the local radio schedule to include a new afternoon show to serve the BC interior;

This allows Victoria’s afternoon show to offer more local news and information for those on the Island;

CBC will also launch new radio and online services in Spring of 2012 to serve Kamloops and the surrounding area; this new bureau will serve approximately 100,000 British Columbians;

We also recently announced new radio and Internet services for London and the Kitchener-Waterloo region in Ontario and new weekend news programming for Edmonton, Ottawa, St. John’s and the Maritimes, in addition to previously announced expanded weekend news operations in Calgary and Toronto.

We’re building a new and improved station in Halifax, and recently announced expanded local services for Rimouski, Quebec and a new station in the Saguenay;

Then there are our signature events – community and multi-platform events that bring Canadians together, often produced in partnership. Like our Live From Montreal collaboration with the Maison symphonique de Montréal, a concert broadcast on all six platforms – TV, web and radio, in English and French – for the first time ever. Or culture days, celebrated last month in hundreds of cities and towns across the country. Our project 1 Day was a true partnership between CBC and Canadians – capturing the lives of ordinary Canadians and broadcasting them on all six platforms.

To evaluate our progress, we will report on our performance twice a year across a range of metrics— to capture such values as quality, differentiation and net cost per viewer, so that Canadians everywhere can hold us to account.

Accountability and Transparency

Let me change gears here.

As journalism students and faculty, as engaged citizens, you may be aware there’s been a lot in the news lately about the corporation and Access to Information, as well as the current Federal Court of Appeal case between CBC/Radio-Canada and the Information Commissioner.

I suspect much of what you’ve seen has come from one particular news source, because it is one particular news source that has been pushing this story consistently and with a very deliberate point of view.

But before I get to that, let’s discuss the important issues of accountability and transparency as they relate to a national public broadcaster.

Those two values, accountability and transparency to Canadians, are central to our philosophy. They are critical to our credibility. And credibility is absolutely essential for a public broadcaster.

This is nowhere so important as in its news operations. We believe informing citizens honestly and fairly allows them to make sensible decisions about the world they live in, and the way they live in that world.

We’re not perfect, heaven knows, but when we make mistakes, we’re held accountable for them, by our independent ombudsman process and our publicly available Journalistic Standards and Practices, and that’s how it should be.

As an independent Crown Corporation, celebrating our 75th anniversary by the way, which I’ll also discuss shortly, we are responsible to Canadians through Parliament by way of our Corporate Plan, our Annual Report, quarterly reports and appearances before various Parliamentary committees; all of which is available to the public, much of it on our website;

We report to the CRTC through our regulatory filings and license renewals;

We report to the Auditor General of Canada, who reviews our books each and every year and who conducts a special detailed audit every five to ten years; we have one of these coming up, in fact;

We host an Annual Public Meeting. This year it’s on November 2. It will be our third and you’re welcome to join us live online;

On our website, we make available executive travel expenses, details of audits, summaries of Board meetings, quarterly financial reports and more than 27,000 pages of information that has been released under Access to Information. I encourage you to visit our site to learn more about this important issue. Just go to www.cbc.ca, scroll to the bottom and click on “About CBC.”

I should also tell you what we do not release and why.

To protect our independence from political or competitive interference, certain kinds of information have been deliberately and explicitly excluded from the Access to Information Act.

This is information about our journalistic, programming and creative activities, other than our general administration.

The reasons are pretty straightforward.

To be credible, a news organization has to be able to pursue its legitimate journalistic activities without arbitrary interference from outside parties, whether competitors, governments or others.

I believe this—the notion of a free, unfettered press—is an important foundation of civil society.

Equally important is that news organizations be held to appropriate standards of conduct. We have our own Journalistic Standards and Practices. You can review them online, along with a host of other corporate policies.

Elsewhere, there are Press Councils and Broadcast Standards organizations.

With regard to our programming and creative activities, we exist—we have always existed—in a unique position as a public broadcaster operating within a competitive commercial environment.

Our competitors are extremely interested in what we do and how we do it. Information, for example, about our negotiations for Olympics. Or hockey. Or FIFA World Cup soccer. Precisely how much we pay national anchors like Peter Mansbridge or our CBC Vancouver anchors Tony Parsons or Gloria Macarenko. What shows we have in the works. Details of our marketing plans.

Section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act recognizes this and that’s why certain information is protected.

Under the law, members of government, whether they’re cabinet ministers or indeed even the prime minister, may not have that information. We’re certainly not going to give it to our direct competitor.

We abide by the law; we will continue to abide by it.

We currently have an issue with the Information Commissioner about who gets to decide what falls under Section 68.1. We think a court needs to clarify this issue.

That’s not unusual, actually. Government departments and ministers have gone to court more than 180 times with the Information Commissioner to clarify how the law should be applied. That’s the appropriate place for these issues to be decided.

This brings me to Quebecor; our main competitor in Quebec and the news organization I’ve been referring to.

Over the past couple of years, they’ve ramped up their attacks on us dramatically and methodically. On the one hand, that’s fine; we’re a public organization which receives a public subsidy, so we take criticism all the time. They can do what they like.

But let’s see this for what it is— a deliberate and frequently ideological attack from an organization that thinks it can gain by our loss.

When we came under the law in 2007, Quebecor flooded us with ATI requests, then attacked us for that very backlog. It was only later that they quietly admitted they were responsible for the onslaught, which currently stands about a thousand of our total of 1,400 ATI requests. We’ve nearly cleared that backlog, by the way.

We are pilloried for “losing money,” including our Parliamentary subsidy, which is actually directed to providing 23 different services in French, English and eight other aboriginal languages across six time zones, including many regions where private broadcasters cannot or will not operate. None of that money has been “lost.” It’s been invested in services and programs that Canadians rely on and value highly.

At the same time, Quebecor has received more than half a billion dollars in direct and indirect subsidies from Canadian taxpayers over the past three years, but is unaccountable to Canadians.

Quebecor uses its dominant position in Quebec in protected industries to make record profits, yet complains that Radio-Canada “competes” against TVA.

When other media note what Quebecor is doing, their journalists are singled out for personal attack on Sun TV, and the blogs and columns of their contributors.

So-called “think tanks” offer up inaccurate information, reiterating Quebecor talking points and citing—you guessed it—Sun news stories. And those reports in turn get prominent play on Quebecor news websites.

Anyone see a pattern here?

It’s sad, really. But transparent in its own way.

Here’s a couple more things that Quebecor doesn’t tell you:

Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Peladeau has written more than a dozen letters to the Prime Minister and others in government, complaining that Radio-Canada doesn’t spend enough advertising dollars in his newspapers.

They reject the very notion of accountability to the public. If you as a citizen don’t like what they’re doing and want to complain, good luck. They’ve withdrawn from the country’s press councils. At the time, last July, Quebec’s federation of professional journalists is reported as saying: “Quebecor does not have the slightest credible mechanism to independently receive and process public complaints.” This is unfortunate. (Source: Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec.)

Meanwhile, fully half of Quebeckers believe Quebecor is the media enterprise that most often uses its journalists to serve the economic and political interests of its owners. (Source: Baromètre des médias 2010, Chaire de recherche en éthique du journalisme de l'Université d'Ottawa, October 19, 2010.)

I could go on.

But I have happier things to discuss, so will leave you with one last thought on quality journalism: every misleading and disingenuous news item becomes an argument for the importance of a trustworthy, fair-minded and accountable public broadcaster. And that’s the one we strive every day to be.

Our promise to Canadians is that we will provide value for their investment in us. And that we will remain accountable for what we do.

I’ll be speaking before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in Ottawa on November 1st to expand on some of the points I’ve just mentioned. I look forward to it.

Now, before I close, just a few words about our anniversary. For 75 years, CBC/Radio-Canada has been at the centre of the country’s cultural and democratic life. Since 1936, we’ve worked hard to connect with Canadians and to connect Canadians with one another. I’ve talked about our current strategy. On November 2nd, we will use this milestone to celebrate public broadcasting in Canada and I hope you’ll join with us and engage in discussion about public broadcasting’s contribution to engaging your fellow citizens and what it may contribute in the future.

My hope is that the next time I have the pleasure of returning to Vancouver, you will tell me that you’ve seen and felt the impact of what we do, what we plan to do, in both your communities and your personal lives.ves.

Thanks very much and I hope you have some questions for me now.

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