I was delighted to read in Matt Gurney’s opinion piece posted online by the National Post(Tuesday, September 27, 2011) about Quebecor’s attacks on CBC that he genuinely seems to have the public broadcaster’s best interests at heart. It’s too bad that his arguments about how CBC should respond were based on the same misinformation Quebecor has been disseminating in those attacks.
Here are the facts.
Despite what Quebecor may claim, we do not dispute our obligations under the Access to Information Act. We take our responsibilities very seriously and have released more than 80,000 pages of information.
The legal case with the information commissioner is about Article 68.1 of the Act, which dictates that information relating to "journalistic, creative or programming activities" is excluded from the legislation. Our view is that only a judge can consult documents related to journalistic, creative or programming activities to determine whether the Actapplies to them or not. The case is not about what falls under the exclusion or about expenses being rejected or not. It’s about who gets to see what.
In Mr. Gurney’s article, he says that “…there is suspicion among some vocal CBC critics that the broadcaster is using those exemptions (sic)…to conceal potentially embarrassing details of spending on executive travel and hospitality charges.”
Their allegations are simply false. If you go to our web site, you can find information of all kinds, including our senior executives’ travel and duty hospitality expenses. We also post all the rules and policies that guide our expenses, which are similar to those applied within the federal government.
Mr. Gurney also comments on the $ 1.1 billion subsidy that CBC/Radio-Canada receives from the government. We do receive that, but the private conventional broadcasters (of which Quebecor’s TVA is part) get money, too. Together, they receive hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public benefits every year through tax credits, grants and protection from foreign competition. Quebecor is itself owned 45% by Quebecers through the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. I’m not saying Quebecor should be subject to the Access to Information Act. I am just saying they should be conscious of throwing stones in glass houses.
And CBC’s subsidy helps to pay for things that the private broadcasters do not and cannot deliver – non-commercial radio, services to northern communities in eight aboriginal languages, and locally produced programming in the regions. That’s as well as 30 services – online, over the air, on cable, on mobile devices – in French and English. Radio-Canada has 11 stations across the country to serve francophones outside Quebec. How many does TVA, Quebecor broadcast subsidiary, have? Zero.
Mr. Gurney suggests CBC/Radio-Canada should “rethink its position” in order to mitigate attacks from the media. Quebecor, for whatever reason, has over the past year waged an almost daily campaign against CBC in all its properties. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to stop regardless of how we respond. In the meantime, we’ll keep our focus on delivering Canadians television, radio and online services that no other broadcaster in the country does or will do.