Speaking Notes for Hubert T. Lacroix before the Senate Transport and Communications Committee – The future of Radio Canada International

May 1, 2013, Ottawa


Mr. Chairman, Senators, thank you for your invitation to be here today. I understand that you would like to talk about CBC/Radio-Canada’s decision to reduce the funding of Radio Canada International. With me today is Hélène Parent, Director of RCI. We appreciate your interest in our service.

While your focus today is budget cuts to RCI, you could equally be asking about our decision to seek advertising on Radio 2 and Espace Musique; our decision to accelerate the shutdown of our analogue television transmitters, to sell our specialty service bold, or to scale back our 2015 strategic initiatives on Canadian programming, our regional presence, and new technologies. These were all decisions we had to make in order to manage a $115 million dollar cut to our parliamentary appropriation. That cut, over three years, is CBC/Radio-Canada’s contribution to the government’s 2012 deficit reduction action plan.

How did this come about? Like other organizations, we were asked to provide the government with a detailed list of how we would implement a cut of 5% or 10% to our budget. We spent eight months reviewing every aspect of our operations – (as we had just three years earlier when we suffered a $171 million hit because of the economic crisis). We made it clear to the government that reductions of this size could not be done simply through efficiencies. In the end we provided the government with a detailed list of the programs and services that would be affected under its two scenarios. The government announced its decisions in the budget of 2012.

The effect on CBC/Radio-Canada has been significant. Combined with unavoidable investments and cost increases we’ve had to reduce our budget by $200 million. We’ve had to cut 650 full time positions – which imposed an additional $25 million in severance costs. On top of that, last fall, the CRTC announced it was phasing out the local program improvement fund - worth $47 million to CBC/Radio-Canada - which helped us create thousands of hours of local programming that didn’t exist before. Across our networks some programs have fewer new episodes and more repeats; we have reduced the number of live music recordings that we do on radio, we have cancelled popular shows like Connect and Dispatches, we cancelled plans to launch a CBC children’s digital channel, we scaled back the production of French drama television and Radio-Canada’s sports broadcasts and we cancelled Première Chaîne’s nighttime radio programming.

Despite these challenges, I’m very proud of the way CBC/Radio-Canada has managed its budget reductions. We have contributed our share to the government’s overall budget objectives; and we have done it in a way that maintains our commitments under the Broadcasting Act, and protects, as best we can, our strategic priorities – Canadian programming, regional services, and reaching Canadians through new media. We have had to end our use of shortwave, but, we have transformed Radio Canada International into a more dynamic, multimedia service that now offers programming at any time of the day or night.

Our decision to end shortwave broadcasts of RCI and move the service to the internet was not easy or taken lightly. Like all of our budget decisions we looked carefully at the service, its cost, and how we could best protect the value it provides.

The reality is that the use of shortwave around the world has been declining since the end of the cold war. That, combined with the growth of cellular phones, internet, traditional radio and television, has led broadcasters around the world to cut back on their shortwave services – if they maintain them at all.

BBC World closed five language services and has eliminated shortwave broadcasts to Canada, Australia and the United States. Voice of America has curtailed its short and medium wave broadcasts to Albania, Georgia, Iran and Latin America, along with English language broadcasts to the Middle East and Afghanistan. In Switzerland, Swissinfo shut down its shortwave in 2004 and now broadcasts exclusively on the web. Five days after RCI ended its short-wave based broadcasts, Radio Netherlands did the same.

The trend is clear. While it is difficult to measure worldwide audiences to shortwave, a 2009 study by former BBC shortwave expert Graham Mytton identified a significant drop in shortwave listeners to Radio Canada International beginning in the 1980’s and 1990’s. He attributed the decline to the limited types of content offered and the very limited number of broadcast hours. In fact, that is one of the key advantages of moving RCI to the internet.

In your folders you’ll find a chart comparing RCI’s previous shortwave service with what is available online. Because RCI did not provide round-the-clock programming on shortwave, listeners had to tune in at the right time during the day or night in order to catch the one hour of programming each day in English and French; the half hour a day in Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish and Russian, and the half hour each week in Portuguese. We would repeat these programs depending on the market.

On the internet our programs are available anywhere, at any time. They can also be downloaded and listened to later. We believe that transforming RCI into an interactive web-based service actually increases its value at a lower cost. We have asked the clerk for an internet connection and these monitors today so that we can show you some of the things that RCI can do today.

We know that there are markets where shortwave broadcasting is still relevant. We are trying to reach those audiences in more cost effective ways. For CBC/Radio-Canada, with our fiscal realities, maintaining a shortwave infrastructure was simply not a viable option.

In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for example, radio is still the primary source for news and information. There, Voice of America, the BBC and Radio France International (RFI) provide news and information on shortwave and FM bands. RCI has FM radio partners in Africa who download its programs for rebroadcast in their local line-ups. While the internet access rate in Africa stands at about 3%, mobile technologies have a 41% penetration rate and radio stations on the FM band have large audiences. By combining our internet programs with local FM partner broadcasts and mobile technologies, RCI is reaching African audiences in a more efficient way. RCI has similar agreements with radio stations around the world.

In countries where governments attempt to block access to foreign websites or shortwave transmissions, our local partners can download free audio content from a dedicated server. RCI also offers a daily cyber magazine available by email. Samples of the cyber magazines are in your folders.

RCI’s mission has not changed. It will continue to reflect and showcase Canadian society for listeners around the world, in English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic. But is now a dynamic interactive service that can actively engage its audiences through social media. It now offers web magazines, original co-productions, a multimedia space which showcases the work of Canadian artists and filmmakers, and current affairs blogs which supplement national and international news. It is frankly a better service.

I thank you for your time; we would be pleased to take your questions.

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