Good morning everyone.
Before I start, I want to thank Hans-Martin and Ulrich for this initiative. I have been in my job for close to eight years now. We have never had an initiative of this kind. Never. It was long overdue. So, congratulations for pulling this off. It’s important that you are here.
I apologize in advance if what I have to say this morning seems hard but frankly, we are way beyond subtleties.
Ladies and gentlemen, while each of us has been focused on our own services in our own countries and doing what these services require, we have been losing a global fight for the continued value of the institution of public broadcasting.
It’s a vicious circle. First, we struggle with cuts to our funding. Then as the cuts make us weaker and affect morale, critics, key stakeholders and even some of the citizens we serve, question our relevance in a digital world. If we don’t work together to turn this around, to show why public broadcasting is more valuable than ever, we risk becoming so weak that we will no longer be able to provide what our citizens need from each of us and, in turn, it will be harder to justify their investment in us.
Everyone in this room is committed to the raison d’être of public broadcasting: enriching the cultural lives of our citizens and promoting democracy. We connect with our citizens by offering high quality programs that inform, educate and entertain. Each of our charters, vision statements or legislation shares these same ideals. In some cases, even the same words. Tony Hall, during his speech on Monday, actually used these 3 verbs 19 times.
Everyone in this room is also guided by the same four fundamental principles: (i) universality; (ii) diversity; (iii) independence (which we fight like hell to preserve whether from governments, Parliaments or commercial interests); and (iv) distinctiveness.
And I think that I speak for all of us when I state that we don’t exist simply to address market failures. In Canada, our Broadcasting Act states that we must provide a wide range of programming. There is no “filling of the gaps left by commercial broadcasters” in those words. I will never agree to see CBC/Radio-Canada pigeon-holed in that way.
We exist to serve our citizens. To nurture and share the values, history and experiences that makes each of our countries rich and unique. We exist to tell stories. Great stories.
In the process, we raise the bar for broadcasters around the world, for journalism, for quality programs, for innovation, and even for the adoption of new broadcast technologies which help move our societies forward. We build social cohesion in countries made up of diverse, multilingual communities. We ensure a public space for everyone regardless of age, ethnicity or income.
Sometimes, I think the crucial role we play in each of our societies is taken for granted.
We have all this in common. Yet, we haven’t used the strength in our numbers and our common cause.
Everyone in this room is also facing the same threats to our future: a new digital environment with an uncertain business model; vocal critics who claim we have lost sight of our original mandate, that we are either too populist or too elitist, that we are fat or inefficient; or, that in this new universe of infinite choice and exploding media context, there is no longer a need for a public broadcaster. Even televised sports, even Olympic sports, the embodiment of national culture and cohesion, are becoming the exclusive domain of commercial giants. And, we all have to deal with the presence of Netflix, Apple now wanting to go after Netflix, HBO, Google, Yahoo and Amazon, and, in some countries like Canada, extremely sophisticated, giant BDUs.
Our resources have been shrinking and it has forced us to make tough decisions; to lose furniture in order to save the house. It has meant huge job losses and a reduced ability to do the very things that we have been mandated to do. It’s happening in Australia, in France, in the UK, in Brazil and in virtually every service represented in this room. And I can say with considerable sadness, it’s been happening in Canada.
And it’s not happening in a vacuum. I can tell you that the conversations around the renewal of the BBC Charter or the budget decisions facing the ABC are being closely watched by the stakeholders and decision-makers looking at CBC/Radio-Canada.
Let me immediately say that we are not blameless. In many ways, we have failed to make a compelling enough case for public broadcasting. Sometimes, protecting our independence has made us reluctant to provide the kind of transparency now expected of public institutions. Sometimes our very public internal crises and more importantly, our management of them, have damaged our brand, our credibility, and undermined our public support. Yes, sometimes we are our own worst enemies.
But mostly, we are at fault, for not speaking loudly enough about the threats we face. We focus on managing each individual threat, each trade-off, each reduction in funding, each drop in revenue because that’s what public institutions are expected to do at the expense of the bigger issues all around us. Like the proverbial frog put in cold water that is slowly heated, we’ve resisted telling people that we risk being boiled to death.
Each of us has been dealing with the warmer water in our own ways. I count myself fortunate in the personal relationships I’ve been able to forge with people like Mark Scott and Noel Curran. It has allowed me to find out quickly about how their organizations are responding. But we need a way to be able to share our ideas, our strategies, our failures and our lessons learned, more often and quicker.
“We’re all in this together”.
That’s what Armando Iannucci called his 2015 Mactaggart Lecture last month. It’s time we make those words our collective mantra.
We need to do more to earn public support and demonstrate our value.
In Canada we are accelerating our digital strategy to enhance our connection with audiences. In the next year, we’re going to try and spark a national conversation on the future of our entire media ecosystem and CBC/Radio-Canada’s place in it.
I am aware of the European Broadcast Union’s efforts to measure the impact of Public Service Media on society, and its four areas of interest. I also understand that some preliminary results might be shared in Geneva next week. I applaud this initiative. But I remain convinced that we need to accelerate the sharing of knowledge and our work, particularly on funding models for public broadcasting and on affirming our relevance in the years to come. Time is of the essence.
We all serve our citizens in the same ways, with the same ideals. So why aren’t we benchmarking our costs and our performance with each other? What are we afraid of? Trying to, or being forced to, assess and justify our business models with private broadcasters is foolish. We have different mandates and roles.
Many of us have also commissioned economic studies and value-added studies. We all have studied the impact of our content on culture, the positive impact of our presence and content on the output of commercial broadcasters. We spent a lot of time and dollars on studies. Imagine the power of citizen and stakeholder research and surveys that would use common technologies, common methodology and common public service media indicators, ones that we could all compare ourselves against.
We all have given passionate speeches about the importance of our cultural institutions. We also know where we can and should improve. Let us pool this knowledge quickly, in ways that permit fair comparisons, that will open the eyes of some of our funders and stakeholders.
I have spoken to Mark Scott who can’t be with us today but is on board. Let’s get going now. Let’s work at this with a purpose.
Over the next three days, let’s focus our discussions on how we can take advantage of what we have in common. Let’s each of us identify one person on our team who, by the end of this conference, will sit down with their counterparts and map out over the next weeks (counted in days, not months) how we will share our best ideas but with a purpose of building a global, public broadcasting community, a global brand.
If we are going to give public broadcasting new meaning and new value to our citizens in a new century, we can no longer fight alone.