Letter to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage: Limiting access to the digital public space is not in the public interest

November 21, 2016

Hon. Hedy Fry, Chair
Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Canada

Dear Chair,

Over the past several months, private media owners have been using their own newspapers and digital platforms, and your Parliamentary Committee, to argue for a weaker public broadcaster.

This is unfortunate.

At a time when all media in Canada are struggling to adapt to tremendous change; at a time when global digital companies are crowding the Canadian market, we all need to be focused on how to ensure Canadians get accurate information about their community and their world.

The challenges facing media in Canada are many but they are not being caused by the public broadcaster. Large newspaper companies responded to their challenges by merging and reducing the content offered by their smaller papers. This has made CBC/Radio-Canada's presence more important than ever. As your Committee completes its study on the Media and Local Communities, we feel it is important that we share with you some facts.

In addition to its parliamentary appropriation, CBC/Radio-Canada is expected to generate revenue in order to improve the programs and services that we offer Canadians. Last year we earned $600 million in self-generated revenue of which $253.2M was advertising revenue[1]. Just ten percent of that advertising revenue, $25 million dollars, came from all digital advertising across CBC/Radio-Canada. To put that in context, total digital advertising in Canada generates over $4.6 billion a year, three quarters of which goes to Google, Facebook and Yellow Pages[2]. It is difficult to believe, as some media have suggested, that if only CBC/Radio-Canada was prevented from earning $25M, their problems would be solved.

Others have pointed to the BBC which does not carry online advertising. The BBC carries no advertising on any of its domestic platforms. It doesn’t need to. Its license fee is six times what CBC/Radio-Canada receives. We are proud of what we have been able to do given that CBC/Radio-Canada ranks 16th for per capital public funding of out 18 public broadcasters worldwide[3].

Some have even tried to claim that CBC/Radio-Canada is “violating” the Broadcasting Act because the Act, written before the Internet, doesn’t specifically mention digital platforms. Our mandate is to serve Canadians. What should be clear by now is that the digital world is where Canadians are, and where they expect their broadcaster to be.

As we have said before; limiting what public broadcasting does will only mean fewer services for Canadians. It won’t help private companies become more profitable. It won’t increase news coverage or the diversity of views, especially in smaller communities.

We look forward to your Committee’s thoughts about how to ensure Canadians will get the information they need in the digital world. We strongly believe that limiting access to the digital public space is not in the public interest.

Sincerely,

Hubert T. Lacroix
President and CEO
CBC/Radio-Canada

c.c.: Jean-François Lafleur, Clerk of the Committee


[1] CBC/Radio-Canada Annual Report 2015-2016

[2] Internet Advertising Bureau (September 2016)

[3] Analysis of Government Support for Public Broadcasting and Other Culture in Canada, Nordicity 2013 p.2

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