Connect, reflect, and engage: how public media serves its public

September 13, 2017, Sinaia, Romania

Speaking notes for Hubert T. Lacroix at Public Broadcasters International (PBI) 2017 (session 6)

Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, was invited to participate in two panels at the Public Broadcasters International (PBI) 2017 conference. For the second panel: “Public service media defending cultural values and diversity,” Hubert spoke about how CBC/Radio-Canada connects, reflects, and engages with Canadians, both in our content and workforce.


Thank you for this invitation to speak with you about what I believe is one of the raison d’êtres of public service media.

We reflect the cultural values of our citizens every day: in the stories we tell them; in the artists and creators whose works we share with them. If we’re doing our job, every citizen will see something of themselves and their country in us. That’s how we contribute to stronger, healthier societies. It’s not easy. Sometimes we are all very good at this. Sometimes we could do better.

Let me tell you a little bit about how we do that in Canada and at Canada’s public broadcaster.

As you probably know, Canada is a very diverse country, and a very big country. The second largest in the world. We have about 36 million people and two official languages.

And since our beginnings, we have operated two language services; CBC in English, and Radio-Canada in French. While those services are of equivalent quality, they serve two very different audiences and their programming choices reflect that.

But just serving different audiences is not enough. Our mandate in law calls on us to “contribute to shared national consciousness and identity.” It’s our legislative requirement in the Broadcasting Act. Most of you have something similar in your mandates. Here’s how we do that.

We look for ways to bridge these two cultures; to highlight what we share in common. We produce content together, from joint documentaries and series, to what we call “Signature events,” nation-gathering landmark moments like the Olympics, or events around this year’s celebrations of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. At a time when it’s easy to find what divides people, these shared experiences are important.

Canada has a third founding people; Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. And our shared history has not been without controversy and shame. Here are some facts:

  • Indigenous Canadians make up 4% of the population of Canada but 25% of the people in prison. That’s a problem.
  • Indigenous Canadians earn, on average, 30% less than non-Indigenous Canadians yet, in Northern Communities, their basic food costs are more than twice what people pay in Toronto, Canada’s largest city.
  • And in a country with the largest reserves of freshwater in the world, more than 90 First Nations communities don’t have access to clean drinking water.

For decades, CBC/Radio-Canada has broadcast in 8 Indigenous languages across Canada’s North. It’s a vital service to people in these often isolated communities, but it’s not enough.

Our “shared national consciousness” means we have a responsibility to help Canadians find out about the realities – good and bad – of Indigenous life in Canada; that all Canadians have the opportunity to see the richness and beauty of Indigenous culture, artists and creators. We are also making sure that Indigenous Canadians are part of our workforce both in front of, and behind, the camera – not just to report on Indigenous issues – but to bring their perspectives and experiences to all of the stories and programs we do every day.

  • We launched internships programs to find and train Indigenous journalists at CBC and Radio-Canada. When those internships are over, many of these young journalists go back to their communities where they continue to report for us.
  • We launched an in-depth digital investigation into the fate of over 300 murdered or missing Indigenous women in Canada. Using all of our platforms as well as townhalls and virtual reality, we initiated a national conversation on a terrible reality few Canadians knew about.
  • We are also working with elders to digitize thousands of hours of Indigenous language programs from our archives. In an oral culture, this is an incredibly rare record of Indigenous life in Canada. We want to make sure it is preserved so that future generations can share it.

This is what public broadcasters should be doing.

As you probably know, Canada is also a nation of immigrants.

  • A quarter of a million immigrants make their new home in Canada each year.
  • Today, in Toronto, over half of the population was born outside of Canada. In Vancouver, 30% of the population is of Asian descent.

Canada believes this diversity is a source of strength, but as you know immigration can be a divisive issue. Here again, the job of public service media is to try and ensure that all of our communities see and hear themselves on our platforms; that they can participate fully in the democratic life of the county, and that everyone – immigrant and non-immigrant – can see just how much we share in common.

  • We invite community members to our editorial boards to get their thoughts on the stories we cover, and the stories we may be missing.
  • We celebrate diverse Canadian writers in our annual Canada Reads competition. In 16 seasons of the popular program, we have profiled 80 writers and their books.
  • We raise the profile of young musicians in Piano Hero – our nation-wide search for Canada’s best amateur classical music pianist. Over two years, more than 530 young musicians took part and 160,000 people voted online for their favourites.
  • We encourage new voices in Canadian film through initiatives like CBC’s Breaking Barriers Fund. We’ve dedicated 7 and a half million dollars over 3 years to support projects written or directed by underrepresented voices; women, Indigenous Peoples, visible minorities, and persons with disabilities.

We also make sure that we, as public service media, actually reflect our country. Our vision for diversity and inclusion is clear: we want a range of faces, voices, experience and perspectives in both our content and our workforce.

And the distinction is important.

Diversity is all about the mix. It’s what differentiates each of us – a mix of different things like ethnicity, gender, how we think, our values, our backgrounds, and perspectives. It’s about our people.

Inclusion is ensuring that all of us are working well together, celebrating and benefiting from our differences. It is a mindful effort to ensure that everyone feels valued, respected, and supported in how they contribute to our work. It’s about our culture.

Two years ago we set an ambitious target – that by 2020, just over 23% of new employees hired will be from diverse backgrounds. That number reflects the current proportion of diverse talent in our industry. I am proud to say that last year we hired 150 new diversity employees, putting us at 23%. In some areas like radio, it’s 50%.

We also need more people from minority groups in leadership positions. My senior executive team has 8 people. Six of them are women. Half of my team are from the LGBTQ community. Our Diverse Emerging Leaders Program identifies visible minorities, Indigenous Peoples and persons with disabilities who will be part of our next generation of leaders at the public broadcaster.

This is not just about numbers and quotas. People with diverse viewpoints and backgrounds must be more than just part of our programs, or “representing their communities.” We need them as commentators and experts on the subjects we all care about. We need their perspectives in story meetings as well as in strategic planning sessions.

Today, we are much closer to our communities. We offer a much broader range of ideas and perspectives. We are a better public broadcaster.

Connect, reflect, and engage. I believe this is how public service media will support strong cultural values – democratic values. And in the process, build stronger, healthier societies.

Thank you.

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