by Konrad von Finckenstein
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
October 18, 2011
(Check against delivery)
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'd like to introduce my colleagues from the CRTC. Christianne Laizner is General Counsel, Telecommunications, and Graham Sheppard is the Senior Annual Returns Auditor.
I understand you have asked me to appear so that I can discuss the CRTC's administration of access to information requests. I will provide an overview of our approach and then refer to the Local Programming Improvement Fund, a program you seem particularly interested in, as an example of how we apply the legislation.
There are four central principles that have governed the CRTC during my mandate:
You will note that I put transparency first. The CRTC is a public organization, and members of the public should have the clearest possible picture of how we operate and how they can interact with us. As a government institution, we have been subject to the Access to Information Act since it came into effect.
We take access to information requests seriously, and we ensure that they are processed in a timely manner. Administering the Act involves certain costs, but we view these as necessary to ensure that the Commission is as transparent as possible.
As I understand, you are interested in how we handle information furnished by third parties, particularly information relating to broadcasters.
Our golden rule is simply this: When in doubt, disclose.
In order to do our work as a regulator, we often require parties to submit financial, commercial, technical or other information as evidence for our proceedings. The submitting party may declare such information or parts thereof confidential, as in its view public disclosure would harm its competitive interests. Unless the party itself discloses this information, we keep it confidential.
If we receive an access to information request for such material, after consultation with the submitting party, we will release the non-confidential part, but we will not provide that part of the information for which confidentiality has been established.
If the requester takes the matter to the Federal Court, we will provide the requested documents to the Court under seal, but will take no position. After listening to the requestor’s arguments and the counter arguments from the party claiming confidentiality, the Court will determine what information, if any, can be released. We then implement the Court’s decision.
This is the way we operate, and we have never seen a reason to operate in any other way. Compliance with access to information requirements is not an issue with us, nor has it ever been.
Local Programming Improvement Fund
The Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) provides a good example of our insistence on transparency as a fundamental principle. A little background may be useful.
The LPIF is our response to a serious problem affecting consumers outside the big cities. Conventional TV stations in small markets have been in precarious financial shape — especially since the worldwide financial crisis struck in 2008. These stations have found it increasingly difficult to bear the costs of creating their own local programming.
Canadians value their local programming. It reflects their communities and their interests and concerns. Local news is especially important to them. But this content is unfortunately not self-financing in small markets. Therefore, in order to maintain and improve the quality of local programming, we created the LPIF in 2008, and it began operating in September 2009.
The money comes from a percentage of the gross broadcasting revenues of the cable and satellite distributors, which has been set at 1.5%.
Small-market stations across the country, broadcasting in English and in French, are eligible for LPIF support.
How do we ensure transparency and accountability in the use of LPIF support? We've established specific reporting requirements.
First, stations must provide an annual LPIF Operating Report to the Commission. This report is designed to show how LPIF monies have been used to improve the local programming provided to their markets. The improvement must be both quantitative and qualitative. Here are some of the indicators that must be documented to show that the funds have been put to good use:
Second, stations must also submit an annual Statement of Direct Local Programming Expenses. The total disbursed in the broadcast year 2009–2010 was just over 100 million dollars.
Third, we have created an Oversight Panel, made up of three Commissioners, which will investigate any allegation of non-compliance with LPIF terms and conditions.
Given that the annual LPIF Operating Report and the Statement of Direct Local Programming Expenses are filed in confidence, we cannot publish them on our website. However, we publish the following information to provide maximum transparency to the public:
This information is included in Appendix A of my opening statement.
You may be interested to learn that we received an access to information request regarding how much individual small-market stations received in LPIF monies. We consulted the broadcasters. The CBC and Rogers had no objections. We therefore released the data, which I have attached in Appendix B.
If the requestor goes to the Federal Court to obtain similar information from other stations, we will adopt the procedure I explained earlier: we take no position, deliver the documents under seal to the Court, let the opposing party try to convince the Court of its position and then abide by the Court’s ruling.
We would now be pleased to answer any questions that the members of the Committee may have.
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