Speech by Scott Hutton, Executive Director, Broadcasting, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
To the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages
December 9, 2013
Check against delivery
Good evening, Madam Chair and Honourable Senators.
Before beginning, I would like to introduce my colleagues from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. With me today are Renée Gauthier, Senior Manager of French-language Policy and Programming, and Guillaume Castonguay, Senior Policy Analyst, Broadcasting.
The CRTC appeared before this committee last year and we are pleased to appear again to speak about CBC/Radio-Canada’s obligations under the Official Languages Act and some aspects of the Broadcasting Act.
CBC/Radio-Canada licence-renewal decision
Last May, we renewed CBC/Radio-Canada’s licences for its French- and English-language television and radio services for a period of five years.
At the time, our Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais announced that the decision would enable Canadians to “continue to receive the quality services they expect from their national public broadcaster.” He added that, “in the ever-changing media landscape, CBC/Radio-Canada will continue to play a key role for the vitality of Canada’s French- and English-language culture, throughout the country.”
I’d like to begin by sharing with you some of the details of our decision and explaining how the conditions we imposed will help strengthen CBC/Radio-Canada’s role as a pan-Canadian service that reflects and serves the needs of Canadians in both official languages, contributes to Canada’s cultural life, and plays a valuable role in the lives of children.
To ensure CBC/Radio-Canada achieves these goals, we established floors for the types of programming that are essential for the broadcaster’s mission: dramas, comedies and documentaries among them. Specifically, we set a target of seven and nine hours per week for Societé Radio-Canada and CBC respectively for these national-interest programs. We also established a floor for children’s programming of 15 hours per week.
As you know, the Broadcasting Act sets out certain objectives for the Canadian broadcasting system and, in particular, what is expected of CBC/Radio-Canada. The Act explicitly states that CBC/Radio-Canada “should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains.”
Additionally, it sets out three criteria that CBC/Radio-Canada must meet with regard to official languages. The national public broadcaster must:
- offer services in English and French that reflect the particular needs and circumstances of official language communities and linguistic minorities,
- deliver equivalent quality services in both languages, and
- reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences while serving the special needs of those regions.
During our public consultation, we received more than 8,000 comments from Canadians, including many that were submitted through our online consultation. Many Canadians took the opportunity to tell us about the significance of the role played by the national public broadcaster in fostering and preserving our national identity.
We also held a two-week public hearing in Gatineau. Indeed, some of the members of this committee—the Honourable Senators Maria Chaput, Andrée Champagne and former Senator Pierre de Bané—appeared before the panel of Commissioners to present their thoughts and ideas on the importance of CBC/Radio-Canada for OLMCs.
Many witnesses at the hearing gave evidence that spoke to the role of CBC/Radio-Canada in supporting Canada’s OLMCs. In particular, thirteen groups and organizations from OLMCs appeared to talk about the importance of CBC/Radio-Canada in promoting the vitality of Canada’s French- and English-language cultures throughout the country.
Such considerations informed our decision to impose conditions of licence—hard performance targets as opposed to broad expectations—that the broadcaster must meet. These conditions will ensure that CBC/Radio-Canada continues to fulfill its legislative obligations, serve the particular needs of OLMCs, and present a balanced and diverse broadcasting schedule.
Allow me to share details of a few of them.
For conventional television stations, we required CBC/Radio-Canada to: broadcast programs that originate from and reflect the needs of OLMCs; ensure that national news and information programming reflect OLMCs; and broadcast minimum levels of weekly OLMC programming—including local news—from each station.
For specialty television stations, we maintained the mandatory distribution on the digital basic package for both of CBC/Radio-Canada’s news services in OLMCs. We also instructed CBC/Radio-Canada to create programming on RDI that reflects the concerns of Canada’s principal French-language regions, and allocate a portion of the budget of ARTV to acquiring programming created by independent producers outside Quebec.
For radio services, we directed CBC/Radio-Canada to ensure that its networks reflect OLMCs in their national news and information programming. We also imposed strict conditions of licence requiring CBC/Radio-Canada to broadcast 15 hours per week of French local programming on CBEF Windsor, the local Première Chaîne station in that market.
You may recall that in 2009, CBC/Radio-Canada significantly reduced its local programming on CBEF. Reaction to the decision was swift. Listeners from the French OLMC in that region complained and even established a coalition to save CBEF’s French programming. In 2010, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages took the matter to the Federal Court, alleging that the CBC/Radio-Canada had ignored its obligations under the Official Languages Act by failing to hold consultations with the Southwestern Ontario OLMC and by failing to properly study the impacts of its decision.
During the licence-renewal hearing, members of the coalition to save CBEF told us about the importance of local French-language programming to their communities. Given their proximity to the United States, they said, they found it difficult to maintain their Canadian identities, let alone their minority francophone identities. They also told us that Windsor has one of the highest assimilation rates of francophones among French OLMCs in Canada.
It was with those concerns in mind that we imposed such a strict condition of licence on CBEF Windsor.
I’ve listed a few of the very specific conditions of licence that we imposed on CBC/Radio-Canada in our renewal decision. There are other, more administrative conditions that also bear mention. For example, we have mandated CBC/Radio-Canada to:
- hold formal consultations with OLMCs in each region of the country at least every two years
- report to the CRTC on the measures it takes to meet the needs of these communities
- provide the CRTC with the data on how well OLMCs believe CBC/Radio-Canada serves their interests and needs, and
- report annually to the CRTC on all programs that are produced in OLMCs or for their special interests.
Madam Chair, Honourable Senators, the conditions of licence that the CRTC imposed on CBC/Radio-Canada are positive measures taken to ensure the national public broadcaster continues to deliver on its Broadcasting Act and Official Languages Act objectives and continues to enhance the lives—and protect the distinct cultural identities—of Canadians in OLMCs across the country.
As required by the Broadcasting Act, we consulted CBC/Radio-Canada about these conditions of licence before publishing them. Such a consultation enables CBC/Radio-Canada to discuss any conditions that it perceives to be onerous.
Significantly, the conditions we imposed received the support of OLMC groups such as the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne (FCFA) du Canada. In a news release subsequent to our decision, FCFA commended the CRTC for imposing conditions of licence that will ensure CBC/Radio-Canada better consults with, and acts on the advice of, Canada’s OLMCs.
I should also add that several OLMC groups are participating in our ongoing conversation on the future of the television system. In October, we launched Let’s Talk TV: A Conversation with Canadians to give Canadians an opportunity to tell us about how they watch TV, what they watch on TV and whether they have enough information to make choices about programming and to find solutions if they’re not satisfied. We also invited Canadians to host their own events, which we called Flash! conferences. A handful of OLMCs have already held, or plan to hold, these dynamic events.
I’m pleased to say that OLMCs are eager participants in CRTC proceedings such as this. That’s due in no small part to the work of the CRTC-OLMC discussion group that we struck in 2007. The group is a forum for communication and cooperation between the CRTC and 27 OLMCs from across the country. It’s also an important avenue through which the CRTC can identify ways to maximize these communities’ participation in our public processes and take their realities into account when performing our own analyses and discussions.
Early in the new year, we will publish a report on what we’ve heard through the first phase of our conversation. I am sure the members of this Committee will be interested to learn what Canadians think about their television system and how it needs to evolve to meet their current and future needs.
In the past year, the CRTC has taken other decisions that recognize the broadcasting system’s role in promoting linguistic duality.
In August, for example, we granted mandatory carriage to Nouveau TV5, a French-language specialty channel that will broadcast two separate feeds. One of those feeds—TV5 UNIS—will focus on the Canadian francophonie, and particularly those in official language minority communities, or OLMCs. In our decision, we found that UNIS would contribute significantly to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act.
Our decision also made ARTV—the national French-language arts specialty television service maintained by CBC/Radio-Canada—available in anglophone markets. All distributors must offer ARTV, yet Canadians may choose whether to subscribe to the service.
In conclusion, the CRTC believes passionately in the importance of linguistic duality and the need to protect minority language rights. We are also proud of the contributions we make in supporting the goals of the Broadcasting Act and the Official Languages Act,and protecting interests of Canada’s OLMCs.
It has been my pleasure to tell you about some of our recent decisions and, in particular, to present you with an overview of the conditions of licence that the CRTC has imposed on the CBC/Radio-Canada. It is our goal to ensure the national public broadcaster continues to provide Canadians with high-quality programming in the official language of their choice, no matter where in the country they live, and to ensure that the national public broadcaster continues to live up to its obligations in the Broadcasting Act and the Official Languages Act.
My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer your questions.
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