Controlling and regulating the airwaves “to nation-build”

di Joe Volpe del 8 August 2019

TORONTO - Last year (2017- 2018), Canadian taxpayers – Anglophones, Francophones and Allophones – via Federal Government budget allocations, contributed $1.208 Billion to CBC/ Radio-Canada (CBC). That represented only 68% of its revenues.

Our position at the Corriere Canadese, as a corporate citizen, is that this is money directed for the purposes of informing our fellow citizens of things Canadian – the heritage, the present and the future of the democratic/cultural engagements required in building this nation.

Money well spent, in our view. We also accept that the CRTC allowed a further $127.2 Million to be charged to subscribers of cable or satellite in support of these public-policy, civic, goals. We do not even begrudge it the additional $318.3 Million raised from advertising sources.

The government must “nation- build” and it should use the tools at its disposal to engage as large an audience as possible. Those tools are inherent in its law-making authorities, the trust it places in communications media like the CBC and the powers it delegates to Agency/Regulators like the CRTC.

However, there is an “uncomfortable truth”, an emerging reality, that is no longer easily set aside: fully 22% of Canada’s population functions in a language other than English or French – especially outside of the workplace. They are Allophones.

They are not the focus of “engage to inform and integrate” nation- building resources. Aside from some on-air “head and shoulder personalities” reading the news, there is little that the CBC provides to attract, inform and integrate newer Canadians – 7.2 million as of Census 2016, and an additional one million due to immigration since then.

Pierre Trudeau knew that in 1971, when he declared in the House of Commons that Canada is a multicultural country. He knew it 1982 when he inserted linguistic and minority rights in the Patriated Constitution through sections 16 through 23 and then 27.

Brian Mulroney knew it when he passed the Multiculturalism Act in 1988. The CRTC knew it when it accorded a license to provide multilingual and multiethnic programming to CFMT-TV in 1978 and when it allowed Rogers to take it over in 1982.

The CRTC acknowledged that Rogers may not have lived up to expectations that it help in the inform and integrate agenda of government. In its Call for proposals in 2017, the CRTC identified an urgent need for a station that would provide national news and current affairs programming, from a Canadian perspective, as well as ethnic programming.

Yet, in 2019, it restored to Rogers the very regional OMNI license whose performance on behalf of the multilingual, multiethnic communities had been so roundly criticized as unreflective of Allophone communities that Rogers abruptly shut down any programme that was not simply plug in and play.

As one of the Petitioners to Cabinet, we wonder why anyone thinks Rogers knows best what is right for Canadians of non- French, non-Anglo origin.

When it made its presentation to the CRTC hearing Rogers had neither elaborated any Multilingual Advisory Board as part of its organizational chart, nor how it would have any input in programming. The Chair of the CRTC gave them additional time to adjust their “Plan”.

The final decision points to a partnership, in Quebec, with Fairchild Television (FT) – accompany in which Television Broadcast Limited (TVB), based in China has a 20% ownership and, according to insiders speaking off the record, to acquire an additional 20%. The investment would supposedly require the approval of Beijing.

When he opened the hearings in November of 2018, the Chair advised that the Commission might not necessarily award a national license (as everyone had been led to believe and expect, given the Call). If his intention had been to restore the 2015 status quo for Rogers, he could have saved people a lot of time and money and cancelled the Call when he took office in September of 2017. He did not. But he did meet privately with Rogers’ president and delegates after the Call and before the decision.

Now he has handed Justin Trudeau’s government a holy mess to unravel.
More to come

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