TORONTO - Even the rich and powerful need friends when their interests are threatened. Rogers Media Inc. is no exception.
Rogers has run into a buzz-saw of opposition as a result of the CRTC decision to renew its “must carry license” for OMNI television (value: $20 million annually). Accustomed to getting its way with federal Regulatory agencies like the CRTC, which have nearly always conducted themselves as spear carriers for its boundless – some would say gluttonous – appetite, now it has to resort to begging some of its affiliates to “marshal support”.
Four applicants who responded to the CRTC’s call for proposals to provide news and current affairs from a Canadian perspective as well as other ethnic programming were startled that the CRTC then gave the license to Rogers/Omni. Startled is a mild, polite term to describe their expletive-filled reaction.
In 2015, Rogers had ignominiously dismissed such programming as an economically “losing proposition” and shut down OMNI multilingual news. The very type of programming that lay at the raison d’etre of its license.
It is an odd from a marketing perspective. Since that decision, at least one million more immigrants have been added to the list of potential viewers.
From a public policy point of view, it was/is in the national interest to inform and integrate newer Canadians into our collective reality.
That’s what the outgoing Chairman of the CRTC, Jean-Pierre Blais, said (I paraphrase) when he issued the request for proposals in 2017. For good measure, he added that the Government is ultimately responsible for any decision. At least four Petitioners are acting on that legal/constitutional opening.
Rogers doesn’t have many friends who are not on the payroll. Lenny Lombardi, president of CHIN International, provider of [some] programming to Omni, sent out a solicitation letter (via email) to his employees seeking support for the CRTC decision, imploring everyone to write their Member of Parliament to pressure the Cabinet.
“Together Rogers/OMNI and CHIN RADIO provide an unprecedented level of quality multicultural programming which we want to preserve”, he said … “Your support is important and appreciated.”
The “quality of multicultural programming” is in part what prompted Jean-Pierre Blais to remark that there is an urgent need for news and current affairs and for ethnic programming that would both inform and entertain.
In any case, no-one knows what CHIN’s audience is. There are no surveys or audited statements that point to CHIN’s listenership.
TLN Media, one of the Petitioners, invested in a Numeris survey to verify if Rogers/OMNI/ CHIN have a following. We attach the chart it conveniently provided as part of its petition. It suggests scant support as measured by viewership. In fairness, there are no metrics to measure viewership of TLN either.
Nonetheless, something must have prompted them “to rush to invest” $19 million in acquiring controlling shares held by Corus (formerly Shaw Cable Systems) in TLN. Without the OMNI “must carry license” their revenue source will suffer additional strains.
However, they too sent out a solicitation letter – to all of the people who wrote letters of support - before they filed in 2017, even without reading the file. Three MPs on that list are probably wishing they had not done so. No matter at this point. TLN, as two other Petitioners, ICTV-MTL and ECG (Toronto) responded to an RFP call with a proposal that mirrored the then existing Roger/ OMNI model.
Corriere Canadese (CORRCAN Media Group) offered an entirely different proposal: one based on daily, multilingual, news and current affairs programming from a Canadian perspective (as we explained in the May 10, 2019 edition).
This was the basis of the presentation and the crux of the petition. Moreover, it responded to the what the government, via the CRTC, said was an urgent need.
The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada and its six-hundred-and-fifty-member journalist organizations from the print, electronic and digital sector nationwide still support our application.