CRTC chairman questions CBC official on transparency as broadcaster calls for “flexibility” in online content

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Oversight and transparency took center stage today on the first day of a nearly three-week review of the CBC’s broadcasting licenses, as the broadcaster asked Canada’s telecommunications regulator to renew the licenses for its various English and French language services.
CBC executive director Catherine Tait told the board of directors of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that the CBC needed more “flexibility” to adapt to the shift to the listen and listen online.

As part of the public broadcaster’s request, this digital dexterity would leave it free from detailed financial reporting obligations for online content, like the CBC Gem streaming platform and the CBC Listen app.

“If we don’t move with our audience, we risk becoming dinosaurs on a melting ice cap,” Tait said in the virtual audience Monday morning.

It is asking the CRTC to renew its licenses for five years with a lighter regulatory review of its digital content compared to its radio and television programming.

CRTC Chairman Ian Scott questioned the CBC’s willingness to avoid disclosing digital costs.

Push for greater transparency

“I know you don’t like expense-based requirements,” Scott said. “But from the commission’s point of view, with more regulatory flexibility, there is a greater demand for accountability and transparency on the part of society, and that has to come in some way through reporting. . ”

The CBC has already faced denial in its efforts to market its tariffs online. Last month, high-profile hosts and journalists joined around 500 current and former employees, including Peter Mansbridge and Alison Smith, to urge the public broadcaster to abandon its efforts to sell more branded content.

In an open letter to the general public, they warned that a new marketing effort called Tandem would undermine the integrity of CBC journalism, saying paid content that looks like news is “insidious” and “will help advertisers. to deceive Canadians ”.

CBC management insisted that editorial and advertising content would remain separate and stressed the critical need to generate revenue in response to strong financial pressures.

The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting recommends that the CBC go further by monitoring its radio service and making its television and online offerings ad-free.

“They’ve also been very, very questionable when it comes to transparency,” said Daniel Bernhard, group chief executive, of CBC leadership.

Calls to invest more in local news

“It’s just a crazy idea, that the Canadian public and our regulator have no business reviewing the public broadcaster’s digital activities.

Bernhard also called for more investment in local news as advertising dollars fall from mainstream media and end up in Google and Facebook coffers, digging into regional journalism.

After urging the CRTC, the CBC revealed in June that it planned to spend $ 332.7 million on digital services in 2020-21 – more than a fifth of programming spending – compared to $ 1.26 billion at television and radio.

CBC Vice President Marco Dube said on Monday that online income was only 5% of total income.

CBC received $ 1.21 billion in federal funding in 2019-2020 and took in $ 504 million in revenue – about half from advertising, mostly on television.

Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt ad sales despite audience growth. CBC online content – such as the Canadian-owned streaming platforms Netflix, Spotify and Crave – is exempt from the Broadcasting Act, which sets minimum thresholds for Canadian content.

The exemption gives digital services much more discretion in the allocation of their resources without having to disclose these decisions.

“On the one hand, they’re saying, ‘Let’s cut this kind of programming on TV and radio,’ but on the other hand, we’re not going to tell you how we’re going to compensate for that on our digital platforms. Said Jim Thompson, a spokesperson for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, in an interview.

Proposed Amendments to the Broadcasting Act

The proposed changes to the Broadcasting Act through Bill C-10, now before the House of Commons, aim to subject burgeoning online broadcast sites to the same rules as their traditional counterparts in Canada. .

The CBC is calling for the so-called digital media exemption order to remain until the bill is passed.

“Bill C-10 lays the foundations for an appropriate and coherent approach for the future. We think it makes sense to wait until the law changes, ”said Bev Kirshenblatt, chief regulatory officer at CBC / Radio-Canada.

Tait insisted the company will continue to fulfill its role as a public broadcaster with a wide range of online content – all Canadian productions shown on television are also available on Gem – and no need for disclosure.

“I had a former CEO who always said, ‘What gets measured gets done,’ Scott replied.

Seventy speakers are expected to begin their presentations at the CRTC on Friday and continue for eight days until January 26. The Canadian Association of Media Producers will be making the first presentation. Other presenters include the Canadian Olympic Committee, Quebecor Media Inc., Friends of Canadian Broadcasting and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

CBC’s response to the stakeholder presentations is scheduled for January 27.

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