A speech given by CBC topper Hubert Lacroix in Vancouver has a troika of private broadcasters steaming mad.
Here's what the pubcaster CEO said at UBC on Tuesday.
Unfortunately, at a time when Canadian culture is facing global challenges, some believe the solution is to make public broadcasting smaller. That if CBC was somehow prevented from having local websites or a digital-first strategy, that newspapers would be more profitable. Some private broadcasters have suggested that the solution to their declining revenue is to limit what CBC does for Canadians to some sort of "status quo" or to make us "gap fillers". This view is as short-sighted as it is mistaken.
There is no such thing as "status quo" anymore. If there's anything we've learned, it's just how fast things are changing. All of us must change.
Let me be clear about this point. Undermining public broadcasting will not help private companies make more money. It won’t help Canadians find out more about what is happening in their communities. It won’t create more great Canadian programs.
CBC/Radio-Canada is not the problem.
But we are part of the solution.
Global media conglomerates have little interest in a public space for Canadians. That is not their mission, that's not their business model, and that's okay.
The heads of three private Québec broadcasters have taken exception to comments made by Lacroix, claiming he “mischaracterized” their position on the role of the public broadcaster.
A joint statement issued the following day by Groupe Serdy’s Sébastien Arsenault, Groupe V Média’s Maxime Rémillard and Julie Tremblay from TVA Group said that they are, in fact, simply advocating for “a thorough review of CBC/Radio-Canada's mandate” as part of the Canadian culture review announced last month by Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly.
Continuing, the Quebec media critics stated: In fact, we are not advocating the status quo but, on the contrary, a thorough review of CBC/Radio-Canada's mandate, as part of the comprehensive review of Canada's broadcasting system announced by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, in the course of which we plan to propose concrete, constructive solutions to the issues facing our industry.
As we have already pointed out, if there is no accountability for the additional $675 million that CBC/Radio-Canada is slated to receive, the already precarious balance between the public broadcaster and the rest of the industry will be destroyed. As no accountability measures have been announced thus far, we cannot help but fear that this funding will be a blank cheque for CBC/Radio-Canada to step up its already ferocious competition against private broadcasters.
With all due respect to Mr. Lacroix, the public broadcaster's maneuvers since the last budget seem to bear this out.
We have been astounded by the number and substance of Radio-Canada's program announcements, of which there have been more than 30 in recent weeks.
There seem to be no constraints on the public broadcaster's quest for ratings: it is announcing big-budget variety shows, purchases of American series, and shows featuring A-list stars who command huge salaries.
There is no better example of this excess than the fact that ARTV, which is supposed to be Radio-Canada's cultural channel, has announced the cancellation of the literature show Lire just as it begins broadcasting the American series Empire and UnREAL, which it acquired by outbidding private Québec broadcasters.
A promotional document about ARTV's new schedule, which shows only American programs demonstrates the extent to which the channel has departed from its cultural mandate and adopted a steadfastly commercial approach.
Similarly, in its promotional materials, Explora highlights a fishing show (see appendix 3), a successful niche for the Évasion channel. Instead of trying to complement the private broadcasters, Radio-Canada is duplicating or even mimicking them.
While we are glad that the government has recognized the need to review Canada's broadcasting model as a whole, including the role of CBC/Radio-Canada, it may soon be too late for the medias we represent. We are therefore calling not for the maintenance of the status quo but rather a moratorium on the current flurry of announcements to give the government time to keep the promise it made in the budget, to the effect that funding for CBC/Radio-Canada would be accompanied by "a new vision, mandate and accountability plan."
In conclusion, we have always recognized that CBC/Radio-Canada has an important role to play in Canada's broadcasting system but we believe it is legitimate to insist that the public broadcaster should not be trying to outpace the private broadcasters by presenting us with a fait accompli consisting of new programming aggressively designed to expand its footprint in the broadcasting ecosystem at the expense of the other players. We hope our voices will be heard."