Report recommends CBC/Radio-Canada gradually eliminates advertising

OTTAWA — A new report on modernizing Canada’s communications laws suggests the CBC/Radio-Canada gradually eliminate advertising on all platforms over the next five years, starting with news content.

Among the many recommendations in the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report released Wednesday is transforming the “public broadcaster into a public media institution with a singular focus on serving a public rather than a commercial purpose.”

To do so, the panel recommends the Broadcasting Act be amended to require the federal government to enter into funding commitments of at least five years with CBC/Radio-Canada, as opposed to annual funding.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission would oversee the performance commitments in that agreement and report annually to the minister of Canadian heritage, says the panel.

The panel did not recommend a specific amount of funding, noting that figure would be based on negotiations between the two sides.

“If you look at dollars per capita for CBC/Radio-Canada compared to its OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) counterparts, CBC/Radio-Canada is well under-funded,” Janet Yale, a former telecommunications executive and commissioner at CRTC who chaired the panel, said Wednesday.

“So we did not make a specific recommendation but we were conscious of the fact that in other OECD countries, the public media institution has higher funding on a dollars-per-capita basis.”

Currently CBC/Radio-Canada receives $34 dollars per Canadian, per year from the federal government.

Watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting recommends that be increased immediately to $50 per Canadian, per year — and then gradually increased to at least reach, if not exceed, the global average of $90 per person, per year.

“We have a public broadcaster that is ill-equipped to do its job while private media are dying all around them,” Daniel Bernhard, executive director of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said in a phone interview.

“If we are going to have Canadian stories, if we are going to have Canadian news, we need to act now.”

In reaction to Wednesday’s report, CBC/Radio-Canada released a statement but declined to answer questions.

“The panel’s report is an important contribution to the discussion about how to strengthen Canadian culture in the digital world. We will work with the government on the next steps to help build a media ecosystem that puts audiences first and serves all Canadians,” the statement said.

Commissioned by the federal government, the report is the final one from a six-member panel created in June 2018 to review Canada’s decades-old Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Radiocommunication Acts.

The report says CBC/Radio-Canada should be “prepared to experiment and increase the diversity of its content while remaining committed to high-quality standards.”

Sally Catto, general manager of programming for CBC English Television, has said the CBC is “a hybrid public broadcaster” that not only relies on government funding but on advertising revenue.

With that, the CBC has recently focused on programming that appeals to advertisers and sponsors, including “Family Feud Canada” and “Battle of the Blades.”

The new report also recommends “that CBC/Radio-Canada should reflect national, regional and local communities to national, regional and local audiences, and reflect Indigenous Peoples and promote Indigenous cultures and languages.”

Bernhard said he supports an ad-free CBC, noting “CBC should not exist to deliver audiences to advertisers. It should exist to deliver democracy to citizens.”

He also feels long-term, stable funding is critical for CBC/Radio-Canada’s independence and ability to deliver good, adversarial journalism right across the country.

But with CBC/Radio-Canada’s current licence set to expire on Aug. 31, the government should act immediately, he added.

“Legislative change is slow. The last time the Broadcasting Act was reformed, it took seven years to get through. But there are measures that can be taken right now,” Bernhard said.

“There are things that can be done short of rewriting the entire Broadcasting Act. And I think the government will now be judged on whether it takes those recommendations seriously or allows the system to decay further.”

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