Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he’d like to scrutinize the CBC to see that it is “focusing on Canadian stories.” (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

As PM, Scheer says he’d scrutinize CBC’s work for Canadian emphasis

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says if he is elected prime minister in the fall, he’ll want to make sure the CBC is telling enough Canadian stories.

In an interview with The Canadian Press this week, Scheer said he’d like to scrutinize the national public broadcaster to see that it is “focusing on Canadian stories.”

“It’s appropriate to look and say — when the CBC was first introduced decades ago, there wasn’t the ability to get content on smartphones, there wasn’t the ability to get hundreds and hundreds of channels on TV through satellites,” Scheer said.

“We have a situation now where we have a much different model when it comes to news and media and content creation — and it’s time that we look at how the CBC fits into all of that.”

Scheer also pointed to an increased focus on international stories and, in particular, American politics across all CBC platforms in recent years.

“When we look and see how much coverage is devoted on CBC to U.S. politics, the inner workings of U.S. politics, making sure that it’s focused on the things that are going on here in Canada — I think that’s something that many Canadians have said we should ensure that it’s focused on the core mandate of being concentrated on Canada.”

A CBC spokesperson defended the international focus, saying the corporation is focused on covering news wherever it happens, to help Canadians understand the implications of important events.

“Whether it’s Brexit or the Middle East, U.S. politics, pipeline debates or flooding in local communities, Canadians trust CBC/Radio-Canada to keep them informed,” Kerry Kelly, the Crown corporation’s senior manager of public relations, said in a statement.

When asked if he would reduce government funding to the CBC, Scheer did not directly answer, saying that he has only ever promoted the idea of ensuring the broadcaster is doing the work it is mandated to do.

But he did question whether the CBC’s foray into soliciting advertising revenues has created a “distorting effect” on the media market — with a publicly funded broadcaster competing against struggling private news companies for dwindling advertising dollars.

“We have to make sure the CBC’s impact in that is not creating an undue hurdle against those private-sector entities that are trying to stay afloat and now have to compete with a government-subsidized entity that is also going out into the market to sell ads to get viewership.”

According to its 2017-18 annual report, the CBC generated $318.4 million in total advertising revenues across all of its media and languages that year, with $42.6 million of it coming from digital advertising. This is in addition to over $1.2 billion in funding it received in the same year from the federal government.

The Trudeau government has pledged an additional $150 million to the CBC every year through to 2021 as part of a major boost to cultural spending rolled out shortly after the 2015 election.

The corporation acknowledged in its annual report that digital ad revenues are growing, but said this growth is “not significant enough to offset the decline observed in TV advertising.”

It also pointed to increased competition from “large global players” — presumably companies with streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon — that are not subject to the same regulations as Canadian media companies and that do not contribute financially to the Canadian media ecosystem as the biggest threat to the Canadian media market.

“These companies are not simply distributors of content; they are major investors in and creators of content, substantially increasing production budgets,” the annual report says.

“They have access to combined potential markets 100 times greater than that of Canada and can use economies of scale to monetize their programming and infrastructure investments. They have access to massive amounts of data, allowing them to effectively develop and curate content for their audiences. All of this makes it harder for domestic regulated companies to compete.”

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