The Canadian Radio-television and Communications Commission (CRTC) recently concluded its public hearing on CBC/Radio-Canada’s licence renewal. At the forefront of the public broadcaster’s licence proposals are an emphasis on its audio-visual digital services and an “audience-first” regulatory framework.

CBC/Radio-Canada is requesting a renewal of its licences for five years. The broadcaster is proposing several changes to its existing regulatory commitments, including a focus on children’s and youth programming, local programming, and gender parity. Diversity is also coming under increased focus; CBC/Radio-Canada has proposed a licence condition of annual reporting on the percentage of diverse and Indigenous staff and managers hired each year as well as reporting on diversity in its programming.

Read more: Supplementary Brief: Towards a 21st Century, Audience-First Regulatory Framework for Canada’s Public Broadcaster

Furthermore, CBC/Radio-Canada’s new licensing approach explicitly acknowledges the country’s changed media environment, where audiences increasingly access content across an array of digital platforms and devices. The broadcaster will include CBC Gem and ICI TOU.TV – its audio-visual digital media broadcasting services – into the licensing framework for the first time. The digital services are used by over 20 million Canadians monthly.

However, the corporation maintains that audiences who use traditional media will still be served. “Recognising that many Canadians still favour and use traditional platforms, we proposed protections to provide assurance to the Commission and other stakeholders that we would continue to serve audiences – in a significant way – on our linear offerings throughout the licence term. No one would be left behind,” CBC/Radio-Canada President and CEO, Catherine Tait said in her closing remarks.

The CRTC, Canada’s telecommunications regulator, is responsible for ensuring the public broadcaster continues to carry out its mandate. The regulator has said, “We want to make sure the content produced and distributed by CBC/Radio-Canada reflects the diversity of Canada’s population, while meeting its needs in both official languages.” As part of this mandate, CBC/Radio-Canada’s programming services must be relevant and reflective of Canadians across the country; reflective of the multicultural and multi-ethnic nature of Canada; are of high quality and supportive of Canadian producers and creators; are accessible and discoverable not just in Canada but overseas; and contribute to democratic life in Canada through high-quality and reliable news and information.

Raised concerns

During the hearings, concerns were raised on several issues, including the corporation’s accountability and transparency as well as its plans for branded content on its digital services – a move that is seen as an erosion of the broadcaster’s integrity.

Other critics have accused the broadcaster of disrupting the advertising market for private broadcasters. Tait noted that some stakeholders have challenged the public broadcaster’s funding model and mandate while others have called for the licences to remain frozen. Other calls were made, she said, for CBC/Radio-Canada to better reflect contemporary Canada, and she maintained that the broadcaster is committed to do more and do better.

In addressing criticism, Tait said the broadcaster is one of most accountable institutions in the country while its strong presence in the media sector is part of its legislated mandate and supports plurality of news and the diversity of voices throughout Canada. In fact, CBC/Radio-Canada consistently ranks among the most trusted and most accessed news brands in the country.

Now that the public hearing is concluded, the telecommunications regulator will analyse the evidence and consider new conditions and rules for CBC/Radio-Canada. This process could take several months.

CBC/Radio-Canada’s new three-year strategic plan

In May 2019, CBC/Radio-Canada released its three-year strategic plan, Your Stories, Taken to Heart. The plan set out priorities to serve Canadians. The licence renewal proposals support the priorities set out in the plan.

  • Customised digital services: The Corporation aims to ensure that all Canadians are reflected in its digital services, while it connects them to the many communities and voices that make Canada.
  • Engaging with young audiences: The Corporation strives to become a leader in bringing the best content to children and youth with the goal of enriching their lives and engaging them with their country.
  • Prioritising its local connections: The Corporation will strengthen its connection with Canadians with significant local and regional content that is relevant to people in their communities, and bring those communities to the rest of Canada.
  • Reflecting contemporary Canada: The Corporation will reflect the range and richness of Canada’s diversity, celebrating its different perspectives and all the things that bring Canadians together.
  • Taking Canada to the world: The Corporation will ensure that Canada and Canadian creators are seen and heard the world over.

Source: Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2019-379

Featured image: CBC Television logo, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Credit: Shaun/istock

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