Last week, Bell Media was the last of the major English-language broadcasters to present their fall schedules to the public and advertisers. The big sells are the new (mostly American) series they’re adding to their primetime schedules. I haven’t seen any of them, so let’s instead focus on everything else that was announced and that I find interesting:
It’s an odd-numbered year, which means CBC is preparing its next public consultation with Quebec’s official language minority community, as required under its CRTC licence. (It also has a similar requirement for French-language communities in “Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Western Canada, and the North.”)
Like it did two years ago, the CBC is inviting people interested in expressing their views on its programming and services to a roundtable discussion on Thursday, May 2 from 10am to noon at Maison Radio-Canada.
For those who can’t make it in person, the event will be broadcast on CBC Montreal’s Facebook page and comments will be taken through online discussion as well.
Attendance is free, but registration is required. You can register here.
The way it worked last time is that people are broken up into small groups, each one led by a CBC employee (generally a journalist, on-air personality, producer or manager), and asked to discuss and come up with ideas.
In addition to Debra Arbec, who will serve as host, this year’s participants will include:
Sally Catto, General Manager, Programming, CBC Television
Meredith Dellandrea, Managing Director, CBC Quebec
Fred Mattocks, General Manager, Local Services
Susan Marjetti, Executive Director, Radio & Audio
Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief, CBC News
As public consultations go, CBC’s isn’t bad. It engages with the audience and seems to take their views seriously.
The report filed with the CRTC after the 2017 event glosses over the feedback a bit, but goes into detail about the various events that the CBC has organized to get it more in touch with the anglophone communities across the province and have Quebec anglophones reflected on TV, radio and online.
It’s not just the Quebec government that pushed through some labour deals just before Christmas. This week both CTV and Global filled their vacant Quebec City bureau chief positions.
— Maya Johnson (@MJohnsonCTV) December 18, 2015
CTV’s choice is Maya Johnson, who has been at CTV Montreal for a decade now, and was working on Quebec politics while the position was vacant following Max Harrold’s move back to Montreal (he’s now an assignment editor at CTV Montreal). The choice was, frankly, obvious and you wonder what took them so long.
As a result of the Bell Media cuts, Johnson’s Montreal reporter job won’t be filled.
Hopefully this will give CTV’s Quebec City bureau the kind of stability it hasn’t seen since John Grant held the position.
Global News, meanwhile, went with Raquel Fletcher, who was the anchor of Focus Saskatchewan at Global TV in Regina. Before that she was at CTV Regina. Fletcher was born and raised in the rectangular province, which means she’ll have a steep learning curve in Quebec City. But she won’t be the first child of Saskatchewan who’s now reporting on Quebec.
Fletcher’s career path is similar to that of Global Montreal morning host Camille Ross, who worked at CTV in Yorkton and Global in Regina.
Fletcher succeeds Caroline Plante, who was hired by the Montreal Gazette this summer.
The National Assembly is recessed for the holidays and resumes on Feb. 9. That gives these reporters a bit of time to get settled in their new positions.
Daigle heading to London
Not to be outdone, there’s staffing news at CBC as well. Thomas Daigle, originally from Quispamsis, N.B., but based for several years now in Montreal, will be the new CBC News correspondent in London.
Daigle, 28, worked at CJAD, Global Montreal and Radio-Canada Acadie before joining CBC Montreal. He was named the anchor for weekend newscasts when CBC Montreal added them back to its schedule, then he was moved to the National Assembly and eventually into the position of national reporter in Montreal.
We will protect the interests of our national broadcaster, in the interests of all Canadians. We will reverse Stephen Harper’s cuts and invest $150 million in new annual funding for CBC/Radio-Canada, to be delivered in consultation with the broadcaster and the Canadian cultural community.
— Liberal Party of Canada platform (page 56)
Restore and increase funding for CBC/Radio-Canada, following consultation with the broadcaster and the Canadian cultural community.
— Prime Minister’s mandate letter to Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly
The Government will support CBC/Radio-Canada, encourage and promote the use of Canada’s official languages, and invest in Canada’s cultural and creative industries.
— Speech from the Throne
Though the wording gets more vague with each iteration, the promise of the Liberal Party to add $150 million a year to CBC/Radio-Canada’s parliamentary appropriation looks like it’s going to happen. Mélanie Joly has been confirming it during just about every interview she’s given.
But there are no details yet on how that extra money will be spent. The promise calls for the money to be “delivered in consultation with the broadcaster and the Canadian cultural community.”
The CBC is a large organization that does a lot of things. It has been rightly criticized as trying to be everything to everyone, and yet no one can agree on what things it shouldn’t be.
There doesn’t seem to have been any attempt at public consultation, and it’s not clear if there ever will be, so I’ll do my part here. What would you like the CBC to do with this extra money? I’ve outlined some options below, a few with cost estimates. But there may be other options. Offer your suggestions in the comments below.
CBC funding options
Just reverse the cuts. Hire everyone back that wants to come back. Hire new people for those who don’t. That should work out to about $130 million, not including one-time costs.
Over-the-air broadcasting. Reinstate CBC/Radio-Canada’s network of hundreds of low-power over-the-air TV transmitters, this time digital ones. Offer to multicast with other broadcasters. (CBC says shutting down analog transmitters saved it $10 million a year, but installing digital transmitters would cost more than $1 billion, so would eat up this increase for about a decade.)
Improve local news. Bring back the 90-minute local newscast in major markets while keeping the hourly one-minute updates. Add staff to local newsrooms.
Expand into new markets. Instead of investing in markets like Montreal, Toronto and Calgary that have fierce competition from the private sector, expand television and radio into new smaller markets, giving them local programming for the first time. Restart plans to launch a station in London, Ont.
Improve national and international news. Add more foreign bureaus that can tell major world stories from a Canadian perspective. Increase the resources of investigative programs like The Fifth Estate and Enquête. Make CBC News Network and RDI robust enough that they can go live 24/7 with breaking news and offer more high-quality documentary-style programming.
Factual programming. Commission more documentaries reflecting Canada’s regions. Scrap the “Our [cityname]” shows and replace them with weekly series about local arts, culture and lifestyle.
Create new high-quality TV dramas and bring a scripted drama or two back to CBC Radio.
Eliminate advertising for CBC Radio Two and ICI Musique ($1.1 million), and reduce advertising on television channels ($150 million would do that by a little less than half, though CBC notes it would also need to commission more programming to fill the gap).
Eliminate subscriber fees for CBC/Radio-Canada specialty channels — CBC News Network, RDI, ARTV, Explora and Documentary ($133 million).
Launch new specialty channels offering programming that private broadcasters are not.
Put Radio Canada International back on shortwave. Rebuild the transmission site in Sackville, N.B., and bring back programming in a dozen languages. (RCI’s “transformation” was projected to save $10 million a year, but rebuilding the transmitter site will cost a lot more.)
Better serve aboriginals. Create new programming on TV and radio in aboriginal languages and reflecting various communities across the country. Offer more local programming so that Mohawks and Inuit aren’t treated like one homogeneous block. Invest in serious improvements to CBC North and new partnerships with services like APTN.
Go digital. Add more digital-only journalists and digital bureaus. Experiment with delivering news and other content by podcasts and YouTube rather than live over the air. Hire nerds to make cbc.ca and radio-canada.ca more interactive, fun, informative and adaptive to new platforms.
Become a service provider. Bring back the costume shop at Maison Radio-Canada, and find ways to offer its resources to other broadcasters and producers and the public at large. Explore setting up similar shops in other markets. Create studios that can be used by independent podcasters or YouTube creators. Offer expertise in broadcasting to small communities, particularly aboriginal ones, to help them get community radio and TV stations on the air. Pool resources with private broadcasters to do together what no one can do alone.
Open up the vault. Increase the resources in archives so more content that’s been locked away can be put online.
Jump back into sports. Rights to pro leagues are locked up forever, so invest more in amateur sports coverage instead: university sports, athletics and winter sports. Put our athletes on TV more than once every four years.
Stay in real estate. Cancel plans to sell off buildings and land. Purchase real estate where space is currently rented.
Give every union member a raise and/or improved benefits. At about 8,000 employees, that works out to $18,750 per employee per year.
Do a little bit of all the above in a way that will barely be noticeable to the audience.
SHUT DOWN THE CBC AND GIVE US OUR TAXES BACK!
Vote below (give up to five answers if you’d like, but remember you have only $150 million a year to work with):
The CBC rolled out revamped — and by revamped I mean cut — newscasts across the country on Monday. Some markets were reduced to 60 minutes while others, including Montreal, get only 30 minutes during the supper hour to offer local news.
The new newscast has a somewhat different feel to it — including some different music — but most of the changes don’t seem to have much of a real purpose to them. For one, there’s more standing anchor wandering the set, and there’s a lot more use of monitors in the studio, and having the anchor look at them:
CBC doesn’t usually send press releases about the retirement of its journalists. But Bernard St-Laurent isn’t a simple journalist. The senior political analyst announced today he’s finally hanging up the microphone after 40 years in the business. His last day is June 26.
St-Laurent has a long career as a broadcaster, not only hosting local radio shows like Radio Noon and Homerun and the national program C’est la vie, but guest hosting on just about every national radio show and contributing in various ways to CBC.
Though in his later years his standing as a broadcaster seemed to wane a bit, and he always sounded on air as if he was out of breath, his colleagues are remembering him today as a mentor, a friend, and a wealth of institutional knowledge about Quebec.
Enjoy your retirement, Bernie.
St-Laurent was also on CBC News, doing his job talking about provincial by-elections and then commiserated briefly about missing his colleagues and listeners.
On the same day it holds a public consultation in Montreal asking its audience how it can best represent English-speaking Quebec in its programming, CBC announced it has green-lit an English-language drama set in Montreal.
The new series is an English adaptation of Nouvelle adresse, the Radio-Canada drama written by Richard Blaimert and starring Macha Grenon as a journalist whose extended family is turned upside down after she learns that she has an incurable cancer. The series, which began last fall, is already in its second season, and though it faces tough competition from TVA’s Lance et compte in the Monday 9pm timeslot, it’s seen its audience steadily grow over the past few weeks.
New Address, for which Blaimert will be a consultant but not the writer, will begin production this summer and could be on air as early as this fall, CBC says. We don’t have too much detail (no cast announcement yet), but we know that the series will be set in Montreal, and that the family name is being changed from Lapointe in the French version to Lawson in the English.
Both the French series and its English adaptation are produced by Sphère Média Plus, which is responsible for several attempts to turn its French-language hits into English versions, with mixed success:
- Sophie, the English adaptation of the comedy Les hauts et les bas de Sophie Paquin, about a talent agent whose life goes nuts, which lasted two seasons and 32 episodes on CBC before being cancelled because of poor ratings. (That series was also written by Blaimert, though he defends it a bit to La Presse.)
- Rumours, the adaptation of the half-hour comedy Rumeurs about a group of magazine employees, which lasted 20 episodes on CBC.
- And, of course, 19-2, the adaptation of the Radio-Canada cop drama of the same name, which is now in its second season on Bravo, where it is both a critical and popular success. It landed there after CBC passed on the chance to pick up the series.
The company was also commissioned by NBC to create a pilot that adapted the dramatic comedy Le monde de Charlotte. It never got picked up.
UPDATE (Feb. 26): Now comes news that it’s going to adapt Mémoires vives in English for Rogers, which could put it on City or FX Canada.
Can this be the one that works?
The success of 19-2 compared to the lack of same from Sophie and Rumours probably leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the programming decision-makers at CBC Television. But it doesn’t change the fact that these Sphère Média Plus adaptations are more likely to fail than succeed.
Nouvelle adresse is a good series, well-written, well-acted, and will probably pick up several awards come awards season. But then again Sophie and Rumours were based on series that picked up more than a dozen Gémeaux awards, so that’s not a guarantee of anything.
I’m a fan of Nouvelle adresse, even though it, like 19-2, is pretty heavy. But while 19-2 has police officers with guns patrolling gritty streets, Nouvelle adresse is about middle-class families dealing with disease, divorce and drama. I’m not sure how well that will translate.
A big difference will probably be the cast chosen for the English version. Though I doubt it would happen, Grenon is bilingual and could theoretically reprise her role in the language of Shakespeare. Among anglo Quebecers, she’s still remembered best as the lady from the Pharmaprix commercials of the 90s:
On jase, as they say in French. Sphère Média Plus’s success with 19-2 has earned it another chance at turning a Radio-Canada hit into a CBC one. Let’s be cautiously hopeful that it succeeds, if only because it’s nice to see another series set in Montreal on English-language television in Canada.
No Unité 9 en anglais
Richard Therrien at Le Soleil tells us that CBC couldn’t come to an agreement to adapt the Quebec mega-hit Unité 9 into an English series. Apparently the CBC’s desire to cut down on the number of episodes was a problem for author/producer Fabienne Larouche.
The CBC wants to hear from you, not just because it wants to, but because it’s required to by a condition of licence.
In fact, it’s the very first condition of licence for CBC’s English and French-language services in a new CRTC licence approved in May 2013: The public broadcaster has to consult with minority-language communities: Francophones in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Western Canada and the North, and anglophones in Quebec. It has to happen once every two years and it has to be reported to the CRTC.
As CBC Quebec Managing Director Shelagh Kinch explains in this story I wrote for the Montreal Gazette, this is merely a formalizing of regular consultations the CBC did with anglophone community groups in Quebec and collection of audience feedback.
The consultation takes place Tuesday (Feb. 24) from 6:30pm to 8pm at Salle Raymond David of the Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal. You can also tune in via live webcast and participate on Twitter using the hashtag #CBCconsults.
In addition to Kinch and a panel of local journalists (All in a Weekend/Our Montreal host Sonali Karnick, C’est la vie host and political columnist Bernard St-Laurent, Shari Okeke and Raffy Boudjikanian, plus travelling journalist Marika Wheeler), there will also be two bigwigs from CBC who can make a real difference: Jennifer McGuire, editor-in-chief of CBC News (who is also responsible for local radio across the country) and Sally Catto, general manager of programming for CBC Television. (Sadly, there isn’t anyone from national CBC radio, nor is CEO Hubert Lacroix on the panel.)
The CRTC imposed this condition of licence among several changes in the last licence renewal to ensure CBC is fulfilling its mandate toward minority language communities that aren’t large enough to have commercial broadcasters catering to them. And while Montreal is big enough that we have four English TV stations and several commercial radio stations, the rest of Quebec is pretty underserved. The only major broadcaster catering to them directly is the CBC Radio One station in Quebec City.
So if you have some beef with CBC’s programming, or feel as though it needs to better reflect your reality, whether you live on the Plateau or in Gaspé, this is your chance to make yourself heard.
And yeah, the just-shut-down-the-CBC suggestion has already been made.
I can’t make it because of a meeting I have to be at, so I won’t get a chance to ask why our public broadcaster took a pass on the only English-language Canadian scripted drama series that’s actually set in Montreal.
As the CBC continues finding ways to save money, the corporation announced today that it is making changes to local programming.
The biggest one is that evening TV newscasts are being cut from 90 minutes to 60 or 30, depending on the market. Montreal is one of the unlucky ones, being cut to 30 minutes, starting at 6pm. This happens to be CBC Montreal’s weakest half-hour, because it competes directly with CTV News at 6 and Global News.
Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Windsor and Fredericton are also getting cut to 30 minutes. Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John’s will stay at 60 minutes because there’s still a “business case” for longer newscasts there, and CBC North will have 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in Inuktitut.
Evening and weekend news are unchanged, as are local programs on CBC Radio One.
On the French side, the weeknight local Téléjournal broadcasts will be cut to 30 minutes everywhere but Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa/Gatineau and the Acadian region.
There are also smaller changes. CBC Daybreak will be broadcast on television from 6-7am. Currently CBC Television airs a national CBC News broadcast at this time, surrounded by local news, weather and traffic graphics.
There’s also going to be new one-minute hourly news breaks throughout the afternoon and evening on CBC Television.
How this will affect jobs at CBC is unclear at this point. Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC English Services says there are “no new cuts beyond those announced in June.” The CBC tells Canadian Press that it’s too early to talk about job cuts resulting from this, but not counting staff these changes will save $15 million a year.
Good news, too, kinda
If you want to ignore all that and pretend this is good news, as the CBC does in its press release, these “changes” are part of a transformation process that will focus more on digital. The corporation is vague on what changes are happening to the digital side, but apparently they will be improvements.
On the local side, the CBC will also be adding a videojournalist position in the Eastern Townships to expand coverage there. Right now there’s no private English-language TV or radio journalist permanently assigned to the townships. The CBC has a “researcher columnist” in the region covering it for radio, and occasionally supplements that with the travelling journalist who contributes to CBC Radio’s Quebec Community Network based out of Quebec City. This new position would be in addition to that, covering the townships for TV, radio and the web.
Fort McMurray, Alta., will also get a new news bureau.
Découverte host Charles Tisseyre’s cri-du-coeur last week at the CBC Annual Public Meeting has already gotten more than 100,000 views on YouTube. Straddling the line between passionate and angry, it deplored the situation at the public broadcaster, how much it has seen its programming cut (his own show now has fewer episodes and more repeats as a result) and has been kicking its young talent out the door.
But while Tisseyre’s words got wild applause from the crowd assembled in the basement of the Maison Radio-Canada, and Tisseyre politely but firmly challenged CBC president Hubert Lacroix on the latter’s failure to answer a question about why he hasn’t done more to fight the federal government on CBC funding, the Radio-Canada personality doesn’t necessarily share the crowd’s animosity toward Lacroix.
“Animosity” is perhaps an understatement here. Many in the crowd wore T-shirts that seemed to directly blame Lacroix for the thousands of job cuts the broadcaster has seen since he took office. The second question of the event asked if he should resign. Later, someone handed him what he described as a pre-written resignation letter that needed only Lacroix’s signature.
But Tisseyre told me later in a one-on-one interview that Lacroix’s resignation would serve little purpose. “If the people who were there resigned, they would be replaced by others, who would be faced with the same cuts. I think the problem is much deeper,” he said.
You can read more about Tisseyre’s comments in this (paywalled) piece I wrote for Cartt.ca. It also includes my impressions about Lacroix’s problem with expressing the right emotions to relate to his employees and CBC fans among the general population.
Two months after Andrew Chang left CBC Montreal on paternity leave and announced he wasn’t coming back, we finally know what super-secret job he’s taking on. CBC announced on Wednesday that Chang will be the new anchor of CBC News Vancouver at 5 and 6, starting Sept. 1.
Chang replaces Gloria Macarenko, who moves on to hosting CBC Radio’s The Story From Here,
a cheap content repackaging show a “curation of stories” from local CBC radio stations. Macarenko will also continue hosting Our Vancouver, a cheap content repackaging show week-in-review and arts/lifestyle show, and do segments for TV, including a regular one-on-one interview segment.
The job is also one held by B.C. broadcasting star Tony Parsons until last December.
Chang, who filled in on The Current after coming back from paternity leave, won’t be replaced in Montreal. Debra Arbec will continue anchoring the evening newscast here solo. Though putting Doug Gelevan on the evening news full-time means she can be with him and weatherman Frank Cavallaro on promotional material and feel more like she’s part of a team.
“The team at CBC Vancouver has proven time and time again that they are the best at investigative and original journalism,” Chang is quoted as saying in a CBC News story, which I guess means that he thinks CBC Vancouver is better than CBC Montreal.
UPDATE: More work will shut down transmitters from July 16 to 19, and July 21 to 25, and July 28-Aug. 1. See below.
If you tuned in to FM radio at 4am on Monday and noticed that your favourite Montreal station is either noisy or missing completely, it wasn’t your imagination. CBC is doing work on the Mount Royal antenna tower and that has forced overnight shutdown of transmitting antennas on the city’s busiest transmission tower.
Stations were notified that the tower would be interrupting transmitters from 12am to 5am on July 7 and 8, though as far as I can tell only CKUT at McGill passed that message along to listeners.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission speaks through its decisions, and for the most part those decisions are straightforward. They’re written by a special team who ensure they’re as consistent, dry and clear as possible.
But a decision issued last week by the CRTC, while a victory for Canada’s public broadcaster, also takes a shot across its bow that almost seems snarky.
The decision responds to a complaint filed by Leclerc Communication, owner of radio stations CKOI and WKND in Quebec City. Leclerc argued that Radio-Canada was unfairly discriminating against it by refusing to air television ads for its radio stations, while running ads for Radio-Canada’s Première and Espace musique networks.
The CBC didn’t deny this. Instead, it argued that it is justified in having a policy that prevents running “advertisements for services considered competitive with CBC/Radio-Canada services.”
It also argued that Leclerc could easily advertise elsewhere, an argument Leclerc said was “as irrational as it is desperate.” And it invoked the idea of commercial freedom to argue that it shouldn’t be forced to run ads from anyone.
In the decision issued June 27, the CRTC sided with Radio-Canada. It determined that the public broadcaster did indeed put Leclerc’s radio stations at a disadvantage, but that this disadvantage was not “undue” and so did not break the commission’s rules.
“The Commission is of the view that the CBC is not subjecting Leclerc to a material adverse impact by refusing to offer advertising opportunities since Leclerc has access to 72% of the local television advertising inventory by advertising on TVA and V and that it can therefore reach 93% of the television viewers in the market.”
This reasoning baffles me. Leclerc argued that it needed access to Radio-Canada TV because it wanted to reach a demographic of mature, affluent and well-educated listeners, which it felt would fit WKND. The CRTC argues that’s not necessary because there are other ways to get advertising (not including radio, of course, because those are direct competitors).
And if those other advertisers were to also refuse Leclerc’s ads for competitive reasons? The CRTC’s decision doesn’t address that rather obvious hypothetical. (Thankfully it’s not necessary. TVA, which owns no radio stations, was only too happy to take Leclerc’s money.)
Since return on investment is so hard to determine when it comes to traditional advertising, it’s nearly impossible for Leclerc to prove that the CBC’s policy has a material adverse impact on its business. And the commission seems to have given the benefit of the doubt to the CBC.
“The Commission questions the true motives of the CBC”
But the decision includes a paragraph that, while not binding, might force the broadcaster to rethink its policy:
“However, the Commission questions the true motives of the CBC, which continues to turn away a client that does not belong to a vertically integrated group on the grounds that it is in competition with its operations. The Commission takes this opportunity to suggest that the CBC focus less on viewing other players in Canada’s communications ecosystem as competitors and put more effort into fulfilling its public service mandate.”
Considering the drastic cuts facing the broadcaster in the years ahead, even the CRTC is wondering why it’s saying no to money from a small broadcaster in order to protect the market share of a network that doesn’t carry any advertising and should have nothing to fear from commercial radio.
Plusieurs collègues de CBC/Radio-Canada ont perdu leurs postes aujourd'hui, dont moi. Journée difficile. Aux nouveaux défis!
— Pierre Landry (@PierreLandry) April 30, 2014
For three weeks after CBC President Hubert Lacroix announced cuts equivalent to 657 full-time positions at the public broadcaster, employees at the CBC Montreal office finally learned how those cuts would trickle down at the local level.
This week, I met with Shelagh Kinch, the Quebec regional director for English services, who laid it out for me: 10 positions are being “affected” by the cuts, and at this point it looks like five people will be leaving the CBC as a result.
I explain it all in this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette.
The changes break down as follows:
- Management is being restructured, eliminating the job of news director. Mary-Jo Barr has been let go. Helen Evans will be in charge of both news and current affairs, while Meredith Dellandrea will be in charge of non-daily programs (like Cinq à six, À propos and Our Montreal) and have “a major role” in the CBC Montreal website. “Helen has an extensive background with us,” Kinch said. “She’s probably produced every one of those programs for us. She also has very strong leadership skills. I need somebody that people are behind and people want to work with.”
- Two retirements won’t be replaced: journalist Ivan Slobod, who left in September after 30 years at the CBC, and Sally Caudwell, who produces Radio Noon.
- The two part-time jobs producing Cinq à six and À propos are being replaced by one full-time producer. Tanya Birkbeck, who produced Cinq à six, will stay at the CBC as a news reporter. Sophie Laurent, who produced À propos, is out of a job. Frank Opolko will take over producing both jobs.
- Web development is being centralized in Toronto, and a local developer is being made redundant. The person in that position will be able to apply to the Toronto job, Kinch said.
- A communications officer position is being made redundant. Catherine Megelas is the unlucky one. She said in a Facebook post that it was “a super shitty day” the day she was told. Redundancy means that the union will try to find another job for her to fill, a process that could take up to 90 days.
- A late-night camera operator is being reassigned.
- One arts reporter position is being eliminated. Pierre Landry, the arts reporter for Homerun, is the only one who’s on contract, so his won’t be renewed past the end of June.
- One position, described as a reassignment, that CBC said it couldn’t give any details on. (UPDATE: It’s anchor Andrew Chang, who’s taking up a new job at CBC outside of Montreal)
The departures will be staggered over the summer, as contracts end, notices are given and alternative jobs explored. But by September, the changes should have taken effect.
It sounded like the kind of story that even Sun News Network couldn’t make up: The CBC saying no to money from private industry for the sole reason that it wants to compete with it.
A complaint has been filed with the CRTC by Leclerc Communication, the company that bought Quebec City stations CKOI (CFEL-FM) and WKND (CJEC-FM) when Cogeco was told it couldn’t keep them after its purchase of Corus Quebec. The complaint alleges that the stations have been trying to book advertisements on Radio-Canada’s television station in Quebec City to promote the stations, and that Radio-Canada has issued a blanket refusal because it has a policy not to accept ads from competitors.
This would seem to go against a very clear CRTC policy that says that media companies can’t give themselves preference over their competitors in things like this.
Convinced there must have been a misunderstanding, I contacted the CBC and asked the public broadcaster about the allegation.
Radio-Canada actually confirmed it. CBC and Radio-Canada don’t accept ads from commercial radio stations because they compete with CBC services. And they don’t see anything wrong with that.
I explain the positions of Leclerc and Radio-Canada in this story at Cartt.ca. In short, Leclerc wants to advertise on RadCan because it finds that the demographics of RadCan viewers match the listeners it’s trying to target. And Radio-Canada refuses because its advertising policy prevents it from accepting ads for competitors.
The policy is CBC Programming Policy 1.3.11: Unacceptable advertising. It bans tobacco ads, ads for religious viewpoints, “any advertisement that could place the CBC/Radio-Canada at the centre of a controversy or public debate” and “advertisements for services considered competitive with CBC/Radio-Canada services.”
Now, we can argue whether two Quebec City music stations with personalities like Les Justiciers masqués are competitive with Première and Espace Musique. But even if they were, so what? These are television ads, first of all, not radio ads, and if Leclerc wants to spend money this way, why should the public broadcaster say no?
More importantly, can it even do so legally?
The television broadcasting regulations, which Radio-Canada and all other television broadcasters have to abide by, says a licensee may not “give an undue preference to any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue disadvantage.”
A similar provision exists for TV distribution, which is why Videotron can’t give Quebecor-owned channels advantages over their competitors unless it can find a good reason to back it up.
But the CBC doesn’t quite see it that way. It argues that it’s not giving anyone an undue advantage, because it’s not accepting ads from anyone. Everyone’s being treated equally, so there’s no advantage.
Leclerc points out, though, that Radio-Canada’s radio services get plenty of advertisement on its television network. And giving free ads to its own radio stations and refusing ads from all competitors is pretty well exactly what this rule was meant to prevent.
Radio-Canada confirmed that the programming policy is set by the CBC board of directors, not by legislation or CRTC condition of licence. So logic would suggest that CRTC regulations take precedence over internal rules at the CBC.
The CBC rule becomes all the more absurd when you consider it in context. The CBC is facing a major cash crunch, seeing government funding tightened and now losing the rights to NHL games. CBC’s president is talking about “dark clouds on the horizon” because of lower revenue. So why say no to what is practically free money?
It would be one thing if this was a big corporate player wanting to buy airtime on the CBC to encourage people not to listen to Radio One or something. But this is a small independent broadcaster that just wants to expose his radio stations to Radio-Canada’s audience in Quebec City.
The CBC is going to have to come up with some real good justification for shutting the door to competitors. Bell or Shaw or Rogers would never be allowed to get away with something like this, and I don’t see why the CBC should be able to.
And if the CBC doesn’t come up with a good reason to refuse these ads, they should expect to be told to shut up and take Leclerc’s money.
Leclerc’s complaint letter can be read here. The full file is on the CRTC’s website in this .zip file. The CRTC is accepting comments on this complaint until March 6. You can submit comments here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.
(So far, only the Journal de Québec has covered this story aside from myself. We’ll see if others pick it up before the deadline.)