The CRTC has given final approval for the “Journalistic Independence Code” proposed by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a self-regulation body of Canada’s private broadcasters.
The code is designed to replace CRTC rules about the independence of TV and newspaper newsrooms, which affect Canada’s three largest private TV broadcasters:
- Global TV (owned by Canwest which also owns a newspaper chain including the National Post and The Gazette – which includes me)
- CTV (owned by CTVglobemedia which also owns the Globe and Mail)
- TVA (owned by Quebecor Media which also owns the Sun chain, 24 Hours/Heures and the Journal de Montréal)
Currently, the CRTC has rules that the television newsrooms and the newsrooms of affiliated newspapers cannot be mixed or merged. They must be completely independent of one another.
As if to underscore how bureaucratic everything is at the CRTC and CBSC, only three of the ten points in the code actually deal with rules for broadcasters. The rest deal with how the code itself should be administered.
The new rules are:
- There must be completely independent “news management and presentation structures”
- Decisions about journalistic content must be made “solely by that broadcaster”
- TV news managers may not sit on newspaper editorial boards and vice versa (but news managers may “sit on committees or bodies intended to co-ordinate the use of newsgathering resources”)
The CRTC’s rules on cross-media ownership date back to 2001, when Quebecor Media bought Videotron, which then owned TVA. The transaction meant that Quebecor would own the largest private television network in Quebec, the largest newspaper (the Journal de Montréal) and the largest cable TV company. The CRTC decided that some journalistic rules would need to be in place to protect the diversity of voices in the newsroom.
Those rules were just as vague as the new ones proposed. Newsrooms and news management decisions must be separate.
Though they sound simple, the application of those rules is all about interpretation. For example, while newspapers and TV stations can’t decide on the other’s coverage, nothing prevents the parent company of both from dictating news. In fact, under the new rules, nothing discourages TV stations and newspapers from “co-ordinating newsgathering resources.” This could mean, for example, having TV journalists file both TV packages and newspaper articles on stories that have video, and having newspaper journalists file texts to both newspaper and TV on stories that don’t.
Journalist unions, who also protested the original Quebecor takeover, also spoke out during hearings about this code, saying it didn’t do enough to really separate newsrooms. But it seems the CRTC thinks it’s enough for them, and with the new code approved it is allowing networks to modify their licenses to remove the original rules (TVA was first off the bat)
We’ll see over the coming years how many loopholes can be found to cut down costs and introduce “efficiencies” by reducing “duplication” in the two media.
UPDATE (Nov. 25): TVA’s union has objected to the request to use the new rules, saying it threatens journalistic independence.
In other news
Oh, and Pauline Marois is flapping her gums again about creating a Quebec CRTC, further needlessly duplicating government institutions and burning through our tax dollars.