The Canadian Media Guild (CMG), the union representing the majority of CBC workers, says it’s concerned that Wednesday’s CRTC-issued licence renewal sets out a path that could lead to hundreds of news staff in metropolitan centres losing their jobs.
The decision relaxes a condition of licence requiring CBC television stations in metropolitan markets to broadcast minimum thresholds of local programming, while retaining the requirement in non-metro markets.
“Canadians who live in metropolitan markets have access to multiple options when it comes to news and information audiovisual and audio programming, not only on television and radio, but also when it comes to broadband Internet services. However, many Canadians who live in remote or rural communities do not have access to the same number of options for being informed, and do not have sufficient access to adequate Internet services,” states the decision.
The commission has also released the CBC from any expenditure requirement related to news programming. CBC’s annual spending on English-language news has decreased by $67.5 million and on French-language news by $20.2 million from the 2013-14 through 2019-20 broadcast years. ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB), Community Media Advocacy Centre (CMAC) and the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications (FRPC) all noted in their interventions that in English Canada, the CBC’s local news contributions fell below those of private broadcasters over the current licence term.
“If the CBC can fulfill its obligations (relating, for example, to regional relevance, balanced news, and hours of local programming) while reducing related news expenditures, it should not be prevented from doing so,” states the decision. “Although the imposition of a condition of licence would provide a sustained commitment on the part of the CBC to news and local programming across all platforms, while giving the CBC the flexibility needed to adjust expenditures in response to fluctuations in revenues or expenses, it would not address concerns regarding spending in metropolitan versus non-metropolitan markets, and would not necessarily mean that the CBC is directing spending to local programming that includes news.”
The decision also gives CBC/Radio-Canada the flexibility to meet its conditions of licence across its online streaming platforms, CBC Gem and ICI TOU.TV, in addition to linear TV and radio.
CMG says many of its members fear relaxation of the public broadcaster’s licence requirements could lead to CBC cancelling television newscasts, in favour of spending on online content.
“…if this happens, it could result in permanent damage to Canada’s media environment, and an unfair exclusion for thousands of Canadians who access television rather than online news, for a variety of reasons including lack of resources,” asserted the Guild, in a release issued late Wednesday.
“Under the guise of modernisation, the CRTC has chosen to give CBC a blank cheque to kill original production, even after a difficult two years when Canadians saw the importance of trusted news,” said Kim Trynacity, CBC Branch President for CMG. “This is a time to invest more in local and regional news, not less. It’s shameful that the CRTC failed to see that. The impact on service and jobs could be significant.”
CMG President Carmel Smyth said “the ripple effect of cuts in metropolitan centres could affect services in every region and community.”
The union points out the decision was only supported by three of five commissioners, above concerns about the new exhibition-expenditure model from commissioners Caroline Simard and Monique Lafontaine.
CBC declined to respond directly to the Guild’s statement, but in an email to Broadcast Dialogue said the public broadcaster is “happy to see the CRTC recognize our performance in exceeding our local news obligations in larger markets, which resulted in the updated conditions of licence.”
“Specifically, in paragraph 459 of the decision, the Commission notes that it ‘is confident that the CBC will continue to broadcast local programming that is predominantly news in both the English- and French-language metropolitan markets. Accordingly, the Commission finds that imposing a condition of licence relating to the broadcast of local programming in metropolitan markets is not necessary for the CBC to achieve the above-noted outcome in this regard.'”
“In smaller markets where conditions of licence remain, we will, of course, continue to meet our local news obligations,” the statement continued.
The Guild says it’s assessing next steps. The union is also taking issue with the CRTC’s language around clearly identifying sponsored content, which stipulates that no journalist or host be involved in the inception, creation, production, or dissemination of any advertising or branded content. CMG says the measure doesn’t go far enough.
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