FeaturesOPINION: Bill C-18 amendments would preclude campus, community and Indigenous broadcasters

OPINION: Bill C-18 amendments would preclude campus, community and Indigenous broadcasters

Bill C-18, the Online News Act, is on its way back to the House of Commons. The Senate has proposed amendments that, if accepted, could eliminate participation by Campus, Community and Indigenous broadcasters who make up the third of three pillars of the Canadian broadcasting system (private, public, and community).

The National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA/ANREC) is one of three organizations that support more than 235 licensed community, Indigenous, and campus radio stations across Canada. These stations are among the last broadcasters that support Canadians who have been largely abandoned by traditional broadcasters. This includes 2SLGTBQIA+, racialized, Indigenous, immigrant, and rural communities.

Barry Rooke

These stations produce news in different ways. However, at minimum, they are required by condition of licence to produce an average of 19 hours of local, spoken-word programming each week. This is the equivalent of approximately 95 hours of production time that is focused on news, local information and discussion each week. They are the only licensed broadcasters required to do so in Canada. No commercial media classifications (TV, print or radio) have minimum local programming mandates to hold a license, which means that community and public media organizations are held to a higher standard, with few government funding sources and declining industry resources (Canadian Content Development funds). Community radio stations serve the small local communities that are being inundated by disinformation, and they are key to immediate and reliable local news and information.

Almost all campus, community and Indigenous radio stations use multiple social media platforms as a way to share news and information with listeners. For example, Tantramar Radio in Amherst, Nova Scotia uses Facebook to highlight important local news and information from the station, but includes updates from emergency services in the town of Amherst and beyond. The station’s page has almost 5,000 followers in a town of less than 10,000 people. Much of this content drives users to Facebook and beyond.

Online advertising has taken a significant bite out of the revenues of these stations.  According to our data, in the last five years community radio stations have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertising on Facebook and Google. Data collected from our membership over the last four years of annual returns show a real value decline in average local sales of 8% between 2019 and 2022. Advertising makes up about 25% of English-based total revenues, and closer to 80% of revenue if the station is not connected to a campus. Note that government advertising in our sector peaked in the late 2010s, and has declined to almost zero purchases outside of health and safety awareness. This includes purchases of advertising on almost all traditional Canadian-owned broadcasters and networks outside of digital.

Facebook and Google benefit from the news produced by community broadcasters who have lost revenue due to these companies. Yet the law which is meant to correct this imbalance may soon remove this entire category of broadcasters from the equation and benefit only for-profit commercial stations and the CBC.

Google representatives have been very vocal recently about their concerns that they will need to make a deal with community broadcasters. Senator Pamela Wallin, in proposing to eliminate the section that includes this requirement, seems to be siding with them. The community radio sector deserves to be compensated like other broadcasters. We only expect fair compensation, however as of today, neither Google nor Facebook will return our calls.

This is similar to what happened in Australia, the country which is the model for Canada’s C-18. In that case, only a handful of their nearly 500 community radio stations received any support whatsoever under a similar legislative regime.

If Bill C-18 is truly meant to support local news, which is primarily produced by community broadcasters, then the community radio sector must be included amongst the entities that will receive compensation. This is important for all Canadians and we have to get this right.

It is puzzling to me why Senator Wallen is advocating for the removal of a clause that mandates these vital discussions to take place. It was the only clause to receive all-party support at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. As a respected former journalist and recipient of the prestigious Gordon Sinclair Award for Broadcast Journalism, Senator Wallen’s stance raises concerns for the future of local news.

Barry Rooke has been serving as the Executive Director of the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA/ANREC) since 2015. With a rich background in community media, his journey in the field began at the age of 15 in 1999.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The amendment referenced above was defeated in committee. As of June 13, the community radio clause remains in C-18.

Barry Rooke
Barry Rookehttps://ncra.ca
Barry Rooke has been the Executive Director for the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA/ANREC) since 2015. He has been a broadcaster since the age of 15, hosting over 1500 shows and podcasts. His master's thesis examined how radio stations used social media in 2011-2012. He lives in Ottawa and is leading the charge in developing a new national cider association, Cider Canada / Cidre Canada.

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