OTTAWA - With private broadcasters facing the conflicting interests of business success versus the costly news business, now is the time for a new "Contract with Canadians" said CBC/Radio-Canada's board chair Carole Taylor in delivering an address to the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications last week.
Taylor and CBC president and CEO Robert Rabinovitch are two of many witnesses the Senate committee is hearing from as it studies the state of Canada's media industry. (This same committee heard from a different witness earlier this year that wanted a government-funded national newspaper, for example.)
"Almost 15 years of cuts to public broadcasting have taken their toll, and the cuts haven't stopped," said Taylor. "If we want a strong media industry in Canada, then the whole industry needs to be strong - private and public. The balance between public and private broadcasting guarantees Canadians always have different voices to choose from and we've been taking that balance for granted."
"It is time for a new contract between Canadians and CBC/Radio-Canada; one that sets out clear expectations and resources for the services Canadians need their public broadcaster to provide," said Rabinovitch.
"Properly funded, CBC/Radio-Canada can offer an even broader range of stories and perspectives from across Canada and around the world. In doing so we will enhance the quality and variety of news and information choices Canadians have."
Rabinovitch pointed to Quebecor's much-ballyhooed convergence success
with TVA-aired Star Acad�mie
this spring as a prime example of why he believes CBC/Radio-Canada is so important. "While the Quebecor Media various holdings were covering at length the reality show Star Acad�mie
broadcast on its flagship television network TVA, CBC/Radio-Canada was busy covering the war in Iraq. TVA had one correspondent in Iraq. We placed approximately 40 people throughout the region," he explained.
"We could not, should not as a country rely for our information on U.S. networks or even the BBC," continued Rabinovitch. "We were as a country active non-participants in this war. Canadians merited a distinctive interpretation of events.
"Let there be no misunderstanding: I do not blame the private broadcasters in any way for this. Star Acad�mie
might just be Canada's first true success story in convergence and they should be congratulated for succeeding where many others have failed. But this unique conjecture of events showed us how the private sector is confronted with conflicting interests. It also gave us a true sense of how tremendous the promotional force of such vast cross-media holdings can be. Every Francophone in Quebec must have heard of Star Acad�mie
, which was watched by as many as half of the province's entire population," continued Rabinovitch.
"Many of our foreign correspondents now file in French and English; others for radio and television. This means we can expand our coverage by deploying more correspondents to more locations around the globe. As I noted, during the war in Iraq this year we were able to put 40 people throughout the region. This boosted our ability to offer Canadians a broader range of stories and context during the conflict. That is also a convergence success story."
Rabinovitch and Taylor again also pointed to the recent $10 million cut from the corporations budget and the recent $50 million reduction to the Canadian Television Fund as examples of decisions which make it difficult for the CBC to do what it feels is its job.
"What CBC/Radio-Canada needs now is increased and stable multi-year funding," concluded Rabinovitch.
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