FRIENDS responds to the CBC President regarding #SaveCBCArchive campaign

Jun 14, 2018

On June 6th, 2018, FRIENDS received the following letter from CBC President Hubert T. Lacroix:

Our June 14th reply to him was as follows:

Mr. Hubert Lacroix
President & CEO CBC/Radio-Canada
1400 René-Levesque Blvd. E
Montréal, QC
H2L 2M2

Dear Mr. Lacroix, I’m glad you received my letter and the box of messages that came with it. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

Before addressing the main thrust of your letter, I would like to reiterate that Friends of Canadian Broadcasting fully supports CBC’s archival digitization project. We wholeheartedly welcome any measure that increases public access to these publicly-owned materials.

But “digitize” and “destroy” are not synonyms. Nobody knows if these digital files will prove durable: the technology is too new. Quality is also a potential concern. For this reason, the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives recommends that:

original carriers should be preserved in useable condition for as long as is feasible. This also applies to all digitized materials, since the technology and methods of signal extraction and analogue-digital-transfer are still subject to further development, and original carriers – and packaging – often provide ancillary information.1

Staff in your office have been in touch to discuss these concerns, though they have not answered three main questions. I’d like to invite you to set the record straight.

 1. Are physical materials being destroyed, or not?

On April 19th, The Toronto Star published a Canadian Press story by Terry Pedwell that brought CBC’s digitize-then-destroy plan into public view. At the time, senior CBC staff did not refute Mr. Pedwell’s assertion that “CBC is destroying its broadcast archives after they’re digitized.” Quite the contrary, Mr. Pedwell reported that the “CBC acknowledges it started this month to destroy original recordings that had been converted and would continue to do so until the end of June.” Mr. Pedwell went on to quote CBC’s head of public affairs for English Services, Chuck Thompson, as saying that “between now and June 30, CBC intends to proceed with the safe and environmentally responsible destruction of those carriers which have been digitized.”

We launched our petition campaign in response to this coverage, amid considerable public outcry.

On April 30th, Chuck Thompson issued a press release “setting the record straight”, though this release did not address the issue of whether physical ‘carriers’ will be preserved. Rather, it sought to argue that the destruction of physical materials is both necessary and justified.2

Once it was clear that tens of thousands of Canadians opposed this project, an employee in your office, Mr. Poulter, contacted us by phone on May 8th to suggest that we’d made a mistake in claiming the physical archive will be destroyed at all.

On May 9th, we emailed Mr. Poulter to pose a basic question: are the physical materials being destroyed, or not? He replied by email on May 10th with a link to an interview posted on CBC’s website, in which André Saint-Georges asks Marc Lefebvre, CBC’s Director of Content Management and Preservation a simple question: “Why aren’t we keeping the original formats as well?” Mr. Lefebvre replied that his team was “migrating the content from a carrier-based environment to one that is file-based.”3 This clearly implies that physical carriers will be destroyed.

Yet your letter of June 6th appears to contradict this account. You wrote that CBC is “preserving the original reels of programs first produced or captured on film”, and you stated that “programs originally recorded to analogue magnetic carriers” will be protected “by transferring the content to newer, more stable formats.” This suggests that a large number of physical material will in fact be preserved.

What is actually happening, Mr. Lacroix?

Is CBC destroying the original physical materials, as Chuck Thompson said on April 19th, and as Mr. Lefebvre confirmed on May 8th? Or is the opposite true, as stated in your letter of June 6th, that a substantial amount of original material will be preserved after digitization? Or has there been a change in policy between May 8th and June 6th? Have staff been instructed to stop destroying materials?

I would appreciate a straightforward answer to these straightforward questions, as would the 19,000 people who signed our petition.

2. What advice has Library and Archives Canada provided?

Your letter mentions that CBC has “been working closely with Library and Archives Canada throughout this process on best practices.” Further, Mr. Poulter advised us by email that “we are also happy to have the support of both Canadian Heritage and Library and Archives Canada on our approach.”

What specific advice has Library and Archives Canada given you? I invite you to set the record straight by releasing communications in which they convey their approval of the digitize-then-destroy approach.

3. Is CBC being treated differently than Radio-Canada?

Our May 9th email to Mr. Poulter also asked whether the CBC archive is being treated differently than the Radio-Canada archive, since Mr. Pedwell’s article reported that whereas CBC would destroy materials after digitizing them, “Radio-Canada…intends to retain its master recordings after making digital copies.” We have yet to receive an answer. We invite you to set the record straight on that matter as well.

Sincerely,

 Ian Morrison

Daniel Bernhard
Executive Director and Spokesperson
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting
200/238-131 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON
M5S 1R8

CC: Michael Goldbloom, Heather Conway, Chuck Thompson, Shaun Poulter

1 International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives, “Ethical Principles for Sound and Audiovisual Archives: 2.2.2 Technical Processing and Preservation”. https://www.iasa-web.org/ethical/222-technical-processing-and-preservation Accessed May 18th, 2018. Emphasis added.

2 Chuck Thompson, “Setting the record straight”. Published April 30th, 2018 http://www.cbc.ca/mediacentre/press-release/archive-digitizationsetting-the-record-straight Accessed 14 June 2018.

3 André St-Georges, “Archiving in the Digital Age”. Published May 8th. http://cbcrcblog.com/en/did-you-know/archiving-in-the-digital-age Accessed June 14 2018.