Ian Morrison, Spokesperson Friends of Canadian
Thanks for the invitation to appear today!
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is an independent watchdog
for Canadian programming on radio, television and new media. We are supported
by 150,000 Canadians and are not affiliated with any broadcaster or political
Your Committee is studying a matter close to our hearts, the
transparency and accountability of our national public broadcaster. Canadians
share with citizens of other western democracies profound respect for public
broadcasting. A recent POLLARA poll commissioned by Friends indicates that:
83% of Canadians use CBC each week,
83% believe that CBC is important in protecting
Canadian identity and culture,
76% rate CBC's performance as excellent, very
good or good, and
78% would advise their MP to maintain or
increase CBC's funding.
Before commenting on the CBC's performance under the Access
to Information Act, I thought you might welcome an external reference. On
Tuesday, the Information Commissioner provided you with an outline of the
access regimes in a few countries, among them the United Kingdom.
Through the Clerk, I wish to provide you with some links
which document the British Broadcasting Corporation's performance under the United
Kingdom's Freedom of Information Act.
The main BBC freedom of information website is http://www.bbc.co.uk/foi/, which indicates
that "as a publicly funded organization, the BBC is fully committed to meeting
both the spirit and the letter of the Act", and contains a series of helpful
links, such as "Disclosure Logs":
This link includes files on bonuses paid in 2010/11 and
tenders awarded in 2010. Members of the Committee might consider surfing through
the various links to gain insight into the compliance policies and practices of
another national public broadcaster - information that we find both instructive
I would like to share with you a few examples from our own
direct experience. In November 2009, Friends submitted a series of questions to
the CBC under the Access to Information Act. These included a request for all
correspondence among CBC's senior management mentioning "Friends of Canadian
Broadcasting" or "Ian Morrison" as well as the dollar value of all contracts in
recent years between CBC and a United States company known as "Frank R. Magid Associates".
Eleven weeks later we received a response refusing to disclose the financial
information, claiming exemption under Section 68.1. And after six months, in
response to our other access questions, we received a series of blanked out
files containing almost no useful information.
We would like to provide your Committee with our take on the
root problem and to offer a policy suggestion to address it.
Unlike the BBC and national public broadcasters in most
other western democracies, CBC's governance and senior management structure
suffers from an accountability deficit which is built into Section 36 of the
Broadcasting Act. The Governor-in-council appoints CBC's President, Chair and
ten other members of the Corporation's Board of Directors. As a result, unlike
the standard practice in the private sector, or that of most national public
broadcasters in democratic countries, CBC's Chief Executive Officer is effectively
accountable to no one. Section 52 of the Act correctly requires the Corporation
to program independently from governmental interference, and CBC's Board lacks
the authority that other Boards enjoy - to hire and fire the CEO.
In common with his immediate predecessors, the current CBC
President was appointed without previous broadcasting management, production,
or scheduling experience. He is a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, whose
previous broadcasting governance experience was confined to the board of
Telemedia as its legal adviser at a time when that family-controlled
corporation was actively seeking to sell its broadcasting properties. As a
practicing lawyer, however, he entered his present job with a sophisticated understanding
of legislation and therefore able to comprehend the requirements of the Access
to Information Act, and to evaluate the advice of subordinates thereon. We
therefore find it shocking that he, has endorsed and continued the disclosure
avoidance practice inherited from his predecessor, presumably with the approval
of CBC's Board of Directors. 
The CBC access to information issue as subsidiary to a
larger CBC accountability issue. The solution is to be found in a suggestion of
the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage eight years ago:
"In the interest of fuller
accountability and arm's-length from government, nominations to the CBC Board
should be made by a number of sources, and the CBC President should be
hired by and be responsible to the Board". A CBC Board of Directors, chosen at arms-length
from patronage and mandated to represent the public interest, with the power to
recruit, evaluate and if necessary terminate its President, would introduce
accountability on the part of the national public broadcaster's most senior
management. One of its duties, on behalf of its 34 million shareholders, would
be to ensure compliance with relevant statutes, including the Access to
This would bring the standard of governance of
Canada's national public broadcaster up to par with the standard of governance
of public broadcasters in other democratic countries, while addressing the
issue of compliance with the Access to Information Act.
This reform proposal is popular with Canadians.
POLLARA found that 86% of Canadians favour a non-political appointment process
for CBC's Board of Directors, and 87% favour a non-political appointment of
I would like to conclude with the following brief
comment. On the morning following the recent general election, Canada's
Heritage Minister, James Moore said:
"We believe in the national public broadcaster. We
have said that we will maintain or increase support for the CBC. That is our
platform and we have said that before and we will commit to that."
Yet, just ten weeks later, in conversation with
Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio One's talk-show "Q", Moore changed his tune:
"The CBC has to do its part. The idea that CBC
can't find 5% within the CBC to give back to the broader economic framework, I
think, is silly. Of course the CBC will be part of this overall process."
I want to draw the Committee's attention to the
following fact. In 1996, CBC's annual appropriation from the Government of
Canada represented 92 cents out of every $100 of federal program spending (net
of debt servicing). This year the federal government's investment in our
national public broadcaster is 51 cents out of every $100 of federal program
spending. CBC has more than pre-paid its contribution to deficit reduction:
As a watchdog for Canadian programming, Friends is often
critical of broadcasters - certainly including CBC's senior management. We also
critique the performance of cable monopolies and satellite television
distributors, the CRTC and sometimes the federal government. But, in keeping
with the vast majority of Canadians, including a substantial majority of
supporters of each federal political party, Friends strongly supports CBC's
talented employees who actually make the programming that Canadians enjoy daily.
We wish you well in your deliberations.
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For information: Jim Thompson 613-567-9592
 Page 104 of CBC/Radio Canada's Annual Report for
2010/11 states that: "CBC/Radio Canada's Board of Directors is responsible for
oversight of the management of the Corporation. In conjunction with the
Corporation's senior executive team, the Board also ensures regulatory
requirements, policies related to public accountability and access to
information, and our Journalistic Standards and Practices, are followed."
 Our Cultural
Sovereignty, Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, June 2003, page 567.
Oct 27, 2011 — News Release: PM’s appointees responsible for CBC’s disclosure woes
FRIENDS says the current debate about the CBC's access to information practices lays bare a broader accountability issue.
Oct 26, 2011 — Winnipeg Free Press: Tory government's handpicked CBC board oversees access-to-info file by Jennifer Ditchburn
FRIENDS calls for an arm's-length process for CBC board appointments and wants CBC president to be hired by and answerable to the board.