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FCB Undertaking #2, November 23 re: Application of the BBC Trust Model in Canada

Nov 27, 2012

Memo to:  Ms. Jade Roy, Supervisor, Public Hearings, CRTC
From: Ian Morrison, Spokesperson, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting

During the question period following the presentation by Friends of Canadian Broadcasting on November 23, I undertook to send the Commission a note concerning the BBC Trust model and its potential to address accountability issues at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

By way of background, we note that during questioning at the time of the applicant's appearance before you, the Chairman expressed concern about how your Commission can exercise its responsibility to ensure that the CBC is discharging its responsibilities under the Act, and whether a lighter regulatory approach could result in the disappearance of certain important kinds of Canadian programming from the system.  Commissioners also raised concerns about the Corporation's increasing reliance on unregulated services to deliver parts of its mandate, as well as the reporting line for the CBC/SRC Ombudsmen.

Friends shares these concerns.  We think they point towards a larger issue: namely, that the current governance model for the CBC is no longer adequate.

At a minimum, we recommend that the Commission put in place a regulatory regime for the CBC which is distinctly different from that employed for private broadcasters, given that the CBC carries a distinctive set of responsibilities under the Act. 

We recommend for your consideration a different governance model, which would entail legislative change, and therefore governmental concurrence.  Your decision could articulate a message to the government that would be subject to evaluation on its merits.

That model is the BBC Trust.  The Trust is a "sovereign body within the BBC," and functions independently from the Executive Board (which manages the organization). The members are Governor-in-Council appointments, made "after an open selection process."

The Trust's work includes setting the BBC's strategic objectives, issuing service licences (including budgets), monitoring performance and acting as the final point of appeal for complaints (including imposition of sanctions). All this with a view to "getting the best out of the BBC for licence fee payers" (i.e. representing the public interest).

The Trust's work is informed by four Audience Councils, and it has its own staff, which report directly to the Trust.

Thus the Trust combines key elements of the roles played in Canada by the CBC's Board of Directors, the CRTC and the Ombudsmen.

If the BBC Trust model were adopted in Canada, Canadians could evaluate the CBC's performance in the digital realm in the same way your Commission scrutinizes its licensed over-the-air and BDU-distributed services.

If we had a BBC Trust model in Canada, for example, the CBC would not have been allowed to unilaterally change the formats of Radio Two and Espace Musique, without an opportunity for meaningful public input. We could cite numerous other examples of enhanced public accountability.

The existence of the Trust hasn't stopped 'bad' things from happening at the BBC. Rather, it has ensured that when they do, there is a supportive but independent oversight body there to speak and act - decisively and credibly.

We recognize that this suggestion may go beyond the purview of this hearing as articulated by your Chairman on November 19.  But since it goes to the heart of so many of the issues you have raised - or that have been looming over this proceeding - we considered it constructive to raise it with you on November 23.

You can find further details on the BBC Trust at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/

Ian Morrison
Spokesperson

cc: regulatoryaffairs@cbc.ca