Watchdog to CBC: ‘Don’t prostitute your crown jewels’ by Olesia Plokhii

Nov 23, 2012

Source: iPolitics 

A broadcasting watchdog today publicly called on the national regulator to deny CBC a new stream of advertising revenue and ensure the corporation has a contingency plan in place for the loss of a lucrative contract with the NHL.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting spokesman Ian Morrison said he worried the advertising concession would pave the way for further commercialization of the public entity and hurt smaller broadcasters.

The CBC, which today finished the first week of its 10 day license renewal hearings, has asked the CRTC to allow it to air commercials on two of its national radio stations, Radio 2 and Espace musique, in light of $115 million in federal budget cuts over the next three years.

The request has been widely met with disapproval and concerns about the future of the CBC.

Morrison said it deflects from the corporation’s need to make tough choices about budgeting without compromising their most valued cultural assets.

“You don’t have to go out and prostitute your crown jewels,” to make up for budget cuts, Morrison said after his public intervention on behalf of the group. “There are other things you can do.”

“Reduce expenses, make choices.”

Friends also requested the CRTC require the corporation to report to them in case they lose a longstanding broadcast contract with the NHL estimated to be worth $200 million in revenue.

The CBC has downplayed the likelihood they will lose the contract—being eyed by Bell and Rogers—when it comes up for review next year.

Morrison also wants the CRTC to impose on the CBC a clear and defined regulatory framework—that goes against the lax reporting requirements the broadcaster is asking for—so it is held accountable to its mandate. He argued easing of regulations could lead to broken promises by the CBC.

“If they say ‘trust us,’ it’s not warranted by the record,” Morrison said about beliefs the corporation has bent its license terms in the past.

The CBC on Monday, the first day of the hearings, argued that the current regulatory framework is cumbersome and redundant, asking to be given the right to streamline some of their requirements.

CBC President Hubert Lacroix also told the CRTC panel that debilitating budget cuts have forced the CBC to ask for the right to air ads on their two radio stations, adding it was “a necessary choice to make.”

While Morrison today rejected the need for advertisements, he said the CBC has been “singled out for disproportionate damage by the government” and pushed the CRTC to “send a strong message” to Parliament about the effect of cuts.

Although the regulator has no jurisdiction to influence Parliament over its funding of the CBC, it does have power to create new funding pools for struggling broadcasters.

The Canadian Media Guild, which represents 5,000 unionized CBC/Radio-Canada employees, today asked the CRTC to create a fund projected to bring in $65 million annually for community broadcasters and the CBC.

The money would come from cable and satellite distributors like Rogers and Shaw, who would be obliged to pay 0.75 per cent of their annual revenues into the pool.

If adopted, the pool would replace a similar one the CRTC established in 2008 that has brought in an average of $40 million each year to the CBC from private broadcast distributors. That fund expires in 2014.

The guild argued the fund should be adopted by the CRTC because it is “leaner” than the current one and will offset the CBC’s financial losses.

“In the context of significant cuts in federal public funding, the fund we are proposing would support vital local and regional programming by CBC/Radio-Canada, including in official language minority communities that have no private-sector alternative,” the guild said.

The Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters, along with an accessibility group, also testified at today’s hearings.

A decision on the terms of the CBC’s new license, last negotiated in 1999, is not set to come down until next year.

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