CBC says it will carry on with destruction of broadcast archives once digitized by Terry Pedwell

Apr 18, 2018

Source: National Post

OTTAWA — A charitable group dedicated to preserving the country’s broadcasting heritage is calling on the CBC to stop destroying original television and radio broadcast materials as it moves to digitize the content.

The Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation says the public broadcaster’s English service earlier this month began destroying acetate transcriptions, as well as audio and video recordings that span eight decades, after converting the master copies into a digital format.

The foundation asked the CBC earlier this year for time to find a suitable space to archive and preserve the material, but says it was turned down.

It notes that Radio-Canada, the public broadcaster’s French-language service, intends to retain its master recordings after making digital copies.

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.

But a spokesman for the broadcaster says it was being done only after the content was digitized under its own, strict archiving guidelines.

“Our focus is on preservation of content and if we do not digitize this content, it will be lost,” said Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC English Services.

“With that in mind, between now and June 30, CBC intends to proceed with the safe and environmentally responsible destruction of those carriers which have been digitized, so long as our standards for media quality and data security have been met,” he said in an email.

The foundation raised concerns about losing the original recordings in a letter last month to Heritage Minister Melanie Joly.

It told the minister a plan was in the works to store the CBC’s archival content in the decommissioned underground NORAD Canadian Forces base in North Bay, Ont., but that it couldn’t meet a Mar. 31 deadline earlier this year to transfer the materials and asked the minister to delay destruction of CBC’s original English-language programming.

A spokesman for Joly declined comment, calling it a CBC decision.

Kealy Wilkinson, the foundation’s executive director, called the destruction of the content “truly disturbing.”

“That at a time when Canada is finally committed to sustain and support Indigenous cultures, it has become the first developed nation to systematically destroy master recordings of its largest audiovisual heritage collection, our English-language radio and television artifacts.”

The CBC said it had already digitized over 20 per cent of its content and would accelerate the process over the next five to eight years.

“We are investing in the digitization of our audio and video media to protect and preserve our archives, to make them easier for our production teams to access and for Canadians to rediscover,” Thompson said in an email, noting that the CBC is recognized among its peer broadcasters as an industry leader in archival preservation.

Thompson added that the equipment needed to play the original recordings had become obsolete or would require “significant maintenance.”

But internationally accepted standards and best practices of audiovisual preservation call for retention of originals, due to the unknown characteristics of digitization, such as long-term stability and vulnerability to electromagnetic interference, the foundation said.

It also questioned why Radio-Canada was preserving its master recordings after making digital copies but CBC had opted to rely only on digital copies.

“Such inequitable treatment of cultural treasures is not acceptable,” said Wilkinson.

© National Post