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CBC/Radio-Canada’s Language Obligations: Communities Want to See Themselves and Be Heard Coast to Coast!

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The Report

Preface

In the fall of 2011, the members of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages agreed to undertake a study on CBC/Radio-Canada’s obligations under the Official Languages Act and some specific aspects of the Broadcasting Act. Many of our members feel very strongly about this far-reaching issue, which is important to stakeholders who are interested in the evolution of English and French in Canadian society.

In the past, our committee has conducted a number of studies regarding the public broadcaster’s role and its respect for its language obligations. We first addressed the issue in our 2005 study on francophone and Acadian communities in Nova Scotia. We addressed it again in our 2009 report on francophone arts and culture. The issue came up again during our visit to anglophone communities in Quebec, which led to a report being tabled in the Senate in 2011. This is the first time, however, that our committee has taken an in-depth look at the key role that this federal institution plays in the advancement of Canada’s linguistic duality and the development of official-language minority communities.

As part of this study, we met with more than 40 witnesses (represented by 81 spokespersons) at public hearings held in Ottawa. Testimony was heard over the course of approximately two years, during which time other studies were also conducted and Parliament prorogued. We attempted to obtain as complete a picture as possible of the situation in all regions of the country. Provincial and territorial stakeholders delivered testimony that was at times poignant, at times hopeful, and often well documented. We heard from witnesses who spoke from the heart as they described the important role that the public broadcaster plays in the lives of Canadian anglophones and francophones. Some witnesses made a plea for help by pointing out that any cuts to public broadcasting services could have a negative impact on the survival and vitality of anglophone and francophone minority communities in the long term.

We listened attentively during the public hearings to determine whether or not CBC/Radio-Canada is meeting the requirements of the Official Languages Act and the Broadcasting Act. We want to express our sincere thanks to all the witnesses who agreed to participate in these hearings. In particular, we wish to thank the representatives of CBC/Radio-Canada, who worked with our members and staff throughout the study. We would like to express our sincere thanks to the outgoing Chair, Maria Chaput, for her outstanding contribution to this study and for fostering a positive working environment with her colleagues

Claudette Tardif
Chair

Andrée Champagne, P.C.
Deputy Chair

 

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Executive Summary

Over the past two years, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages has been studying CBC/Radio-Canada’s respect for its language obligations under the Official Languages Act and some aspects of the Broadcasting Act. More than 40 witnesses (represented by 81 spokespersons) were heard during the public hearings.

This is the first time that the Senate Committee has taken an in-depth look at the key role this federal institution plays in the advancement of Canada’s linguistic duality and the development of official-language minority communities. In light of recent events, ranging from financial pressures and demographic changes to emerging new technologies and competitive market conditions, it is clear that the public broadcaster faces numerous challenges, including difficulties meeting its language obligations.
The Senate Committee’s study examined various issues, from the offer of services in English and in French, equivalent quality of coverage, reflection of regional diversity and communications with the public, to measures to enhance the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities and advance linguistic duality. The Senate Committee attempted to obtain as complete a picture as possible of the situation in all regions of the country.

During the public hearings, many witnesses spoke on whether or not Part VII of the Official Languages Act applies to the public broadcaster’s programming. Opinions on this matter are diametrically opposed. CBC/Radio-Canada believes that the Official Languages Act applies only to its non-programming activities. The Commissioner of Official Languages is of the opinion that the broadcaster’s language obligations extend to decisions about programming and that he has the authority to investigate these decisions for possible violations of Part VII of the Official Languages Act. The question was placed before the Federal Court and a ruling is pending.

The Senate Committee wishes to point out that it was a Senate initiative to strengthen the binding nature of Part VII of the Official Languages Act. The debates leading up to its amendment in 2005 show that the legislative intent was to ensure federal institutions take measures that have a real impact on the development of official-language minority communities and on the advancement of linguistic duality. CBC/Radio-Canada, like all federal institutions that are subject to the Official Languages Act, cannot evade its responsibilities.

The testimony heard over the past two years has highlighted the urgent need for CBC/Radio-Canada to act in a manner that does not hinder the development of these communities, particularly francophone minority communities. The Corporation must therefore demonstrate that it takes the needs of these communities into account in its decision-making process, its consultation and reporting mechanisms, and its programming.  

The Senate Committee’s report is divided into three chapters. The first chapter defines CBC/Radio-Canada’s obligations under the Broadcasting Act and the Official Languages Act. The second chapter summarizes the key arguments of the witnesses who appeared before the Senate Committee. The third chapter sets out the Senate Committee’s findings with regard to the public broadcaster’s respect for language obligations and presents 12 recommendations to CBC/Radio-Canada and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages on what improvements are needed. In making its recommendations, the Senate Committee first considered the conditions of licence issued to the Corporation by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. It then highlighted the importance for the Corporation to act in the spirit of the Official Languages Act.

Although the public broadcaster has made progress over the years, it still faces many challenges when it comes to official languages. Witness testimony highlighted the following nine themes:

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First, it was recognized that CBC/Radio-Canada plays a key role in the development and vitality of official-language minority communities. The Corporation provides a vital French presence throughout the country, promoting partnerships in various sectors affecting the development of these communities. The Corporation must increase dialogue among the various components of the Canadian Francophonie and maintain a French presence throughout the country.
In its report, the Senate Committee recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada take concrete and positive measures to enable all francophones across Canada to see, hear and read about themselves in French.
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Second, the issue of reflecting the reality of official-language minority communities, both in the regions and on the national network, as well as across all platforms, dominated the public hearings. What was heard most often was that these communities want “to see, hear and read about themselves” on the airwaves. For this to happen, regional and national content must be better aligned.
In its report, the Senate Committee recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada promote greater collaboration between its regional stations and its national network and facilitate exchanges from one station to another, one platform to another and one network to the other in order to reflect regional diversity and realities of official-language minority communities more effectively in national programming.
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Third, the offer of services of equivalent quality in English and in French is vital given that the Corporation is a single institution made up of two separate language networks. The Corporation must be a leader in the advancement of linguistic duality. That said, many witnesses pointed out significant differences between the corporate cultures of the Corporation’s English and French networks and brought up the two solitudes. The public broadcaster needs to do more to facilitate exchanges between the two networks.
In its report, the Senate Committee recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada ensure that all anglophones and francophones have access to programming of equivalent quality in all regions of Canada. It also recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada increase opportunities for collaboration between its English and French networks.
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Fourth, many witnesses called for changes to existing consultation mechanisms and the corporate culture so that the Corporation is more aware of the needs of official-language minority communities.
In its report, the Senate Committee recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada demonstrate how feedback from consultations with official-language minority communities was taken into consideration in its decision-making process. It also recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada demonstrate how its corporate culture has taken into consideration the realities and challenges unique to those communities.
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Fifth, young people must be the focus of the Corporation’s strategies, and various measures can be taken to attract and hold their attention. It was recognized that young Canadians are increasingly embracing the Internet, social media and new electronic platforms. But the very heart of their message was how important it is for the public broadcaster to embody linguistic duality, offer local programming that reflects who they are and be aware of what they need and expect.
In its report, the Senate Committee recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada consult with young Canadian anglophones, francophones and francophiles to determine what they expect, what they need and how best to reach them across all of its platforms (radio, television and the Internet).
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Sixth, the Corporation is an ideal platform for artists working in English and French linguistic minority communities. Its primary role is to develop, broadcast and promote the many artistic talents in the country.
In its report, the Senate Committee recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada commit to reflecting the artistic and cultural talents of anglophone and francophone minority communities in its national programming, across all of its platforms (radio, television and the Internet). It also recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada allocate a reasonable portion of its programming expenditures to independent producers in francophone minority communities.
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Seventh, its transition to the digital world and its use of new platforms are both a challenge and an opportunity for the public broadcaster to meet the expectations of audience of all ages and all backgrounds. However, testimony showed that traditional media was still essential, especially in a minority context, where obstacles to Internet access still remain.
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Eighth, reporting challenges continue, especially when assessing the performance of CBC/Radio-Canada in terms of official languages. 
In its report, the Senate Committee recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada review its reporting mechanisms to clearly and appropriately assess its performance in terms of official languages.
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Ninth, CBC/Radio-Canada’s role with respect to official-language communities cannot be looked at separately from other players in the broadcasting system. Community media and new francophone channels will certainly have an impact on the offer of services. The public hearings highlighted the need for greater collaboration between the Corporation and community media.
In its report, the Senate Committee recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada explore ways increase collaboration with community media in all regions across the country in order to reflect regional diversity more effectively.

Given the uncertain budgetary context in which the Corporation has been operating for some time, many representatives from English and French linguistic minority communities wonder what the future holds for them. Many of them feel that these financial requirements should not distract the public broadcaster from its primary mission, which is to be at the heart of their development and to advance both official languages across the country. Support for local programming was unanimously seen as key to enhancing the vitality of these communities.

Recognizing that the elimination of the Local Programming Improvement Fund could have a negative impact on official-language minority communities, the Senate Committee recommends in its report that targeted financial assistance be provided to CBC/Radio-Canada so that it can continue to support local production in official-language minority communities after 31 August 2014.

While the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission has just set new conditions of licence for CBC/Radio-Canada over the next five years, a number of stakeholders will be watching to see that it meets its language obligations. As testimony from the Senate Committee’s public hearings showed, the public broadcaster must redouble its efforts to meet its official languages obligations. The purpose of the recommendations to CBC/Radio-Canada and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages is to move forward and make improvements. The Senate Committee will closely monitor the public broadcaster’s actions in light of the recommendations in this report. Radio-Canada’s tagline “ICI Radio-Canada” must reflect everyone in Canada in every way.

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Recommendations

Recommendation 1

That CBC/Radio-Canada, according to the conditions of licence issued by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and in the spirit of the Official Languages Act, take concrete and positive measures to enable all francophones across Canada to see, hear and read about themselves in French.

Recommendation 2

That CBC/Radio-Canada, according to the conditions of licence issued by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and in the spirit of the Official Languages Act, ensure that all anglophones and francophones are offered programming of equivalent quality in all regions of Canada.

Recommendation 3

That CBC/Radio-Canada immediately increase opportunities for collaboration between its English and French networks and that the board of directors share its collaboration plan with the Senate Committee by 31 December 2014.

Recommendation 4

That CBC/Radio-Canada demonstrate how feedback from consultations with official-language minority communities was taken into consideration in its decision-making process and that the board of directors notify the Senate Committee of action taken by 31 December 2014.

Recommendation 5

That CBC/Radio-Canada explore ways to increase collaboration with community media in all regions across the country.

Recommendation 6

That the Government of Canada, through the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, provide targeted financial assistance to CBC/Radio-Canada so that it can continue to support local production in official-language minority communities after 31 August 2014.

Recommendation 7

That CBC/Radio-Canada, according to the conditions of licence issued by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and in the spirit of the Official Languages Act, commit to reflecting the regional diversity and realities of official-language minority communities in its national programming, during prime time, by promoting greater collaboration between its regional stations and its national network and facilitating exchanges from one station to another, one platform to another (radio, television and the Internet) and one network to the other.

Recommendation 8

That CBC/Radio-Canada, according to the conditions of licence issued by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and in the spirit of the Official Languages Act, commit to reflecting the artistic and cultural talents of anglophone and francophone minority communities in its national programming, during prime time, across all of its platforms (radio, television and the Internet).

Recommendation 9

That CBC/Radio-Canada, according to the conditions of licence issued by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and in the spirit of the Official Languages Act, allocate a reasonable share of its programming expenditures to independent producers in francophone minority communities.

Recommendation 10

That CBC/Radio-Canada immediately start consulting with young Canadian anglophones, francophones, and francophiles to determine what they expect, what they need and how the Corporation can best reach them across all of its platforms (radio, television and the Internet) and that the board of directors notify the Senate Committee of action taken by 31 December 2014.

Recommendation 11

That CBC/Radio-Canada demonstrate how its corporate culture has taken into consideration the realities and challenges unique to official-language minority communities and that the board of directors notify the Senate Committee of action taken by 31 December 2014.

Recommendation 12

That CBC/Radio-Canada review its reporting mechanisms to clearly and appropriately assess its performance in terms of official languages and that the board of directors notify the Senate Committee of action taken by 31 December 2014.

Contact information

General Information:
613-990-0088 or 1-800-267-7362

Email: ollo@sen.parl.gc.ca

Mailing Address:
Senate Committee on Official Languages
The Senate of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1A 0A4