|RCI ACTION COMMITTEE
Defending Radio Canada International - Canada's Voice to the World
| You want to listen to the people who deal
with these external listeners,
their level of sophistication,
Dear Hon. Ms. Copps,
My name is Ralph Brandi. I am a shortwave listener and have listened to Radio Canada International for close to 25 years. I have a degree in broadcasting from Penn State University, where I studied with two excellent professors, John Spicer Nichols, a recognized expert on international broadcasting, and Richard L. Barton, author of the book "Ties That Blind in Canadian/American Relations : Politics of News Discourse" and an expert on domestic Canadian broadcasting.
I also grew up in Detroit watching Canadian television and listening to Canadian radio. So I have more than a passing familiarity with both domestic and international broadcasting from Canada.
I am concerned with the reports I hear coming out of Canada about recent developments at Radio Canada International.
Despite the fact that RCI's budget is in surplus, it was deemed necessary to cut all news broadcasts on weekends, and to cut the length of a number of language broadcasts.
I am of Ukrainian descent (my non-Ukrainian last name notwithstanding) and have many Ukrainian-Canadian relatives, so I am particularly concerned about the cutbacks to Russian and Ukrainian language broadcasts. Huge numbers of Ukrainians emigrated to Canada in the 20th century, making the ties between the two countries unusually strong.
By cutting out news broadcasts on weekends and cutting program length by half to an area of the world with which Canada has such strong ties and that is in such desperate need of clear and unbiased information, Canada does its own citizens of Ukrainian descent a disservice, as well as those citizen of Ukraine with ties to Canada.
Similar cuts to English and French language broadcasts do similar damage to understanding of Canadian affairs in countries like the US.
I understand that one of the most popular features on Canadian television lately deals with the ignorance of Americans in regard to our neighbor to the north. These cuts can only make this situation worse.
As part of these efforts, it has become increasingly clear that efforts are being made to tie Radio Canada International more closely to the CBC. Unfortunately, while the CBC is one of the world's finest public broadcasters and produces much programming of excellent quality, its expertise is not in the field of international broadcasting. This is demonstrated by the kind of programming that CBC-installed management is proposing for a revamped RCI.
In the shortwave listening hobby, there is a long-standing joke, based on the laughable propaganda broadcasts by eastern bloc stations during the Cold War, about stations reading tractor production statistics at us. Frankly, nobody cares how many tractors a given country has produced except possibly the people producing them.
But the programs that are being recommended by CBC for RCI reek of such horrible ideas in an attempt to "inject" listeners abroad with the desire to make deals with Canada and Canadian companies. This is a naive view of how international broadcasting works.
Such naivete is not displayed in the programs that are currently (or were until recently) produced by the employees of Radio Canada International.
These employees are the experts in international broadcasting, the needs of which are greatly different from domestic broadcasting. In a domestic program produced by CBC, it would be somewhat silly to explain regularly who your own Prime Minister is. Surely the vast majority of Canadians know. But in other countries, Mr. Chretien's profile is distinctly lower; our new President, after all, mistook him for french-fried potatoes. Programs from the domestic service aimed at an audience that is well-versed in day-to-day Canadiana are therefore to some extent incomprehensible by an external audience.
If you were going to have heart surgery, you wouldn't want it to be performed by your General Practitioner; you would want to call in an expert in Cardiac Medicine.
Similarly, when you're broadcasting to an external audience, you don't simply want to take direction from an organization that produces a wide variety of programs for a domestic audience; you want to listen to the people who deal with these external listeners, their level of sophistication, their interests, day in and day out, every day of the year.
The broadcasting done by these professionals is perhaps not something you can point to and say "this program resulted in the sale of X number of Bombardier railway cars to Y country"; the influence is much more subtle. But the good will engendered by such broadcasts has an effect, such that 2X or 4X or 10X number of Bombardier railway cars are likely sold, simply because the nationals of the countries targeted by RCI broadcasts harbor a favorable view of Canada, engendered by clear, well-produced and presented broadcasts that take their concerns into account.
By tying RCI broadcasts to the CBC, Canada's government ensures that important programming decisions will be made by people without adequate understanding of the implications this will have on Canada's image abroad.
Looking at the list of programs proposed by the CBC in this reorganization, it looks like RCI will go from being one of the best and most-respected stations in the world (and one that does such excellent work on a shoestring compared to its peers) to a station that reads tractor-production statistics or their equivalent to its listeners and becomes a laughing stock.
Your own support of Radio Canada International over the years is evidence of your own understanding of all these issues, and I wish to commend you for it, especially your actions of a few years ago that assured a steady source of funding for RCI.
I ask you to take one further step in your support for RCI. I urge the Canadian government to live up to its commitments to international broadcasting as represented in the RCI charter, to reinstate broadcasts at full length and with full journalistic coverage, and to resist the assimilation of RCI into the domestic CBC structure.
Thank you for your time.
Ralph Brandi, Tinton Falls, New Jersey, USA