CBC/Radio-Canada questioned about RCI mandate

CBC/Radio-Canada's President Robert Rabinovitch and two Executive Vice-Presidents Sylvain Lafrance and Richard Stursberg were before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on November 27, 2007.

The question of RCI's international mandate was raised by Maria Mourani, the Heritage critic of the opposition Bloc Quebecois Party.

Below is the official parliamentary translation from the original French:
[From parliamentary site of the Standing Committee, link is

Mrs. Maria Mourani (Ahuntsic, BQ):
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.

    First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Rabinovitch, Mr. Lafrance and Mr. Stursberg for coming to meet with us…

    People from Radio Canada International have been emailing and phoning me. They have told me about comments that have me a little intrigued, not to say concerned. What they seem to be saying is that the mandate of Radio Canada International has been changing for some time—this is not new, but the trend has become clearer under your leadership—and that the funding and resources allocated to Radio-Canada International are not sufficient. They mention $15 million in 1997. These $15 million, that were once dedicated to Radio Canada International, are now in the overall corporation budget and do not go to Radio-Canada International in their entirety.

    So here is my question. Of that famous $15 million, how much really goes to Radio Canada International? Why does this committee feel that the mandate has changed and that they no longer seem to be providing news overseas, if we take the example of news bulletins? These people say that there are fewer newscasts, and that there apparently sections, like the Ukrainian service for example, that used to broadcast every day and are now limited to Saturdays and Sundays. They say that programs have been taken off short wave and put onto a cable system. The result is that the programs can now only be heard in Kiev.

    That is my question, Mr. Rabinovitch.

Mr. Robert Rabinovitch:
    With your permission, I would like Sylvain to start.
Mrs. Maria Mourani:
    Of course.
Mr. Robert Rabinovitch:
    The same applies to your second question, since RCI is in his area of responsibility. So if you wish, he will also answer your second question.
Mr. Sylvain Lafrance (Executive Vice-President, French Services, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation):
    I will answer the question about RCI first and then I will answer the question about the francophone and anglophone markets.

    RCI's basic mandate has absolutely not changed. However, you will have noticed that for several years, we have worked hard to integrate our radio, television and web resources with the same logic as almost all the media in the world, that is to try for a multi-platform approach. Radio Canada International is no different. Its services are now much more closely linked to those of Radio-Canada. This allows Radio Canada International to take advantage of, for example, Radio-Canada's communications, finance and buildings services, which I feel is sound management.

    So Radio Canada International's budget may seem smaller because some amounts are now in communications, in finances, in facilities or elsewhere. Overall, the amounts spent on Radio Canada have not changed at all.

    One thing has changed at Radio Canada International, however—and in my opinion, the change was made to better reflect reality. Radio Canada International now also produces programs intended for new immigrants to Canada. We realized that, with our ability to broadcast in Russian, Arabic, Portuguese and Spanish, it was perhaps a great waste of energy to broadcast only overseas, given what we know about immigration rates to Canada. So now we produce programs that welcome immigrants in different languages. This seems to me to be logical for Radio Canada International to do.

    I think that this is all good news for Radio Canada International, which today has a much more relevant role than it used to have. It is good news in my opinion.

    As to the French and English markets…

Second round for Mrs Mourani:

Mrs. Maria Mourani:
    Thank you.

    I want to come back to Radio Canada International, RCI, whose main mandate is to broadcast internationally in different languages and to provide information about Canada. It has a complementary mandate to tell immigrants about Canada.

    I am told that less and less radio news is being broadcast, that production staff is being told not to make news programming, and that the CBC seems to have abolished rules 14 and 18 in its corporate policy that explicitly require Radio Canada International to produce broadcasts aimed at overseas audiences.

    I went onto the RCI website and it is true that, when you click on the national and international articles, you are taken directly to the Radio-Canada site. When you click on "Migrations et Immigration", you go to articles written by people who work for Radio Canada International.

    Is the mandate changing? I am not saying that it has been abolished. Does one mandate take precedence over another? If so, how can that be done without contravening the act?

    How much of that famous $15 million goes directly to Radio-Canada? As I understand it, those $15 million are supposed to go directly to Radio Canada International, and not be included in the corporation's overall budget.
Mr. Sylvain Lafrance:
    I will talk about the mandate first and then about the money.

    Radio Canada's mandate is not changing, but, like media mandates everywhere, it is evolving. Look at the large international media outlets. When, for example, Radio Canada International goes on the air in French-speaking Africa or anywhere else in the world, we are up against the major international players like the BBC, Voice of America or Radio France Internationale. They have much greater resources and are able to offer complete and well-directed news services. RCI is much smaller, so it has to set itself apart from its competition.

    Still from the standpoint of the democratic and cultural values that we want to espouse, we decide that RCI must be a tool that broadcasts Canadian democratic and cultural values overseas. Do we do that in newscasts only, or do we also do it with cultural shows about Canada of a more general and social nature? This question of programming is an interesting one.

    Yes, there has been an evolution. The mandate has not changed, but it does adjust: if we really want to get democratic and cultural values out there, we have other ways to do it than just by news bulletins. The news produced by CBC in English and Radio-Canada in French is generally good, and, broadly speaking, covers what is going on in Canada.

    Maybe there has been a shift towards programming whose content deals more with culture and society than information, but that seems to me to be simply a process of matching RCI's personality to the present reality of international broadcasting.

    Is there less programming than previously? It is certainly true that the broadcasting technology used by the major international broadcasters has changed a lot. Short wave, for example, is much less effective in some markets today than the web, or programs on FM.

    Radio Canada International is a multimedia outlet today, in my opinion. If you go on the RCI site, you will find a lot of video and audio. RCI has become a production unit that is quite specialized in world migration and immigration issues. This is because Canada is an important country that must be an example to the world in those matters. I see that as a major role.

    The essence of RCI's mandate has not changed.

    As to the finances, RCI has about $15 million that it can call on. Whether its communications money comes from a communications team, whether Radio Canada International is written on the cheque or whether the money comes from a communications team with Radio Canada written on their cheques, honestly, it makes little difference. I think that it is more effective to use a large team of communications specialists or a large team of financial people and include RCI in our structures, as we have done for many of our operations at the corporation, especially since Robert arrived. I just see it as good old efficient management and basic common sense.

Mrs. Maria Mourani:
    I understand perfectly what you are saying, but I say to myself that, if the government gives you $15 million for Radio Canada International, logically, the money must go to Radio Canada International. I understand management, I understand rationality, centralization and all the rest. As you say, the cheque can be written by Radio Canada or Radio Canada International, but in order to write it, the government must give you the mandate.

    Do you understand what I mean?
Mr. Sylvain Lafrance:
    We are still investing $15 million in Radio Canada International, and I feel that all our government partners are perfectly aware of the corporation's integration strategy. They know full well that Radio Canada International is part of it.
Mrs. Maria Mourani:
Mr. Sylvain Lafrance:
    It is true that Radio Canada International's budget is now part of the corporation's budget.

    When we did it—and I say "we" because it includes all Radio Canada International's partners—it was very clear that we wanted to manage it more intelligently, if I may say. It allowed us to cut some costs so that we could put more money into programming. We really did it with that intent.
Mrs. Maria Mourani:
    So, as I understand it...

The Chair:
    We have to move on…

More on the RCI mandate question here.

The RCI Action Committee is an inter-union committee defending RCI's mandate as an international broadcaster. See details here.

If there are things you find are not clear, or explained enough, please don't hesitate to drop us a note at: rciaction@yahoo.ca
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