|RCI ACTION COMMITTEE
Seven Days a Week - Defending Radio Canada International - Canada's Voice to the World
| RCI's New "Repositioning" :
Cuts, Reduced Programming and
Questionable Journalistic Decisions
On February 2, 2004, Radio Canada International announced new programming and a decision to increasingly tailor programs to different areas of the world. Management at Canada's radio broadcaster to the world, pointed to RCI's position as a small player, and the need for it to adapt to new realities. The accent was focussed on the positive. (A press release is on the RCI website: www.rcinet.ca or can be viewed here.)
Though many details of this new "repositioning" are still to be worked out, it's clear there will be cuts to RCI programming and services will be reduced. As well, some questionable journalistic decisions have been taken.
New Programming - Portuguese to Brazil
At present, RCI has seven (7) language sections: English and French, and Arabic, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Spanish, Ukrainian and Russian. The addition of Portuguese would suggest another section, but in fact, all that can be confirmed is that there will "probably" be a weekly program of perhaps 15 or 30 minutes. Counting languages, rather than sections, RCI now says it is broadcasting in nine (9) languages.
Ukrainian Programming to be Slashed
To pay for the new Portuguese programming, RCI has decided (pending an agreement with a radio station in Ukraine) to cut daily programming, reduce RCI's production to a weekly broadcast, and eliminate any news content. As you can imagine, our Ukrainian colleagues are in shock.
RCI`s English and French Programming Cut to the Americas
RCI management has decided to eliminate entirely any RCI-produced programming to the Americas. RCI Director Jean Larin told staff that Americans "understand" the domestic service's programming.
In 1991, it was estimated RCI had one million listeners in the United States alone. No recent figures are available.
Repositioned Away from Uncensored News
The Chinese service was set up after the tragic events of Tiananman Square to not only give Chinese listeners news from Canada, but uncensored news of the world as well. Management has now decided to cut one of the two popular shortwave programs (it's cutting the highly listened to evening broadcast).
Management says it's doing this to put more resources into co-productions with local radio stations in China. Although staff has always seen the utility of these co-productions, there are serious concerns that more and more of the Chinese section's work will be influenced by what Chinese authorities will allow on their airwaves, leading to censorship of topics or self-censorship.
Management has also decided to put more emphasis on getting to the Chinese audience through the Internet, even though Chinese authorities block access to RCI's website.
Permanent Positions Kept Unfilled
A number of permanent positions among production staff are no longer being posted and filled by new staff. Temporary staff is used, as if preparing the way for eventual cuts. For months two positions were unfilled in the Ukrainian service, now we understand why (in part to make resources available for Portuguese programming to Brazil.) There are other positions that remain unfilled.
How far will it go?
Management at RCI, at the domestic service CBC/Radio-Canada, and politicians in Ottawa, have learned that "bad" news about Canada's Voice to the World causes negative reaction from listeners and supporters in Canada and around the world.
Recent announcements about changes to RCI policies are presented as positive moves, that reinforce the importance of the international service, and avoid the uncomfortable realities of a diminished service.
Most back-up staff, such as those in administration, human resources and technical services, have already been integrated into the domestic service. In some cases, there may be a financial saving, but RCI's best interests are not always the priority.
It's difficult to determine what the future holds.
In 2003, the parliamentary Order-in-Council that describes RCI's role was revised for the first time since 1968. Among the deletions: the necessity for the RCI Director to lead delegations that discuss RCI matters with the Foreign Affairs Department.
When RCI's three 24-hour-a-day satellite services were launched, they were described as a great achievement for RCI to raise its profile. But fully 90 per cent of the programming comes from the domestic service CBC/Radio-Canada.
In 2001, a confidential report examined how RCI's English and French newsrooms could be integrated into the domestic service. In effect, the international newsrooms would not exist as separate entities. Three scenarios were examined in detail. Among the considerations: the report analysed the potential reactions of local and international media to such a move. It was decided not to proceed.
A Canadian Voice?
And perhaps among the most puzzling statements to come out of this latest repositioning was the assertion that RCI, Canada's voice to the world, is repositioning its programming "to provide listeners with a unique North American perspective that embraces the world…"
The RCI Action Committee is an inter-union coalition representing RCI's unionised staff.
Together with listeners and supporters, the Committee has fought attempts to shut down RCI in 1991, 1995 and 1996. It has presented several briefs to parliamentary committees in Ottawa, and was behind the creation of a Senate inquiry into the 1991 cuts at RCI.
Since 2001, the Committee has fought a series of "re-deployment" and "re-positioning" policies that continue to cut RCI services and independence.
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