Speech by Scott Hutton, Executive Director, Broadcasting, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

To the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages

Ottawa, Ontario
March 26, 2012

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Good afternoon, Madam Chair and members of the Committee.

Allow me to first introduce my CRTC colleagues: Paulette Leclair, Director of Public Affairs, and Véronique Lehoux, Legal Counsel. We want to thank you for giving the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) the opportunity to appear before the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages.

I will begin with the first study, the one dealing with the use of the Internet, digital media and social media in the context of Canadians’ language rights.

The CRTC and the Internet

Since the late 1990s, the Internet has been imposing profound changes on communications activities, both here in Canada and around the world.

Canadians are increasingly using digital media to access audiovisual and musical content. The following statistics speak volumes: on a weekly basis, we note that Anglophones spend a little over 18 hours online, while francophones spend 13 hours. Moreover, 38% of anglophones and 41% of francophones watch television shows online. Also, 63% of anglophones and 60% of francophones listen to streamed music.

As you note in the brief that is the basis of your study, all sectors of the economy are influenced by these new modes of communication. These changes raise numerous challenges for governments, particularly with regard to language rights.

The CRTC is obliged to respect Treasury Board guidelines on websites. In response to these guidelines, the Commission completely overhauled its website in 2009, but maintained its respect for the requirements of official languages legislation. In fact, we post the English and French versions of all public documents simultaneously, once we have ensured that the texts are of equal quality in both languages.

Since 2009, the Commission has held five online consultations to make it easier for Canadians to get involved with issues that affect them directly. For each consultation, the CRTC produced a short video in English and French to draw attention to the following issues:

The CRTC also expanded its communications activities by using social media to reach a greater number of Canadians, in both official languages.

In fact, last June, the CRTC conducted a pilot project on the use of Twitter during a public hearing. All CRTC communications were in both official languages, including hashtags and real-time responses from staff to questions put to us. We also saw this as an opportunity to improve public understanding of our mandate and to quickly correct any myths, rumours or misinformation. The CRTC has had an active presence on Twitter since that pilot project.

This presence is consistent with the guidelines issued by Treasury Board last November. We analyzed the guidelines and amended our practices in order to ensure that they are compliant. For example, as of a few weeks ago, the CRTC has a Twitter account in each official language.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

I would now like to address the CRTC’s role in the context of the study you began last fall on the CBC.

In carrying out its mandate, the CRTC ensures that the Canadian broadcasting system reflects the country’s linguistic duality. As an administrative tribunal with quasi-judicial functions, a significant part of the Commission’s mandate involves implementing the policy objectives set out in the Broadcasting Act. To do this, we consider all of the objectives mentioned in the Act, including linguistic duality.

As national public broadcaster, the CBC must meet the objectives of the Broadcasting Act in order to properly serve all Canadians, including official language minority communities, or OLMCs.

Because the CBC is a federal institution under the Official Languages Act—like the CRTC—it reports annually on how it has met its obligations under section 41 of the Act, and provides an update of the broadcast year. In addition, the CRTC requires the Corporation to file, within three months of the end of each broadcast year, a report dealing specifically with French-language television. Among other things, this report describes any adjustments made to address the needs of French-speaking Canadians outside Quebec.

We planned to hold hearings in June on the renewal of the CBC’s radio and television licences. However, because of the tabling of the budget, the Corporation asked the CRTC to put the hearings off to a later date so that it could establish its operating budget before conditions of licence are imposed. The Commission acceded to this request and postponed the process until further notice.

Recent decisions

I would like to take this opportunity to inform you of some of the decisions we have taken since last year.

First, in March 2011, the CRTC approved the acquisition of CTVglobemedia by BCE. Among other things, this transaction will mean improved access to the Canadian broadcasting system through a new independent fund of $5.7 million. This decision is consistent with our 2009 regulatory policy requiring English- and French-language broadcasters to improve the quality of closed captioning and provide more programming with described video.

Then, last August, the CRTC granted the CBC an additional year to convert some of its analog transmitters to digital, while other broadcasters had to complete the transition by August 31, 2011. The reason for this decision is that the CBC operates the largest number of transmitters in the country: 66 in mandatory markets and 413 in non-mandatory markets.

Among these transmitters, there are 22 that rebroadcast the signals of local CBC stations into other communities. Those communities are considered mandatory markets, but the CBC has no plans to replace the current transmitters with digital transmitters. In granting this extension, the Commission ensured that OLMCs in certain markets won’t lose access to the signals of television stations in the language of their choice. The CRTC plans to review the CBC’s long-term plans for over-the-air analog transmitters before August 31, 2012.

Finally, we amended our satellite distribution policy last fall to ensure that Canadians can access the services of the CBC in their province. We are requiring Bell TV to distribute at least 43 additional television stations by August 31, 2012, while Shaw Direct will have to distribute all conventional television stations that are eligible for support from the Local Programming Improvement Fund by January 1, 2013.

Ongoing commitment to OLMCs

The CRTC is working closely with OLMCs on several levels. First of all, in 2007, we created a discussion group that brings together community representatives and Commission staff. The meetings, which take place twice a year, give staff an opportunity to familiarize themselves with OLMCs’ needs, priorities and realities. They also enable community representatives to identify the Commission’s public proceedings that could have an impact on their growth and vitality, and in which OLMCs can participate in order to make their views known.

We are pleased to note that the discussion group’s work has provided for greater OLMC participation in the Commission’s public proceedings, and that the quality of their interventions has improved a great deal. This participation provides for systematic use by the CRTC of an internal tool that is essentially a step-by-step process for assessing the impact on OLMCs of the Commission’s options and possible decision. This tool is available on the Commission’s internal site and enables CRTC staff to better meet their obligations under section 41 of the Official Languages Act.

Conclusion

I have just provided you with an overview of the many activities that reflect the CRTC’s commitment to respecting the Broadcasting Act and the Official Languages Act.

My colleagues and I would be happy to answer your questions.

Thank you.

 

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