Speech by Leonard Katz, Vice-Chairman, Telecommunications, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
To the 50th National Conference of the RTDNA Canada—The Association of Electronic Journalists
June 23, 2012
Check against delivery
Let me start by congratulating you as you celebrate 50 years of outstanding service. The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and its members play a crucial role in the broadcasting sphere, ensuring communities large and small have access to news and other programs of interest to Canadians from one coast of Canada to the other. You are a credit to the Canadian broadcasting industry.
The world of broadcasting has changed dramatically over the past five decades. All of us are continually challenged to get out ahead of new developments like convergence and the migration of media online.
This trend is accelerating, for the same reasons your business is evolving so swiftly: technological innovation. As your conference agenda underscores, technology is the key driver in shaping market forces and competitive opportunities. Keeping pace with rapid changes in today’s increasingly digital world dominates much of our work at the CRTC as we regulate the broadcasting and telecommunications industries in Canada.
I take encouragement from the words of the respected American business writer, Tom Peters. He once wrote, “The winners of tomorrow will deal proactively with chaos. (They) will look at the chaos as a source of market advantage—not as a problem to be got around.” People in the broadcasting business would be wise to heed his advice.
As for breaking news from the CRTC, of course, the biggest development is the recent appointment of Jean-Pierre Blais as our new Chair. While I appreciated the opportunity to serve as Acting Chair for the last six months or so, I am more than happy to pass the torch to Jean-Pierre.
The other news I suspect many of you are hoping to hear is the status of the Commission’s review of the Local Programming Improvement Fund. As you may know, we held hearings on this topic in Gatineau in mid-April. We are currently working on the file and are committed to having a decision to announce this summer.
I would point out that that we’ve already implemented measures to ensure that Canadians in all markets have access to their local television stations, regardless of how they receive their programming. Last year, we updated our satellite distribution policy to require Bell TV and Shaw Direct to carry all local television stations supported by the Local Programming Improvement Fund.
Putting satellite distributors on the same footing as cable companies will ensure there will no longer be a difference in terms of the local stations they distribute. This will provide consumers with more choice in local news and information.
What I really want to talk about today is the vital role of news broadcasters and the critical importance of ethical journalism. I could not have picked a better group of people to have this discussion with, as I know your organization and its members apply high ethical standards to the work you do.
The CRTC, along with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, are here to ensure these high standards are maintained. My co-panelist, Andrée Noël, the National Chair of the CBSC, takes the lead on the file. But the Commission has a part to play too.
For two decades, our two organizations have enjoyed a good working relationship, each with independent but complementary roles.
The Commission’s job is to ensure broadcasters meet their regulatory obligations under the Broadcasting Act, while the CBSC’s role is to ensure private-sector broadcasters follow certain standards and codes of conduct. You probably know one of those codes very well. The RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics was developed in partnership with your organization and promotes high standards in the presentation of news and information.
The CBSC plays an equally important role in keeping Canadians informed of their rights as well as broadcasters’ responsibilities in upholding those standards, and providing an avenue for complaints if broadcasters fall short.
Thanks to these checks and balances, working together, we can avoid the heavy arm of the regulator coming down on broadcasters as they go about their business. If the industry polices itself and voluntarily complies with the Broadcasting Act’s requirements, there is no need for the Commission to intervene.
At the CRTC, we believe there is a place for self-regulation in both broadcasting and telecommunications. We support the use of this progressive form of regulation to address public interest issues. Because, even though the system is being administered by the industry itself, it is, ultimately, still regulation. On a more philosophical level, we respect that free speech is a fundamental part of the fabric of Canadian society.
There is no question that achieving the right balance can be difficult. That’s why the Commission looks to the CBSC to provide impartial judgments about public complaints. We have also called upon its expertise on certain matters such as when we received complaints regarding Société Radio-Canada’s Bye Bye 2008 broadcasts.
The CBSC is an expert body made up of people who work in the field and are highly knowledgeable about the business. Who better to determine if a broadcaster has stepped over the line?
In some countries, similar bodies function on a quasi-judicial basis. One of the strengths of the CBSC is that it was created by private broadcasters who clearly recognize the necessity of accountability to maintain their viewers’ confidence.
The CBSC acts as an intermediary between the public and the regulator, removing the need for heavy-handed intervention. The CRTC is determined to leave business decisions to broadcasters — as long as you fulfill your end of the regulatory bargain.
Canada is considered a leader in developing this very innovative way to balance competing interests in the marketplace. In fact, this approach has been adopted by many other countries around the world that recognize the benefits of our progressive model.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we are abdicating our responsibilities.
The Council may propose codes of conduct, which must still be approved by the CRTC. And if people don’t agree with the CBSC’s judgments, we will review its decisions when required. Even though it doesn’t happen often, we can also ask the CBSC to reconsider a decision. This is what we did last year when the public wrote to us following the CBSC’s decision on the unedited version of the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing.”
We believe the CBSC has proven its value, repeatedly, by providing fair, balanced and impartial recommendations related to complaints between the public and private broadcasters.
Andrée may have her own views about our working relationship. But I doubt she disagrees with the importance and value of our partnership.
Of course, I don’t want to put words in her mouth, so let me just end by saying that I look forward to our discussion.
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