Broadcasting Commission Letter addressed to Monica L. Auer (Forum for Research and Policy in Communications)
Ottawa, 22 December 2020
BY EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms. Monica L. Auer, M.A., LL.M.
Forum for Research and Policy in Communications (FRPC)
Re: Notice of hearing, Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2019-379 (Ottawa, 25 November 2019) –Procedural requests filed by the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications (FRPC)
This letter is in response to three procedural requests sent to the Commission regarding the CBC/SRC licence renewal process announced in Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2019-379 (the Notice).
Request to end the current process
On 4 August 2020, the Commission received a procedural request in which the FRPC suggested that the Commission terminate the CBC/SRC licence renewal process and launch a public proceeding to consider more broadly the role of public broadcasting in Canada and that such a review be conducted by way of a public hearing in early 2021. As a part of its rationale, the FRPC argued that what at that time was a yet to be tabled modification to the Broadcasting Act as well as what it viewed to be insufficient data on the public record of the current proceeding, particularly in light of the COVID‑19 pandemic, was cause enough for the current process to be postponed.
In its reply to the FRPC request, CBC/SRC expressed its view that this request should not be considered as it was filed after the deadline date for Phase 2 interventions which ended on 13 July 2020.
CBC/SRC nevertheless indicated that, in its 23 July 2020 reply to Phase 2 interventions regarding the added digital financial information, it did in fact address the issue of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It noted, for example, that advertising revenues have fallen significantly and may fall further in coming months. However, CBC/SRC rejected the suggestion that it should be required to provide pandemic-updated financials, as information would be highly speculative given the unpredictability in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and would likely be outdated as soon as published.
Commission’s analysis and decision
The Notice for this process was issued on 25 November 2019 (CRTC 2019-379) and the initial deadline for the submission of interventions was 13 February 2020. On 28 January 2020, the Commission extended the intervention period to 20 February 2020.
During the intervention period ending on 20 February 2020, interveners expressed concerns over a lack of transparency by the Corporation in regard to information on digital revenues and expenses. In response, the Corporation committed to submit additional financial information pertaining to its digital activities, which it did on 12 June 2020.
After careful examination of the new information, the Commission reopened the intervention period for this proceeding from 22 June to 13 July 2020 (as detailed in Broadcasting Notice of Consultation 2019-379-3) as it recognized the importance of having additional comment on the material filed by the CBC/SRC. These comments now form a part of the public record and may be subject to questioning by the Commission at the oral phase of the public hearing.
In regards to the review of public broadcasting, the Commission is of the view that the CBC/SRC’s mandate is set out in the Broadcasting Act and the current licence renewal process can be examined by taking into account this current mandate.
Finally, the Commission intends to address the financial impacts of COVID-19 at the public hearing, after which the interveners will have the opportunity to comment on the information in their written final replies following the hearing.
The Commission therefore denies the FRPC’s request to terminate the currently ongoing public proceeding to renew the broadcast licences of the CBC/SRC.
Request to add the report of broadcast notifications to the public record
Section 35(1) of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Rules of Practice and Procedure (SOR/2010-277) provides that when the CRTC holds a public hearing to consider an application, it may, at its discretion, require that an applicant give notice of the consultation by broadcasting notices over its facilities. The Commission, in paragraph 44 of the Notice directed the CBC/SRC to broadcast these notices.
On 2 September 2020, the FRPC sent a procedural request to the Commission asking that it add the broadcast notices report to its intervention in this proceeding in light of what the FRPC viewed as “errors” made by the CBC/SRC. According to the FRPC, the report offers information that is relevant to the Commission’s adjudication of the CBC/SRC’s applications, alleging that the errors in question raise issues of trust in the context of CBC/SRC’s renewal applications and calls into question its ability to implement the programming commitments it has proposed using the strategy it has developed.
On 14 September 2020, CBC/SRC stated that it had broadcast the notices as required by the Commission and that it is in full compliance with the requirements set out by the Commission. According to CBC/SRC, the vast majority of the FRPC’s concerns are based on discrepancies between the attestations contained in the report and CBC/SRC’s logs.
Commission’s analysis and decision
The Commission has reviewed the errors identified by the FRPC and finds that although some administrative errors may have occurred, these errors did not prevent Canadians from being made aware of the ongoing process, of the hearing date, of the public consultation or of the date by which comments needed to be submitted.
The Commission is of the view that the addition of the report in question will not add any relevant information to the record that would aid the Commission in establishing whether the CBC/SRC has met its existing conditions of its licenses or help the Commission to evaluate the material contained in the CBC/SRC’s applications for the renewal of its licenses and the commitments the Corporation has made in that regard. The Commission therefore denies FRPC’s request to add the report of broadcast notifications to the public record.
On 28 October 2020, the FRPC filed a procedural request with the Commission expressing concerns about CBC/SRC’s branded content initiative known as Tandem launched in September 2020. The FRPC argued that an examination of Tandem is pertinent to the consideration of the CBC’s applications on the following grounds:
- The Tandem initiative and the CBC/SRC’s partnership with brands on an array of content, including news and entertainment programming could have an effect on the manner in which the CBC/SRC makes decisions about its programming and whether it would continue to reflect Canadians’ needs and interests or whether it would be more focused on the needs and interests of the brands with which it partners;
- Tandem calls into question the CBC/SRC’s overall transparency and accountability, particularly as it relates to its news and information programming and whether that programming, produced under Tandem, would continue to be trustworthy, verified and non-biased.
In response to the FRPC’s request the CBC/SRC expanded on the nature of Tandem noting that the initiative is a “business-to-business” brand that includes a range of advertising products, one of which is branded content, which the CBC/SRC defined as customized content that is underwritten by the advertising client and is intended to sell or promote services or products. CBC/SRC specified that Tandem has only been used on its digital platforms to date. CBC/SRC further argued that the content should not be viewed as a part of the licence renewal proposal and, therefore, is not relevant to the licence renewal process for its traditional platforms.
On 25 November 2020, the FRPC sent a response to the CBC/SRC’s reply in which it states that rather than replying to the procedural request, it described Tandem and its use on its digital services. According to the FRPC, this non-response means that CBC/SRC does not oppose its request that information about Tandem be added to the 2019‐379 proceeding.
Commission’s analysis and decision
The letter filed by the FRPC will be added to the public record of the 2019-379 proceeding, but the record will not be reopened at this time. Parties that will appear at the oral phase of the public hearing will be able to make representations with respect to the Tandem initiative while all parties to the proceeding will be permitted to file comments as a part of their final written submissions. The CBC/SRC will be permitted the opportunity to reply.
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c.c. Ms. Bev Kirshenblatt, email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
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