CBC’s licence renewal hearing to enter second phase with input from intervenors

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TORONTO — A review of the CBC’s licence renewal applications enters its second phase today, with some organizations and individuals presenting their call for greater accountability and transparency from the public broadcaster.

The virtual hearing run by Canada’s broadcast regulator began last week with the CBC asking for greater regulatory “flexibility” as it tries to meet audience needs and makes a bigger push into the digital world.

The CBC is asking that the corporation be free of detailed financial reporting obligations around resources put into online content, such as the CBC Gem streaming platform and CBC Listen app.

The watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is among the intervenors set to present to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission today.

Friends executive director Daniel Bernhard says the CBC’s request for less scrutiny over its digital activities, and its performance at the commission thus far, signals “they don’t fully appreciate that public service media is about public service.”

He says his group will express concerns about the CBC’s accountability, its declining news expenditures, and its advertising and commercialization initiatives, including the paid-partnership division Tandem.

“Hopefully these critiques from the commission will result in conditions of licence that keep CBC management on the straight and narrow and prevent them from diverting down unhelpful tangents like Tandem or other hyper-commercialization initiatives that betray and undermine CBC’s public purpose,” Bernhard said in an interview before Monday’s hearing.

CBC/Radio-Canada is asking for a five-year renewal of its current licences, which expire on August 31. The public broadcaster’s last license renewal was in 2012.

In fall 2019, the CRTC invited Canadians to share their views on the CBC as part of its decision-making process.

The latest public hearing, which will last nearly three weeks, was originally supposed to be held in May of 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CBC presented in last week’s proceedings, which touched on everything from the corporation’s programming goals and obligations, to its digital expenditures and its financial constraints that have grown during COVID-19.

Bernhard, along with two other representatives of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, plan to oppose CBC’s request to operate its digital activities outside of the public eye.

They will also request that the CBC be fundamentally non-commercial, and that the corporation deal “with the massive crisis in journalism that is plaguing the country,” he said.

“These are questions of major national importance,” Bernhard added.

“It’s important for us to remember that this is not really just a regulatory hearing, this has real implications for the CBC, which could be basically the last truly national media organization of consequence within the next couple of years.”

 

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