Archive for February, 2021

Friday, February 26, 2021

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: Navel-gazing Rogue in the Broadcasting Room

Why, sure …

 

Canada’s parliament declares China’s persecution of Uighurs a “genocide”? Cool, but who in China cares when Canada doesn’t speak to the world, including China, and explains the declaration?

If the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) critics state their case correctly, that’s the state of Canada’s foreign broadcasting. Not only will CBC, reportedly, violate the Broadcasting Act by cutting Radio Canada International (RCI) down further. It would also be sort of privatizing it, by shifting its focus to domestic minority broadcasting, thus competing with private ethnic radio operators – and, according to the “RCI Action Committee” – to newcomers to our country”, “engaging with its target audience, particularly newcomers to Canada”, and making this new content “freely available to interested ethnic community media”.

The idea that publicly-funded foreign broadcasters (or media platforms) should shift their attention to migrant communities at home, at least to some extent, is nothing new. Germany’s Deutsche Welle has been doing this for a number of years now, and so has (it seems to me) Radio Sweden.

But that’s not RCI’s mandate, writes the Action Committee.

CBC’s supervisors appear to be fast asleep, while there is “a rogue elephant in the broadcasting room”, according to Peter Menzies, a former Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) vice chair.

According to the “RCI Action Committee’s” blog on December 4 last year, RCI, after what CBC calls its “modernization”, won’t run its own website any more, and the Spanish, Arabic and Chinese services will be basically closed – cut from three editors each to only one editor per language remaining, to translate content from the CBC and Radio-Canada websites. And the English and French programs, it seems, will cease to exist completely.

Menzies, a signatory to a letter calling on senior government officials to get CBC executives to put their latest plans on hold and give RCI employees a few weeks to come up with an alternative restructuring plan, also gives a short account of Radio Canada International’s history, from the final days of world war 2 to 2012, when RCI’s budget was cut into by 80 percent, two-thirds of staff laid off and RCI ceased shortwave and satellite transmission, becoming internet only.

Will CBC listen to its critics? Not if its supervisors remain silent. In fact, RCI staff has often put up resistance and creativity against budget and program slashes, but never successfully, at least not in the long run.

Radio Canada International has been a shadow of itself since early this century, and it had seen cuts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, too.

Radio Canada International once ran a German service. It was one of the most popular shortwave programs among German listeners both in East and West Germany until it was closed in late 1989 or early 1990. At the time, new language services such as Arabic or Chinese were said to be the reason for terminating the daily half-hour German programs.

Gunter Michelson, one of the Radio Canada International German service’s editors who had left or retired before the department was closed, said in a telephone interview at the time that

This is a strange issue. The German programs’ termination is explained by the launch of broadcasts in Chinese. The idea of a Chinese service in itself is up-to-date and very good. China will, after all, be one of the world’s greatest markets. But the same logic demands that Canada broadcasts in German, to the European-Community, which is going to be the world’s biggest trading block in the foreseeable future, with 340 million consumers and 60 million people within the EC and 80 million in central Europe speak German. You can’t simply ignore them.[…]*)

Sure thing: you can, just as you can ignore a potential billion-and-a-half Chinese audience. OK – many of them were lost when the shortwave broadcasts from Canada ended, anyway.

Thirty years later, the budget slashes are coming full circle – it’s the Chinese service’s turn to be (nearly) eliminated. To whom is Canada talking when its parliament passes a resolution concerning China?

Probably to itself. Be a human-rights advocate and feel good about it.

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Note

*) Michelson, August 27, 1989: Das ist eine außerordentlich befremdliche Sache. Begründet wird die Einstellung des deutschsprachigen Programms mit der Aufnahme von Sendungen in Chinesisch. An sich ist die Idee eines chinesischen Dienstes aktuell und sehr gut. China wird ja eines Tages einer der größten Absatzmärkte der Welt sein. Aber die gleiche Logik erfordert auch, dass Kanada auf Deutsch ins EG-Gebiet sendet, das ja in zwei oder drei Jahren mit 340 Millionen Verbrauchern den in absehbarer Zeit größten Wirtschaftsblock der Welt darstellen wird. Und über 60 Millionen Personen im EG-Gebiet, um 80 Millionen in Mitteleuropa, sprechen ja Deutsch. Die kann man nicht einfach ignorieren. […]

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Related

RCI “effectively retired”, April 9, 2012
Advocacy journalism not the problem, Jan 26, 2012
Opinion leaders, May 20, 2011

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