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CBC blasts CRTC for TV signals decision

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | 10:49 AM ET

CBC/Radio-Canada is condemning the CRTC for its new framework for conventional television, saying the decision leaves Canada's public broadcaster out to dry.

On Monday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced that β€” pending Federal Court approval β€” it would allow private broadcasters to negotiate market value for their TV signals with cable and satellite providers. However, it exempted the CBC from the process.

"We are very, very disappointed. In our view, the CRTC has failed to fulfil its responsibilities under the Broadcasting Act," Steven Guiton, CBC/Radio-Canada's vice-president and chief regulatory officer, told reporters Monday afternoon.

Though the CRTC recognizes that market fragmentation and declining advertising revenues are causing harm to broadcasters, Monday's decision ignores the fact that CBC faces the same challenges as the private companies, CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix added in a subsequent statement.

"CBC invests more in Canadian programming than all of the other broadcasters combined. Denying us the same rights held by every other broadcaster in this country means that this supposed solution will not apply to over half of the Canadian content produced and aired in this country β€” over $650 million last year alone," he said.

Lacroix also said that while Monday's decision must be studied in more detail and its repercussions evaluated, "one thing is clear: this will force us to cut programs and services, and our ability to fulfil our mandate has been compromised."

CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein defended the decision Monday afternoon in an interview on CBC-TV's Power & Politics.

"First of all, the CBC has a future. It’s an integral part of the Canadian broadcasting system," he told host Evan Solomon.

According to von Finckenstein, the commission decided that private broadcasters could be allowed to withhold their signals as a potential bargaining chip during negotiations with cable and satellite TV providers, but the Broadcasting Act states that the CBC must always be accessible to Canadians.

"We cannot have decisions where access to the CBC is in doubt," he said.

The CRTC's intention is to determine if the new system will first work for the private broadcasters and then find a corresponding solution for CBC, perhaps during its forthcoming licence renewal hearings, he continued.

"We haven't forgotten about the CBC at all," von Finckenstein said.

"There was just too much on the table to deal with in one sitting so we decided to deal with the private broadcast system before turning to the public one."

Guiton expressed skepticism that major change such as this could take place during licence renewal.

"In a licence renewal hearing, there is no opportunity for us to gain new revenue sources, so effectively, this is a very dark day for public broadcasting," he said.

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