P.E.I. senator wants CRTC to ensure Compass remains on air

P.E.I. Senator Percy Downe says CBC News: Compass should not have been suspended at the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he wants the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to ensure it won’t happen again.

Percy Downe raised CBC's suspension of local TV programming in Senate recently

Sen. Percy Downe, seen in this file photo, says the CRTC should not have allowed CBC to suspend its local programming during the pandemic. (CBC)

P.E.I. Sen. Percy Downe says CBC News: Compass should not have been suspended during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and wants the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to ensure it won't happen again.

Downe said CBC is a critical source of news on the Island where there is poor rural internet service and a high proportion of seniors who rely on the broadcaster for information during the pandemic.

On March 18, CBC replaced local programming with a modified News Network service. Executives said it was because COVID-19 restrictions was putting too large a strain on human resources in Toronto, which supports many local broadcasts across the country.

On March 26, Compass returned with a half-hour program, and on June 15 it returned to its one-hour format.

Though CBC's local radio programs and the CBC P.E.I. website and social media accounts continued uninterrupted, Downe said CRTC should not have allowed Compass to go off the air.

When we needed the CBC the most, they abandoned the field.— Percy Downe, Canadian Senator appointed from P.E.I.

"At the onset of the pandemic, when we needed the CBC the most, they abandoned the field," Downe said.

Under CBC's licencing agreement, it must commit to at least seven hours of local television programming per week — excluding NHL playoffs and statutory holidays — unless there is public consultation and approval from the CRTC.

"The question is, do those licence conditions carry any weight at all?" Downe said.

Asked for a comment on Downe's concerns, the CRTC sent a short statement to CBC News. 

"The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation notified the CRTC that it took this exceptional business decision as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. During the period where the newscast was not airing, the CBC continued to keep Canadians informed through its radio, digital services, social media channels and French local news on Radio-Canada," the statement said.

"The CRTC is currently in the process of renewing CBC/Radio-Canada's licences and will hold a public hearing starting on January 11, 2021."

'Nobody knew what was going on'

Downe raised the matter in the Senate recently, and issued a news release this week asking why it did not intervene to maintain local television programming back in March. 

"The CRTC should enforce the rules and the first thing they should do is to make sure this never happens again… If in the next crisis, CBC suddenly says, 'Oh, sorry, we can't do anything,' it creates a real problem — particularly for parts of Canada that are not well serviced by other media."

Downe says many Islanders rely on CBC News: Compass for information on COVID-19. (CBC)

Downe said the safety of CBC employees is obviously important, but the broadcaster should have adapted to the required safety measures and carried on over all of its platforms, not just on CBC Radio and digitally.

"Back in March, people were not aware, do you have to take your lettuce home from the grocery store and run it through the dishwasher, whatever? Nobody knew what was going on and the CBC was an important tool to get the information out from the health authorities on how to protect the citizens."

More from CBC P.E.I.


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