Senate report on CBC calls for new revenue sources, greater transparency

A senate committee has tabled a report calling on Canada's public broadcaster to adopt 22 recommendations ranging from finding new sources of funding to publicly disclosing how much employees make.

Report on future of public broadcaster makes 22 recommendations

A Senate committee has released its report into the future of CBC/Radio-Canada, making 22 recommendations, including exploring new funding models, diverting funding to an external programming 'superfund' and disclosing its employees' salaries. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A Senate committee has tabled a report on the future of Canada's public broadcaster, with 22 recommendations ranging from finding new sources of funding, to publicly disclosing how much its employees make and putting a stop to all in-house production of non-news and current affairs.

The report comes after politically charged hearings last winter that saw some top executives at CBC/Radio-Canada, including president and CEO Hubert Lacroix, defend the public broadcaster in the midst of an internal investigation over its handling of allegations against former radio host Jian Gomeshi and controversy over paid-speaking engagements by some on-air journalists.

Hubert Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, appeared at the Senate communications committee's hearing into the future of the public broadcaster in February. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The report, by the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications titled Time for Change: the CBC/Radio-Canada in the Twenty-first Century, highlights changes "the committee believes are necessary for CBC/Radio-Canada to operate as a modern public broadcaster today and in the future," said Liberal Senator Dennis Dawson, the committee's chair, in a news release Monday.

"Canadians are entitled to ask whether the more than $1 billion of taxpayers' money now going to the public broadcaster could be reallocated and used more efficiently in providing and promoting Canadian content," added deputy chair and Conservative Senator Don Plett.

"We learned that the CBC/Radio-Canada must improve in the areas of transparency and accountability. Facing declining ad revenues and increased competition from Netflix and YouTube, things cannot be 'business-as-usual' at the CBC," said Plett.

Half of the 22 recommendations address aspects of governance, while the rest focus on issues of programming, funding and the public broadcaster's mandate.

The report calls on CBC/Radio-Canada to make public "financial information, procurement and contracts, and salaries."

It also calls on the public broadcaster to "review all non-executive salaries and compensation to ensure they are in line with those for comparable positions with private broadcasters."

And it calls on the CBC's board of directors to "conduct a thorough review of all internal policies to reverse the trend of implementing effective policy only after serious incidents have occurred." 

The responsibility for implementing "stringent restrictions on the external activities, including outside paid-employment, of all senior staff and on-air talent to prevent any possible conflict of interest," according to the report, should also fall to the board, as should the hiring of the president and CEO.

While the report avoids referring to specific cases, CBC management was asked at the hearings about the uproar over paid speeches by CBC's journalists and hosts. The month before, the CBC had changed its policy to end paid speaking engagements by on-air journalists.

It has also since concluded a review over whether senior business correspondent Amanda Lang had been in a journalistic conflict of interest. The review found Lang's work "has adhered to CBC's journalistic standards."

The report's release comes a month after an internal review into the private business dealings of Evan Solomon, former host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics. The CBC "ended its relationship" with Solomon in June, following a report by The Toronto Star that he allegedly brokered art deals involving people whom he also dealt with as a journalist.

'Fails to propose constructive suggestions'

When it comes to programming, the report recommends that CBC/Radio-Canada "discontinue all in-house production of non-news and current affairs" in favour of broadcasting performers or cultural events such as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo.

The report also recommends that CBC, in consultation with the federal government, look to "alternate funding models and additional ways to generate revenue."

It also calls on the public broadcaster to "examine the costs and the benefits of commercial advertising on both the English and French services," and also recommended some of CBC's funding be diverted to an external "superfund" to create Canadian programming that could run on CBC.

Ian Morrison, spokesman for the group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said in a release Monday that and other recommendations would amount to a "thinly disguised cut" to CBC's parliamentary grant.

Liberal Senator Art Eggleton rejected some of the recommendations in a dissenting report, and instead called on the CBC to get out of the "commercial advertising business" and on the government to increase funding to the CBC to $40 per capita,which he said is "approximately half of what other industrialized nations spend per capita every year [on public broadcasting].

The CBC, in a news release, said the report fell short of expectations. "Frankly, we were hoping for more," said spokeswoman Alexandra Fortier, manager of media relations and issues management.

"CBC/Radio-Canada provided senators with detailed information on audience patterns, broadcasting trends, budgets, and strategies for addressing the challenges of the future," Fortier said. "It explained what it does to maximize the efficiency of its operations, and its accountability to Canadians."

"This report fails to propose constructive suggestions to address any of the real challenges facing the broadcasting system," said Fortier, who until a few months ago worked as the director of communications to Conservative minister Jason Kenney.

The Canadian Media Guild, which represents editorial employees at CBC, said it was "saddened but not surprised" to learn the Senate proposed "a smaller, more privatized CBC" contrary to the majority of views heard from 107 witnesses that appeared before the committee.

"The senators — some of whom are named in the ongoing Senate spending scandal — suggest that CBC/Radio-Canada reduce its programming, align itself with private broadcasters and yet give even more power to PMO-appointed CBC board of directors, many of whom are party donors," said Carmel Smyth, national president of the CMG, in a news release Monday.


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