Ian Scott to the annual conference of the Western Association of Broadcasters

Speech

Banff, Alberta
June 6, 2019

Ian Scott, Chairperson and CEO
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery

Good morning.

Before beginning, I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional territory of Treaty 7 First Nations. I would like to give thanks and pay respect to their Elders.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. It’s a pleasure to be back at your conference.

I want to bring you up to speed on some of the key activities that we at the CRTC have underway, and those that will soon be before us. Before I do, I will take you back to about this time last year when we released our Harnessing Change report.

Prepared at the request of government, our report looked into the future of programming-distribution models, and the extent to which Canada’s market for domestic content will remain competitive in the new global environment. It presents a number of important findings and recommendations. Among them was the notion that while digital services are becoming more popular, traditional television and radio services remain no less relevant to Canadians.

Given this reality, and the need to foster the production and discoverability of Canadian content, including news programming, our report concluded that policy approaches have to change. A new approach is needed to ensure Canada’s media-production industry remains vibrant and viable, and to ensure it exploits the opportunities offered by current and emerging technologies and trends. We also want to make sure that all those that benefit from the Canadian system contribute in an appropriate manner.

I want to spend a bit of time with you this morning discussing some ideas and opportunities as they pertain to the broadcast media—and the radio sector in particular. The message I have for you today is this: we are open to innovation. We are more than prepared to work with you to identify new ways to foster the promotion and discoverability of Canadian content on Canada’s airwaves, and to support the continued production of high-quality local news and information programming.

New solutions for new challenges

The radio industry is on solid footing. Radio is a mature business. It is desired. It is enjoyed, and as we acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act this year, I will add that it performs an important role in enhancing the vitality of linguistic minority communities across the country. Radio has maintained its profitability and viability in a changing world. It is adapting to shifts in consumer habits.

Yet the environment is not without its challenges. This is a time of complexity and change. We understand.

Our policy for commercial radio is meant to ensure that the sector fulfills the Broadcasting Act’s policy objectives. This includes providing listeners with a diversity of content, including locally produced news and information, and supporting Canadian artists and music in both official languages. It also includes reflecting the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society.

We are in the early stages of preparing for a comprehensive review of our commercial radio policy. We have heard a great deal about the market conditions before you. The issues you have raised include:

  • the common ownership policy
  • the future of AM radio stations
  • the changes wrought by streaming services and online content
  • the requirements for music and local programming
  • new approaches to promoting and discovering Canadian music and emerging artists
  • maintaining local news sources
  • reaching younger demographics, and
  • contributing to Canadian content development.

We are prepared to be flexible with new approaches to regulation, bearing in mind our mandate under the Broadcasting Act. To do things a little differently than before. Just as we suggested in our Harnessing Change report. Perhaps there are regulations that are no longer needed, or objectives that can be met in non-traditional ways. Think about this. Offer your best solutions to these challenges.

I’ll caution you straight away. An openness to change is not an invitation to throw away the entire rule book. Complete deregulation, for example, is not an option, and whatever changes we make must always be in keeping with the objectives and mandate under the Broadcasting Act.

But we are open to new ways of ensuring that Canadian artists are supported by your stations and Canadians have access to a diversity of content that includes high-quality local news and information.

If you as an industry find credible, incentive-based solutions to these and other challenges, we’ll do our part and consider them.

How will you do this? That’s a difficult question to answer. If you want greater flexibility to flip AM stations into FM stations or to consolidate, how will you ensure support for artists and a diversity of voices in the market? Will you increase the money that goes to Canadian content development? Will you direct money toward other types of promotional activities? Will you promote artists in a different way, such as via spoken-word programming? That’s up to you to propose. My colleagues and I will listen, and will consider your ideas.

The digital monitoring system

I will say that we are already moving forward on a project that will make your lives easier. That should help reduce the administrative and regulatory burden on your operations—and ours—and which is very much in line with the notion of digital government.

We nodded in the direction of a digital monitoring system for radio broadcasters in our Harnessing Change report. A new tool will remove uncertainties relating to content, such as whether a song qualifies as Canadian. It will help build an authoritative database on Canadian music. And it will help us create a better approach for market analysis—one that is based on data collected from broadcasters and the digital media industry.

I’m pleased to tell you the project is underway. We have already begun discussions with the radio industry, including rights organizations and broadcast-management software providers.

Consider this project an example of the innovative approaches I just mentioned. You’ve told us that compliance is burdensome and time-consuming. We listened. In response, we are developing a digital tool that allows us to be less interventionist. Having said that, don’t expect a free ride. Even with the digital monitoring system in place, if we find you run afoul of your obligations, we will take steps to bring you back into compliance.

Preserving local news

Of course one of the conditions you’ll be expected to always meet is offering local news and information programming. I’ve alluded to that already. Local news performs countless important functions on the airwaves. It provides trustworthy information. It connects people with their communities. It safeguards our democracy. And given that a federal election will soon be upon us, I can’t think of a better time than now to reiterate the significance of this content.

Yet I also understand that local news is not without its own set of challenges—cost being principal among them. So how can we ensure that broadcasters such as yourselves continue to deliver on this important function in the future? Let’s work together to figure that out.

As an aside, I am pleased to tell you that the supports that are already in place for local news programming are bearing fruit. The annual report of the Independent Local News Fund shows the positive effects the fund is having on news programs. Certain stations that have drawn on money from the fund have responded to the needs of their communities by producing more programming. In turn, they are eligible to receive more funding. That’s a significant virtuous circle.

Indigenous broadcasting policy

I will close with a mention of an important policy item before us. That is a new Indigenous broadcasting policy. In the spirit of reconciliation, we are pleased to be co-developing this policy with Indigenous Peoples from across the country. Our goal is to create a policy that ensures the cultures, languages and perspectives of Indigenous peoples are supported in the Canadian broadcasting system.

We will soon be announcing our plans to move forward with this new policy using what is, for us, a non-traditional approach. Reconciliation demands nothing less.

Conclusion

I opened these remarks with a summary of the challenges faced by the radio industry in today’s digital age. I won’t list those again. But in the face of those challenges, radio stands tall. Its advantage is, and always has been, that it is hyper local and significantly important. These are radio’s strengths. It must continue to play to those advantages.

As we prepare for our review of the commercial radio policy, and you prepare to participate, we face an interesting challenge. We have to adapt our regulatory policies to the rapidly changing digital media environment, while ensuring the objectives of the Broadcasting Act continue to be met. That won’t be an easy balance to strike. We will all have to answer some difficult questions to arrive at that point and look beyond traditional approaches.

Thank you.


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