Nirmala Naidoo to the annual conference of the Western Association of Broadcasters
June 9, 2022
Nirmala Naidoo, Regional Commissioner for Alberta and the Northwest Territories
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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Thank you for your kind introduction.
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 my respect to their Elders.
I am delighted to join you for your first in-person conference since 2019. I am sure everyone here is happy to reconnect with friends and colleagues after all this time. I know I am!
If there has been any upside side to the pandemic for your members, the past two plus years have underscored the important role broadcasters play in the lives of your viewers and listeners. In addition to keeping Canadians entertained, you kept them informed of the latest developments as the pandemic evolved. They counted on you for coverage of regular news conferences by health and government officials and stories about the local impacts of COVID-19 in their communities.
Radio played a vital role in supporting Canadian artists when they were unable to tour and coping with income loss. I know many of your businesses also saw a sharp drop in revenues, with fewer people commuting and stores being shut down or operating at reduced capacity. I realize that, while revenues have been improving, they are not yet back to pre-pandemic levels and sincerely hope things continue to improve as the economy reopens.
You have proven to be resilient during very challenging times, while continuing to serve your communities and Canadians.
There are number of things I want to touch on in my remarks this afternoon that I think are relevant to your Association.
The first on the list is radio licence renewals. The licences of 466 radio stations are set to expire on August 31, 2023. That’s a huge number for the CRTC to process, and we recognize that it represents a lot of work for licensees as well.
We are developing an approach that would help to minimize the burden on both the industry and the Commission, while still ensuring appropriate oversight of licensees.
We are still working out the final details of this approach and will be sure to provide more details as soon as they are available.
Ongoing policy reviews
Next, I want to give you an update on the ongoing review of commercial radio.
As you may know, we launched a review in November 2020 to better understand how the radio industry can meet the needs and interests of Canadians in both official languages. To supplement the public record, we conducted public opinion research, holding 13 focus groups – nine in English and four in French – across the country. We also received input from more than 1,700 Canadians who filled out a survey.
The review will help the CRTC determine how best to update its regulations to ensure Canada’s commercial radio industry remains competitive in a digital environment. We thank those who have taken part in the process. We recognize the challenges brought on by the current environment and the need to be flexible with new approaches to regulation. However, since the review is ongoing, that’s as much as I can offer at the moment.
Another issue of interest to WAB members is the co-development of a new Indigenous broadcasting policy, in keeping with the CRTC’s commitment to reconciliation.
The Commission has launched a multi-phase process to co-develop a new Indigenous broadcasting policy with First Nations, Métis and Inuit broadcasters, content creators, and audiences. This will enable all of us to better understand what their broadcasting needs are, now and in the future, for both traditional and digital services.
There are three phases to the review, one of which has already been completed. That involved early engagement sessions to find out what Indigenous broadcasters, content creators and artists had to say about these issues. We published a “What You Said” report with an executive summary made available in five Indigenous languages.
The next phase will entail public consultations to obtain a range of views from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about how the broadcasting system in Canada can best complement the broadcasting interests and needs of Indigenous Peoples. The Commission intends to launch consultations in the fall, and we are working to develop innovative engagement approaches to ensure as broad a participation as possible.
Following that, during the third phase, the Commission will present preliminary views to Indigenous participants from the public consultation process and provide an opportunity for further comments on the potential impacts of the proposed policy.
Another Commission priority is increasing the diversity of participation in CRTC proceedings. Because we recognize that a broad range of opinions can positively influence the public record.
That’s why we are looking at new ways to consult Canadians. We need to hear from the widest possible cross-section of stakeholders, including Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, people with disabilities and people who identify as LGBTQ2+. We want to understand how best to consult people from historically under-represented groups so we can be assured – and the public can too – that our decisions consider the full spectrum of the public interest.
It’s important that the ideas and opinions of groups such as Indigenous people and ethnocultural communities are heard just as loudly and just as clearly as any others.
We are taking the same approach on the telecommunications side of our mandate. Just yesterday, we launched the second phase of our review of telecommunications services in the Far North and have provided materials in Indigenous languages.
We also introduced a new online engagement platform we’re calling “Conversations CRTC.” The platform will make it easier for the public to provide comments and receive updates about its processes. We are optimistic this will encourage broader participation from people who may not even be aware of the CRTC or are put off by our formal intervention process.
The final two points I want to briefly cover are Bills C-11 and C-18 – proposed legislation that, if adopted by Parliament, will bring increased responsibilities to the CRTC.
When the Broadcasting Act came into force in the early 1990s, the Parliamentarians of the day could not have foreseen how broadband technology would change the delivery of audio and audiovisual content. Bill C-11 aims to address the digital broadcasting environment and bring the Broadcasting Act into the 21st century. It builds on the existing legislation to clarify the CRTC’s jurisdiction regarding online broadcasters. It would also give the Commission new regulatory powers to deal with online broadcasting services, including non-Canadian ones, as well as a more flexible approach to regulation.
The government’s message is clear. It is time for the CRTC to regulate in a way that aligns with the digital environment and considers all parts of a dynamic and evolving Canadian broadcasting system.
The other Act, Bill C-18, would generate benefits for Canadian news businesses by creating a mechanism to ensure they receive fair compensation when digital platforms make their content available. Online platforms generating revenues from the publication of news content would need to negotiate with news businesses and reach fair commercial deals.
The CRTC would oversee this framework to ensure that bargaining took place in good faith. In cases where negotiation was unsuccessful, mediation would be available, with independent arbitrators certified by the Commission available as a backstop.
The Commission would also deal with complaints of undue preference or unjust discrimination filed by news businesses. As well, we would contract an independent auditor to publish an annual report on the impact of the law, including the value of commercial agreements and other key information.
If the Bills receive Royal Assent, the Commission will move quickly to launch public consultations to gather views and evidence related to our newly expanded role.
So, we clearly have our work cut out for us at the CRTC given our busy agenda. A lot will change as we seek greater diversity and adapt to rapidly evolving new technologies and make corresponding adjustments to our policy and regulatory approaches. But as much as we will be called to focus on large digital broadcasters, we know that we need to consider the realities of our traditional domestic industry as well. As we navigate this change, rest assured that we will consider our policies broadly and look to you and your industry to participate in all our proceedings.
For all the changes taking place in broadcasting, there remains one constant: audiences’ need for local news and information, as well as a desire for domestically produced television content and music. Technologies have changed over the years. Economic upturns and downturns have left their mark on our society. All the while, our Canadian broadcasting industry has managed to adapt, change and reinvent itself from time to time.
This leaves me feeling optimistic for your industry and I wish you every success in the future.
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