Nirmala Naidoo to the Annual Conference of the National Campus and Community Radio Association
May 31, 2023
Nirmala Naidoo, Commissioner for Alberta and Northwest Territories
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
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Good morning, everyone, and thank you for the kind introduction.
It’s a pleasure to gather on the traditional territories of the peoples of Treaty 7. The City of Calgary is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. I acknowledge the many Indigenous communities located in this part of Western Canada, and pay respect to these Nations and their Elders.
I’m delighted to participate in the Campus and Community Radio Association’s first in-person conference since the pandemic. And it’s a privilege for me to be among people with a passion for using radio to connect with—and serve—their communities.
NCRA members stand apart from the rest of the broadcasting industry in many important ways. Perhaps the biggest difference lies in your diversity. NCRA members broadcast in a total of more than 65 languages, for instance. Many of your stations follow a rolling or mosaic format and present the full array of musical and spoken-word content. I believe that what sets you apart also serves to strengthen not only the broadcasting industry, but also Canada’s democracy.
I was born in South Africa under Apartheid, a legal system that classified people by the colour of their skin and prescribed particular rights and freedoms to various groups. As a person of colour, for instance, I was not allowed to eat in certain restaurants or to swim at certain beaches. To maintain this system, the Government of South Africa and other supporters of Apartheid used communication media as a tool to spread disinformation, promote hatred and to keep people of colour down.
While Apartheid may be a distant memory to some, it has forever shaped my world view. It has given me a special appreciation for Canada and for an inclusive broadcasting system that accommodates and engages all citizens, regardless of background. As you know, I enjoyed considerable success in my broadcasting career—something that would not have been possible under Apartheid.
Now, my current role as CRTC Commissioner provides me an opportunity to work for the greater good. I believe that all Canadians deserve a fair, equitable, world-class communications system—a system that doesn’t discriminate and that serves all citizens.
Campus and community radio stations fulfill precisely this role, and represent a unique and essential element of Canada’s communications system. Each one of your stations is grounded in the audience it serves. You not only celebrate this country’s diverse communities, but also directly engage members of these communities in making radio. In the process, you help to ensure that listeners have access to relevant community information. During the pandemic, we saw just how important it is to have access to local information.
The pandemic created significant challenges for most NCRA members, of course. Volunteer numbers dropped dramatically—by about 40 percent. To stay on the air, staff at some stations chose to quarantine onsite—such remarkable dedication!
In addition, many campus stations face a financial challenge caused by the decision of students to vote against dedicating a portion of their fees to radio. Despite these challenges, audience numbers for community and campus radio continue to grow. Every day, more than half a million Canadians tune in to one or more of your stations. Another positive sign is that two new community stations will soon take to the airwaves, including one about an hour south from here in Nanton.
Another thing that sets NCRA members apart from the rest of the broadcasting industry is your commitment to helping one another. A prime example is the earshot-Distro system. Through the system, members gain direct access to music, syndicated programming and public-service announcements from across the country.
The annual NCRA conference is another effective vehicle for collaboration. I congratulate the organizers of this year’s conference for assembling such an excellent and timely program.
Members can take advantage of many opportunities to learn from one another about everything from the effective use of social media to podcasting for older adults. There’s even a session on meeting regulatory requirements—much to the delight of the CRTC Commissioner in me!
Conferences such as this one are especially valuable given the rapid pace of technological change across the communications sector. NCRA members have little choice but to adapt to these changes. Regulators such as the CRTC must also adapt to ensure that technological change doesn’t undermine the underlying principles of Canada’s communications system—principles such as fairness and accessibility. As someone born in South Africa, I have a special appreciation for these principles.
As you know, the Government of Canada plans to update our regulatory system through two pieces of legislation. The first, Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, received Royal Assent last month. The legislation brings the Broadcasting Act into the 21st century by clarifying the CRTC’s jurisdiction regarding online streaming services and giving us new tools to achieve its public policy objectives.
These objectives include ensuring that online streaming services make meaningful contributions to Canadian and Indigenous content. It also seeks to ensure a greater diversity of content, particularly content produced by, and accessible to, racialized and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.
The CRTC supports these goals and believes that traditional broadcasters and streaming services should both contribute equitably to Canadian content and to Canada’s broadcasting system. At the same time, we recognize the differences between traditional broadcasting and streaming services. There needs to be a flexible regulatory regime that accommodates and supports a variety of business models, and that contributes to Canadian content.
Now that Bill C-11 has been adopted by Parliament, we have published a three-phase regulatory plan that we will follow to modernize the broadcasting system. We’ve already launched our first three public consultations.
I want to focus today on the one that will be of greatest interest to you. We have put forward proposals for a new contribution framework consisting of three categories. The first category would be a base contribution that would be common to everyone and could be directed to funds such as the Radio Starmaker Fund. The next category would be a flexible financial requirement to invest in different types of programming, which would take into consideration that not everyone can contribute in the same way. The final category would be intangible contributions, such as initiatives to help make Canadian content easier to find online.
Through this proceeding, we will be looking at how best to support the audio sector, including the campus and community sector. It’s important that you participate and make your views known on the public record, so that my fellow Commissioners and I can take them into account in our decision making.
We will be moving into the second phase of our plan in the fall. We will be holding consultations on definitions of Canadian and Indigenous content and tools to support Canadian music and other audio content, among others. The third phase will focus on implementing the policy decisions we will make in phase 1 and 2.
I encourage you to have a look at the regulatory plan on our website so that you can prepare for the upcoming consultations and help us create the broadcasting system of the future.
We are watching a second legislative project—Bill C-18 or the Online News Act. This Bill aims to facilitate compensation for news content accessed online. The CRTC would be responsible for implementing a regulatory framework under which compensation agreements would be negotiated between Canadian news businesses and the largest online platforms. It’s important to recognize that Bill C-18 would not authorize the CRTC to determine which news Canadians receive or how they receive it.
Of particular interest to you, Bill C-18 identifies campus, community and Indigenous stations as eligible to negotiate under the Act. In doing so, the Bill recognizes the important role that small, independent broadcasters like you play in gathering news at the grassroots level.
The CRTC is used to operating within a regulatory environment that values the importance of freedom of expression and journalistic independence. As a veteran journalist, this is extremely important to me. We also have a track record of supporting the production of local news through conditions of licence and the Independent Local News Fund, to ensure Canadians have access to information about their communities and the world around them.
We will move expediently should Bill C-18 receive Royal Assent. The CRTC would hold the public consultations needed to gather views and develop the appropriate framework.
Finally, we recognize the vital work done by NCRA members to support local communities and promote Canadian and Indigenous content, particularly content created by emerging artists. The CRTC plans to review our approach to Canadian content development. We are also planning for the next phase of our process to co-develop a new Indigenous broadcasting policy with Indigenous peoples. Stay tuned for more details on these proceedings.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of participating in CRTC consultations. The views of Canadians inform Commission decisions, so it’s critical that a broad range of interested parties take part. The CRTC very much appreciates the input of NCRA members and we encourage you to share your views.
I also encourage you to follow us on social media or check our website regularly for news on ongoing or upcoming proceedings. You can even sign up to our RSS feed to receive our news releases and be notified of new proceedings and decisions.
In the broadcasting industry, the ability to connect with audiences is essential to success, regardless of how technologies evolve. I know from personal experience that NCRA members have been especially good at this.
Years ago, as a student at the University of Alberta, I discovered its campus radio, which we knew as CKSR back then, and marveled at how it fostered a sense of community. When we arrived on campus, few of us knew one another. By the time we left, though, we spoke the same language.
I’ll never forget how CKSR played the music of small-town artists and promoted their concerts. My classmates and I watched in real time as formerly obscure artists such as k.d. lang rose to fame on the international stage. CKSR helped to create the deep connection we felt with both artists and with one another. Decades later, I still feel that connection. That’s the power of campus and community radio.
I am confident that NCRA members will continue to connect with their communities and I look forward to working with you to strengthen Canada’s broadcasting industry
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