By Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said Wednesday that it is renewing CBC’s licensing, with tweaks to its mandate that will make it spend money on programming produced by people with disabilities, Indigenous and racialized people and the LGBTQ community.
It’s also clarifying that it “expects the CBC to maintain local, regional and national news broadcasts in a crisis or emergency on all of its audiovisual and audio services.”
That’s in response to the broadcaster’s decision to replace local supper-hour and late newscasts across the country with its national programming in the early days of the pandemic.
CBC said at the time that it was dealing with staffing issues as some workers were off sick with COVID-19 and others were in isolation. The CRTC noted in its decision that the pandemic has increased demand for news, and “Canadians expect the CBC to disseminate and make available information in the event of an emergency.”
The CRTC is dropping the requirement for CBC to maintain minimum thresholds of local programming in urban markets where Canadians have multiple options, but it’s maintaining those thresholds in rural parts of the country.
The CBC asked to reduce the number of hours of local TV programming it needs to air per week in its English markets across the board, and to make that up in digital content.
The CRTC noted that actual hours of local programming on English TV stations dropped between 2014 and 2020, although they still meet the minimum requirements.
It said there is a higher risk that less local news would be broadcast in non-metropolitan markets if those requirements are dropped, naming “difficult access to high-speed internet” and “the lack of news bureaus in non-metropolitan areas” as reasons.
The commission says there has been a great deal of change in the media landscape since 2013, the last time the licence was renewed, and it’s making changes to the CBC mandate to align with that.
It’s setting out new rules to ensure the difference between news and information programming and “branded content” or advertising is clearly distinguished.
CBC will need to submit new reports to the CRTC on a range of topics including workforce diversity, privacy issues and perception and consultation.
The CRTC decision also noted the CBC’s digital streaming services for audio and video didn’t exist, or didn’t exist in their current form, when the last licensing agreement was made.
“As part of its proposal, the CBC requested that it be able to count hours of content exhibited on some of its (digital media broadcasting undertakings) toward meeting its overall content exhibition requirements,” the decision said.
However, the commission is instead including that digital content in the broadcaster’s spending requirements on Canadian programming, giving the CBC the flexibility to count the cost of online content toward those quotas.
CBC and Radio-Canada’s president and CEO said the broadcaster welcomes the CRTC announcement.
“We’re pleased that the CRTC has, for the first time ever, recognized the significant contribution of our digital streaming services … to the Canadian content ecosystem,” Catherine Tait said in a statement on Wednesday.
The main outcomes covered by the mandate include programming for Indigenous Peoples and diverse Canadians; creating and supporting access to Canadian content; ensuring access to local, regional and national news and information; accessibility of content; and accountability and transparency to the public.
Licences for radio, TV and multiplatform content in both English and French are valid until August 2027.