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CMG appears before the Senate Committee on Finance regarding Bill C-60

On Thursday, June 6, the Canadian Media Guild appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance in Ottawa¬†as part of¬†the¬†Committe’s hearing¬†on omnibus¬†budget Bill C-60.¬†The CMG reiterated its argument¬†that¬†CBC must be removed from¬†Bill C-60 to prevent government interference in the largest newsroom in the country.

Below are the CMG remarks at the hearing:

Canadian Media Guild 
Senate Committee on National Finance June 6, 2013

My name is Carmel Smyth,¬†I am the President of the Canadian Media Guild. Et je m’appelle Jeanne d’Arc Umurungi, je suis la directrice des Communications pour la Guilde canadienne des m√©dias. [ And my name¬† is Jeanne d’Arc Umurungi, I am the¬†Communications Director with the Canadian Media Guild]

Carmel Smyth

Thank you for inviting us to share our concerns about Bill C-60. We appreciate the invitation, and are happy to be here, but because it has been such short notice, we are not here with a formal brief.

-I will speak to this bill wearing two hats. As a 20-year veteran CBC television reporter. And in my current position as President of the Canadian Media Guild, representing more than six thousand journalists and media workers across the country, including those at CBC, in Radio, Television and online news and programming.

-We are NOT a political organization, and rarely speak out or criticize proposed bills, but in this case we have felt compelled to speak up in the strongest possible terms, from the moment we realized the significant impact this bill could have on the country’s largest news organization.

-I understand the movers of this bill may not have foreseen the significant and even dangerous precedent inherent in it. And for that reason we’d like to share our concerns.

Jeanne d’Arc Umurungi¬†

Budget de CBC/Radio-Canada
-Comme vous le savez s√Ľrement, le gouvernement nomme d√©j√† le pr√©sident de CBC/Radio-Canada¬†et nomme aussi¬† les 11 membres du Conseil d’administration; le gouvernement fixe¬†√©galement le budget de¬†CBC/Radio-Canada. Autrement dit, le gouvernmenet en place a¬†toujours eu et¬†continue d’avoir un important contr√īle¬† sur le financement du radio-diffuseur public – financement qui, vous le savez sans doute, a baiss√© chaque ann√©e au cours des 30 derni√®res ann√©es.

Il faut aussi parler des co√Ľts exceptionnels¬†que ce projet de loi pourrait entra√ģner, en raison de son existence parall√®lement¬†√† la Loi sur la radiodiffusion du pays. Nous croyons que les cons√©quences inattendues et impr√©visibles de¬†ce projet¬†de loi pourraient √™tre en conflit avec la Loi et, plus inqui√©tant encore, qu’elles pourraient r√©duire l’ind√©pendance qui est essentielle¬†aux activit√©s du service des¬†nouvelles et de l’information.

Voici une citation de la présentation du président de Radio-Canada devant le Comité permanent des Finances de la Chambre des Communes :

L’ind√©pendance de la Soci√©t√© est consid√©r√©e comme √©tant si fondamentale pour son bon fonctionnement que la Loi prot√®ge notre Soci√©t√© de l’obligation de remettre au ministre, au ministre des Finances ou au Conseil du Tr√©sor des renseignements qui pourraient porter atteinte √† la libert√© d’expression ou √† I’ind√©pendance en mati√®re de journalisme, de cr√©ation ou de programmation dont jouit la Soci√©t√© dans la r√©alisation de sa mission et I’exercice de ses pouvoirs > [52 (2)(a)].

Ces mots de la Loi sur la radiodiffusion¬†r√©it√®rent¬†essentiellement¬†le fait que¬†la production de nouvelles constitue une activit√© unique, qui est particuli√®rement¬†susceptible face √†¬†l’empi√®tement du gouvenrment¬†si bien que¬†la Loi¬†interdit¬†des liens plus √©troits, qu’ils soient financiers ou autres.

Autrement dit,¬†m√™me si¬†C-60 devient loi, cela pourrait¬†signifier des ann√©es de¬†batailles juridiques¬†co√Ľteuses¬†(√† m√™me les deniers publics) pour¬†d√©terminer comment cette partie du projet de loi et la Loi sur la radiodiffusion peuvent co-exister.

Est-ce que le¬†gouvernement actuel¬†souhaite vraiment¬†√™tre reconnu comme le gouvernement qui a¬†mis en place¬†une loi¬†qui¬†permet l’ing√©rence du¬†gouvernement dans la gestion¬†du diffuseur public, qui¬†cr√©e des liens plus √©troits¬†entre un parti politique et le radiodiffuseur¬†public, et qui influence les nouvelles directement ?¬† Que se passe-t-il si un autre gouvernement est au pouvoir ? Voudra-t-il lui aussi¬†mettre sa “marque” sur les nouvelles ?

[CBC Budget
-As most of you know the government already appoints the CBC President, and the 11- member Board of Directors, and sets the CBC budget. So the government of the day, always has and continues to control the finances of the public broadcaster.  (Which you may be interested to know have decreased every year for the past 30 years).

-You may also be interested to know the exceptional financial costs this bill may result in,  because of its questionable existence alongside Canada’s Broadcasting Act. We believe some of the unintended consequences of C-60 may conflict with the Act, and more alarmingly could reduce the independence that is critical to news operations.

Quote: from the CBC President’s presentation to the standing committee on Finance:

The corporations independence is considered so fundamental to its successful operation that the act protects the CBC from submitting “to the Treasury Board or to the Minister or the Minister of Finance any information that provision of which could reasonably be expected to compromise or constrain the journalistic, creative or programming independence of the Corporation (52.(2)(a)).

That line from the Broadcasting Act basically reinforces the fact that producing news is a unique business, and so sensitive to government encroachment that the Act specifically bans closer ties, financial or otherwise.

So even if C-60 passes, it could mean years of expensive legal battles (using public money) to figure out how this bill and the Broadcasting Act can co-exist.

Does this government (any?) really want to go on record for passing a bill that inserts government into running the public broadcaster and forging closer ties between a political party and directly influencing the news? What happens when another party is in power? Will it too want to put it‚Äôs ‚Äústamp‚ÄĚ on the news?]

 Carmel Smyth

Salaries
As we have mentioned, because the government already controls the purse strings and the approval process (through the President and the government appointed Board of Directors); we do not feel this bill is about financial control.

Could it be a way to find out the salaries of television stars? Always a salacious subject south of the border, where TV stars earn millions of dollars per episode.

-Sadly for reporters and anchors in Canada that almost never happens here. The salaries are much more ordinary.  A quick survey of our members show (depressing for news staff, but perhaps revealing for the committee) of the more than 4 000 CBC staff we represent across the country, 43 earn in excess of 120,000 dollars a year in salary.

-And in addition, many of these ‚Äústar performers‚ÄĚ are on special contracts for limited terms, and have no guarantee of long term employment.¬†Their contracts are renegotiated regularly and can end at any time.

We have no way of knowing if such a Sunshine list is the intent of the bill. But if it is merely a way to find out what the handful of CBC’s star performers earn, why not just go back to the drawing board and come back with a clear and concise bill to that effect.  A bill which, although we still think is not necessary and serves no public purpose, would  at least NOT allow  the same potential for government interference.

Jeanne d’Arc Umurungi¬†

Régimes de retraite
-En ce qui a trait aux¬†r√©gimes de retraite, on a pu entendre dire aussi que¬†peut-√™tre ¬†l’objectif¬†du projet de loi est en fait de¬†conna√ģtre¬†les r√©gimes de retraite de¬†CBC/Radio-Canada. L√† encore il n’y a rien de partculi√®rement remarquable.¬† CBC/RAdio-Canada et ses employ√©s contribuent au r√©gime, qui est g√©r√© de mani√®re ind√©pendante et surtout ne co√Ľte rien de plus¬†au¬†gouvernement

-La part de CBC/Radio-Canada provient de¬†son budget annuel; c’est √† dire que le gouvernement n’engage pas un sous de plus que le montant, par ailleurs de¬†plus en plus r√©duit, qu’il affecte¬†√† Radio-Canada chaque ann√©e.

-Le r√©gime de retraite et¬†le salaire font¬†partie d’une r√©mun√©ration compl√®te, et en r√©alit√© les salaires¬†√†¬†CBC/Radio-Canada¬†ont en moyenne augment√© de¬† 1,9 p. cent¬†au cours des sept derni√®res ann√©es. (comparativement¬†au secteur¬†piv√© o√Ļ les salaires¬†ont augment√©¬†en moyenne de¬†3 p. cent¬†au cours de la m√™me p√©riode, presque le double donc.)

Vous comprenez certainement¬†les¬†r√©gimes de retraite, la Loi sur la radiodiffusion et les probl√®mes potentiels¬†mieux¬†que nous… mais vous vous demandez peut-√™tre comment le projet de loi¬†C-60 pourrait influer sur¬†les nouvelles

[Pensions
 It has also been speculated that finding out what CBC staff pensions are, might be the intent of this bill.  Again the reality is not particularly noteworthy.  Both the CBC and its employees contribute to the pension, which is managed independently, and more importantly costs the government nothing extra
-CBC’s portion comes from its yearly budget, so it does not cost the government a penny more than the decreasing amount it gives the CBC each year.
-The pension and salary are part of a pay package, and in fact salaries at CBC have increased only 1.9% on average over the last 7 years. (compared to salaries in the private sector which have increased at nearly twice that rate, an average of 3% in the same time).

Many of you understand these things –¬†pensions, the Broadcast Act,¬†and potential legal hurdles – better than we do‚Ķbut you may still wonder how C-60 could influence what news looks like‚Ķ]

Carmel Smyth

We see that happening through government involvement in collective bargaining.

If a government appointee were sitting at the table with us Рthis is what they could influence:

-Changing the CBC‚Äôs strict ‚Äėconflict of interest‚Äô rules,¬† that ensure journalists act in the public interest
-(changing) the definition of news and news programming, including what foreign correspondents cover to provide a Canadian perspective
-(changing) the protection a producer has to refuse to work on something they disagree with, the protection they have to be the final authority on a program, not to be fired or reassigned without justification, not to be discriminated against on political or other reasons
-(changing) the CBC‚Äôs commitment to use CBC staff to produce the majority of news programming.¬† Weakening this could allow for contracting out of CBC news to a ‚Äúgovernment friendly news outlet‚ÄĚ.

Jeanne d’Arc Umurungi

All of these elements of the collective agreement have been developed over the years to ensure the CBC serves the public interest.  These clauses:  designed to protect journalists from political and other interference, and ensure they don’t have to fear retribution, including loss of their jobs for reporting the news;  are at risk.

In light of all of all of this we wonder: What problem is this bill trying to address?

Carmel Smyth

For those unanswered questions and all of these reasons, we and thousands of other Canadians oppose this bill in this particular incarnation.

-You may have seen the letter of opposition signed by 18 prominent journalists and the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
-We the Canadian Media Guild want to share a similar letter of protest, signed by more than 50 prominent journalists and academics.
-In addition we are aware of at least two other petitions opposing this bill,

All signed by a total of more than 200 thousand Canadians in a matter of weeks.

We urge you to take the CBC out of this bill, and to reconsider clause 17 as a whole. Should this bill become law, we look to your support in repealing it when a new government is in place.

And we commit to monitoring this over the next two years, to record problems, so when we speak again at that time, we can provide more precise details, of what we believe will be the likely, long term and unnecessary damage this bill will do to the CBC’s reputation, and the reputation of Canada as a respected democracy with a proud history of an unbiased, and trusted media.

Thank you.

 

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