OTTAWA — Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Monday he is starting to review the mandate for CBC and its French-language service Radio-Canada, including ways the government can bolster funding to the public broadcaster so it is less reliant on advertising dollars.
And he also hinted the Liberal government's proposed online news bill, which is currently being studied by a Senate committee, could help.
His mandate letter from the prime minister said the goal in providing more money to the CBC and Radio-Canada is to eliminate advertising during news and other public affairs shows.
This would be similar to the BBC, which does not broadcast ads on its domestic television channels within the United Kingdom.
Rodriguez said the CBC would financially benefit from passage of the online news act, also known as C-18. The bill would require tech giants to pay Canadian media companies for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.
The parliamentary budget officer released a report last year that shows news businesses are expected to receive over $300 million annually from digital platforms when the online news bill becomes law.
"CBC, as other institutions, will benefit from the C-18 eventually, so there's something there," Rodriguez told the House of Commons heritage committee on Monday.
Private broadcasters have praised the bill because they believe it will create more of a level playing field against tech giants such as Google and Meta. They have disrupted the adverting industry and bring in a disproportionate amount of revenue from ads than traditional media.
NDP MP Peter Julian suggested this could help divert some online advertising money now spent on the CBC and Radio-Canada to smaller media outlets.
"I wouldn't necessarily say it's a given if (CBC) has an enhanced strengthened mandate, and relies less on advertising, that that advertising would then go to those small media players," Julian said in an interview Monday.
"I certainly hope so, but I think the fact that C-18 is in place could well mean that there are more resources available for small journalistic entities."
CBC/Radio-Canada made nearly $420 million from TV and online ads in 2021-22, the Crown corporation's latest financial report shows.
During the 2021 election, the Liberals ran on a promise to provide $400 million over four years to CBC/Radio-Canada so that it's less reliant on private advertising. The broadcaster had previously said that was the amount it would need to move toward an ad-free model.
The New Democrats want to see a new CBC mandate "as quickly as possible" because they believe it's been under attack, including by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.
"It's important the government step forward in the coming months," Julian said.
"Canadians want to see a strengthened CBC that can only come through this review."
The Liberal government has said it wants to update CBC's mandate to meet the modern needs of Canadians.
That includes protecting and promoting the French language and francophone culture; increasing the production of national, local and regional news; strengthening Radio-Canada International; expanding Indigenous programming; and exporting Canadian television and films.
Rodriguez did not say when he expects to finish his review of CBC/Radio-Canada's mandate.
"We'll take the time we need to do it. It's very important. It hasn't been reviewed in a long time," Rodriguez told reporters after the committee meeting Monday.
The Conservatives' position is tocut from the roughly $1 billion CBC receives in annual funding without defunding Radio-Canada.
"In addition, we will sell the CBC headquarters and convert them to affordable housing for Canadian families to actually benefit from," said Canadian Heritage critic Rachael Thomas in a statement.
"Only our common sense Conservative government will bring home a neutral media.”
It's a policy position that Rodriguez described during his committee appearance as "sad." He said it sends a message "that francophones outside of Quebec can have access to Radio-Canada, but anglophones in Quebec can't have access to CBC."
"CBC/Radio-Canada is one. It's got the same president, the same board, the same offices, the same cameras are used, the same microphones are used, the same editing rooms are used, and quite often the same journalist," Rodriguez said.
"So when do you stop paying that person? If the same journalist is asking a question in French, but then starts asking in English you stop paying that journalist and say 'No we're not going to support you?' It doesn't make any sense."
To further protect the institution, the Liberal government recently enshrined the importance of the public broadcaster in its bill to update the official languages act, which recently passed the House and is currently being studied in the Senate.
The bill lays out the important work CBC/Radio-Canada does in preserving Canada's two official languages — a line the Conservatives tried to delete at its committee stage.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2023.
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Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press