Good morning, Madam Chair and members of Parliament.
My name is Wendy Freeman and I am the president of CTV News.
With me today are my colleagues Richard Gray, vice-president and general manager of radio and TV, Ottawa and Pembroke, and national head of CTV Two News; Kevin Goldstein, vice-president of regulatory affairs, content and distribution; and Pierre Rodrigue, vice-president, industry relations.
Every day, CTV News plays an important role in ensuring Canadians are informed about local and regional issues on our television and digital platforms. We are Canada's largest private television operator, with 31 local stations, some of which have been in operation for over 50 years. We are present in markets of all sizes, with 12 markets where we are the only local television news voice, markets such as Dawson Creek and Terrace in British Columbia; Prince Albert and Yorkton in Saskatchewan; London and Kitchener in Ontario; and Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Ratings tell us that the news these stations provide is of critical importance to Canadians. When a local news event breaks, we are there, with boots on the ground in each of our markets, to give viewers immediate information on what's happening, such as, for example, a boil water advisory in a community or a safe place to go in times of a natural disaster, such as the Calgary flood. These are but two examples of many. As such, the long-term viability of these stations across CTV and our competitors is vital to our communities and our country.
Unfortunately, our success in connecting and reflecting local communities does not necessarily translate into financial viability. Last broadcast year, all but five of our television stations lost money. In the previous year, 20 of our stations lost money. The trend is not in our favour. It's not just our stations. Local stations across the country are buckling under extreme financial pressure.
Despite these challenges—and this is a very important point I would like to make, given the topics this committee is studying—we are proud there has been no erosion in the amount of local news hours that each one of our stations provides to their respective communities. We are extremely proud of the role we play in providing local news in communities across the country.
In fact, for many years we have provided more local programming than the regulated minima in many of the markets we serve. For example, in Saskatoon, where we are required by regulation to provide only seven hours per week, we in fact air 32. In Winnipeg, we do 31.5. In Atlantic Canada, we air 18.5. Our local reporters and anchors, such as Sarah Plowman, a reporter in Winnipeg, and Tara Nelson, our anchor in Calgary, are an integral part of their communities.
But the amount of local news that we currently provide is not sustainable going forward. There is really no debate: local television is in a permanent structural decline. In fact, since 2011, advertising revenue generated by private conventional TV broadcasting stations has decreased by $325 million and $91 million at Bell Media stations alone.
Without a doubt, delivering local news is a costly undertaking. Changes are needed, and that is why, at the CRTC's recent hearing on local and community television, we made a proposal to reallocate existing money in the system and create a fund that provides an incentive to invest in local news. A previous but now defunct fund, the LPIF, was a lifeline for local TV stations, allowing many of them to keep their doors open.
Local television remains the most effective way to reach a mass audience. It's where Canadians turn first for information about what is going on in their community, and it is the place where viewers expect to find the biggest shows, whether that's popular dramas, tent-pole events, or programs of national interest.
Local television is a megaphone for the discoverability of Canadian content on digital platforms. In that role, local television supports and promotes the digital ecosystem, which is why it is vitally important that it remain a viable platform.
But we must also be mindful of the business reality of local TV. With declining advertising dollars and no access to other sources of revenue, the business model for local TV is not sustainable. Local over-the-air television is the only form of regulated television that does not have any form of subscription revenue. As an advertising-only service, local television is simply no longer sustainable in its current form.
Some have argued that the growth of online news platforms is part of the solution. That is true, but the cost involved to gather and produce high-quality news remains the same regardless of the platform on which it is made available. Despite this, we still need to invest in these platforms, because it's what our viewers want, and local television newsgathering provides the backbone for us to do so.
However, the financial picture for local television has the potential to get worse in the near future.
First, in order to coordinate our spectrum policies with those of our neighbours south of the border, the government is repurposing the 600 megahertz spectrum band on which over-the-air television stations operate. While we are supportive of this initiative in general, it will cost Bell Media tens of millions of dollars, if not more, this after spending roughly $30 million five years ago for the digital conversion.
Second, the decision by the CRTC to remove the ability to request simultaneous substitutions during the Super Bowl will result in a multi-million dollar loss of advertising revenue for CTV. Even this large amount pales in comparison to the broader impact on the Canadian economy, including the impact on local advertisers, who will lose an important vehicle to promote their products and services.
The impact is not just economic. Canadian consumers will be exposed to U.S. pharmaceutical drug advertisements that do not meet Health Canada standards, as well as advertisements for financial services that may be contrary to Canada's public policy objectives. Canadian tourism will lose the opportunity to promote our country to Canadians, and we'll lose the ability to promote Canadian programs, something that we have done with great success to date.
None of this is in anyone's interest.
In light of our comments, we make the following recommendations for this committee's consideration.
First, as we proposed in our submission to the CRTC, there must be a redirection of existing funds in the system to specifically support local news.
Second, given that local television does not receive a subscriber fee like speciality services do, some of the anticipated $5 billion in revenue from the 600 megahertz auction should be used to cover at least the cost of relocating transmitters.
Finally, the wide-ranging impact of the CRTC's decision on the Super Bowl must be reviewed.
In closing, local television and, specifically, local news remain important priorities for the Canadian broadcasting system for Canadians and for Bell. We look forward to this committee's report as to how the situation faced by local stations can be improved.
Thank you for the opportunity to share our views. We'll be happy to answer any question you may have.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My thanks to the witnesses for joining us today. The fact that you are here in great numbers for the entire hour speaks well to the extent to which you participate in the industry in this country.
Do you agree with my position that we are living in a time when the system is being seriously questioned? You rightly noted that a lot of people are blaming you. Your company is the major player and it often gets the blame for a number of things. However, I feel that it is appropriate for a business to make money. That is why you exist, and your shareholders are happy to see a return on their investments.
Clearly, we must all pay attention to the health of our system. In your presentation, you brought up some points in support of the fact that things are getting difficult, even for you. At the very end of your presentation, you said that you could not agree more with someone who said that traditional media were experiencing very considerable losses in advertising.
Do we agree that the system is based on the fact that the public airwaves are managed by a government agency to make sure that the country is represented and it is all based on an advertising market so that content can be provided at the best cost? With that said, do you wonder how, in our system, we can come to a decision such as the one the CRTC made to broadcast the Super Bowl including the American commercials?
Everyone here must have the health of our system at heart. Everyone involved has to make money, whether it is the performers, the reporters, the broadcasters, the distributors or anyone else. Everyone has to earn a living and to do so in the best interests of the country. However, how do we explain that we have reached the point where the CRTC chair can suggest something like that? Seen from that perspective, we wonder what is in it for you and for Canadians, except to see the Super Bowl's super ads.
That hearing, I know, and I think what you're referring to is the local news fund that we proposed at the CRTC's recent hearing on local TV and community television. What we proposed is that certain of the funding that the broadcast distributors put into their community channels, as well as a small amount that goes into the Canada Media Fund, would be redirected to form this new fund.
The new fund wouldn't just be a handout. Essentially, you would be required to spend a certain amount of money. You would then get essentially two-thirds of the cost, and you would get one-third under the fund, but only for amounts above your regulatory minimum. Stations in Canada right now have essentially no obligations to specifically provide local news; they have obligations to provide local programming. There would be a base minimum of local news established per market, and where you exceeded that amount, you would be eligible for one-third of your over-and-above costs, on a pro rata basis, to be covered.
In terms of what it would mean to us out of that fund—I'm going from memory here—I think the fund was going to be somewhere in the range of $65 million to $70 million. I'm trying to remember. I think just over $20 million would go to us to help support our local news operations.
By way of comparison, when the aforementioned LPIF existed, which was the previous fund that was eliminated in 2014, at its height we were receiving somewhere between $23 million and $25 million, and that really was a lifeline for our stations.
Radio revenues are down as well, and they're down sizably.
I'm going to use Ottawa as an example because that's the market I'm most familiar with, but it is representative of what's going on across the entire country. Over the course of the period of time since 2011, in the Ottawa market local television advertising revenue is down by 12%, and local radio advertising for our company is down 20%.
It's down for a couple of reasons, and this applies, as I said, to both television and radio. One reason it's down is that there's a fundamental change going on in local communities. The local retail landscape is very different today from what it has ever been at any time in the past. We are becoming communities of what I call boutiques and big-box stores. There is a level of business—“big small business” I call it—that in this country is disappearing. It's disappearing largely as a result of so many people adopting different shopping habits, those being shopping online.
The other big fundamental change going on in the advertising world is that “dollars to digital” doesn't necessarily mean dollars to digital advertising. What I mean when I say this is that the car dealer who's on the corner is being forced to make decisions now about how they spend every advertising dollar, and they need to be in the digital space. As a result of needing to be in the digital space, what they're doing is taking traditional advertising dollars and channelling them to website creation and maintenance and to creating and maintaining a social media presence. They're channelling those dollars to search engine optimization, and they're taking those dollars away from spending on advertising on local television and radio stations.
For my properties in Ottawa alone, my quick estimate as to the impact of that on an annual basis is $2.6 million a year, and it's growing fast. These are changes in which, no matter what I do and no matter what my staff does, we can't influence a difference. What we're talking about are fundamental structural changes in the manner in which the economy functions in this country at the local level, in communities such as Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Calgary, and Brandon, Manitoba, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. This is going on across the country from coast to coast.
I'll start, but with only three minutes, we'll see how far we get.
The worst way that public policy gets made is by the personal anecdotes of people's own experiences, so let me indulge in that.
My constituency is York—Simcoe, north of Toronto, at the north end of York region. I have municipalities such as Georgina and East Gwillimbury that are served largely by your CTV Two affiliate, which used to be the old “New VR”, out of Barrie, CKVR. When I was first elected, I used to see a CKVR camera in my constituency just about every weekend when I was out and about. That's probably dropped to maybe once every four weeks now, though in fairness, when something big is going on, your helicopter out of Toronto will be flying overhead covering it.
In contrast, I don't think I have seen one of CBC's cameras in my constituency in literally years. When something big happens in my communities, it's generally shown by a map, and somebody on the telephone describes it as an area north of the GTA, even though, of course, it's part of the GTA. So when I hear you talk about the challenges of CBC having a $1-billion-a-year subsidy, I don't see from that experience how that subsidy is making it harder for you to compete, certainly in that market.
Can you tell me how that subsidy makes it hard for you to compete on local news?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Rodrigue, let me go back to the question I raised a little earlier about your investors' brochure. I find that, for some time, we have not been talking enough about how interrelated our system is.
There are champions like yourself. Often, you are asked to make an effort and you reply that you are losing money here and there. That is the reason I asked, when the representatives from Rogers appeared, whether we could be assured that, at the major meetings that the Minister of Canadian Heritage hopes to hold, there will be a conversation that is as transparent as possible about the hats that everyone involved wears. Earlier, if I understood correctly, it was mentioned that, in areas such as distribution and cellphones, the picture is wonderful.
It was also mentioned that moving to the 600 MHz band will result in costs for Bell Media, but that it is still going to generate a fantastic business opportunity for wireless telephone people.
Can we agree that it would be helpful for everyone that, when you are talking to your shareholders and selling shares, you might say that some subsidiaries are going very well and others are going quite badly. We need the complete picture. Basically, would it be helpful to have separate spokespeople for each one?
What do you think, Mr. Rodrigue?
First, Mr. Nantel, be assured of one thing. When the minister calls, Bell, as a responsible player in whatever area we operate, will answer the call for comments on digital issues and Canadian content, whatever the platform.
Second, as regards our relationship with investors, a responsible company like Bell must be as clear as possible about the possible risks. Today, we could talk with certainty about everything innovation-related that has gone on in the past three years. However, we are not able to talk with certainty about what will be going on in three months.
Moreover, as a public company, Bell has a responsibility to criticize various regulatory decisions that may be made when it is talking to its investors, to talk about Canadians' different ways of life and about what our advertisers prefer, without knowing exactly whether another part of the company will be able to gain access to that market.
However, even if another part can gain access, how do we analyze its profitability? It does not mean that the dollars coming out of broadcasting or from advertisers—advertising revenue, for example—are automatically going to be made up elsewhere and with the same profit margin. That is why the company has the responsibility of explaining the risks once a year. It is a legal obligation, but it is also the way in which the system is built. Investors must be allowed to make their purchases at the right time.
This is all to say that, if a government, whether provincial or federal, asks those involved in the system fo their opinion, Bell will be there and will continue to be there. The solutions we offer are not always adopted, far from it. For example, your colleague asked what we said last January. Some of the solutions we proposed were adopted, but others—
Madam Chair, members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to talk about local media. It's a subject that is dear to us since we represent workers that produce local content on a daily basis in Quebec, whether on the radio, on television or in print media.
My name is Denis Bolduc. I am the secretary general for the Canadian Union of Public employees in Quebec. I am accompanied by Nathalie Blais, from our research branch. In a previous life, both of us were journalists. We have prepared this statement with media workers that still work in the field, and who are both with us here today. They are Richard Labelle, a cameraman at TVA, who is also vice-president of the TV and radio workers for our communications sector, and Jean-François Racine, who is president of the union representing the editorial staff of the Journal de Québec. They will be able to answer your questions if you wish.
Today, we will not spend much time talking about the critical financial situation surrounding television and print media. I think you are all well aware of the declining advertising numbers. That said, we would like to highlight that it is actually the national advertising numbers which show a downward trend, while the local ad purchasing numbers remain quite stable. This is shown in table 2 of our report.
What we really want to talk about today is the importance of local media for our democracy and to emphasize our recommendations that aim to further support the production of local news content.
Let us start by looking at the local news landscape in Quebec.
Earlier this year, CUPE commissioned a study from Influence Communication, which was submitted as evidence to the CRTC during its consultation on local television. Here are some of its key findings.
First, in 2015, there was 42% more information from all sources circulating in Quebec compared to 2001 yet there was 88% less local news content. This means local news information that comes directly from the region of origin accounts for less than 1% of all news information available in the province of Quebec.
Second, if we compare each region, we see that the amount of local news content available varies quite a bit. This is shown in table 4 of our report. In the Saguenay—Lac-St-Jean region, for example, there is 18% of local content for about 275,000 people, whereas in Montreal, there is about 1% of available content for a population of about 2 million.
Third, the quantity of available local news content has an impact on voter turnout in elections. Influence Communication compared local news content with voter turnout during the 2013 municipal elections and found that, on the whole, voter turnout was greater in regions that had more local news content.
Local news content therefore has a direct and real impact on our democracy. This is the main reason why it is important to support the production of local content and to implement measures that will protect the expertise of the journalists and media professionals that produce it. The traditional financial model for television and print media may be weakened, but our solutions to strengthen it cannot ignore the importance of local news content and must ensure that the public interest is served.
In this era of change, some people have also changed the way in which they consume media. Those who are 44 years old or younger get most of their news online, whereas those 45 and older still prefer to read the paper or watch the news on television.
Nevertheless, the statistics show that most people get their information from multiple sources, and many from the younger generation still read the paper or watch the newscast on television. There are also those from the older generation, like me, who spend a lot of time reading the news online. Things are not black and white and all platforms remain relevant in 2016.
The biggest problem is that media outlets must shift towards digital platforms while revenues plummet and when the newer generation has become used to consuming its news content for free.
We are therefore recommending that the federal government create a new tax credit for advertising purchases on Canada's traditional media platforms, that is to say radio, newspapers and television. The tax credit's aim would be to support the communications industry during its transition to digital platforms.
Many studies have shown that advertising on traditional platforms is effective, though new trends and the smaller price tag can make online advertising enticing, even though it's harder to measure its real impact. The tax credit would rebalance things in the sense that the lower cost of online advertising—which is often offered by foreign companies like Google and Facebook—would be less appealing. These companies do not produce news content, and definitely do not produce local news content. In fact, traditional media platforms are still the source of much of the local news content on the web.
CUPE also recommends that the federal government implement a payroll tax credit to allow Canadian traditional media outlets to continue to fulfill their mandate of delivering local content despite their difficult financial situation. Newspapers, television and the radio have unmatched expertise in terms of news and information, and Canadians must still be able to have access to it, regardless of the platforms used.
This tax credit could be granted for every media worker directly involved in producing factual news content as long as the news outlets agree to adhere to an independent and well-recognized code of conduct, such as the Quebec Press Council Code of Ethics. Opinion-based journalism would not be eligible for the tax credit.
Finally, CUPE recommends that the federal government work to provide a better system for collecting data in the communications sector. Ten days ago, the Minister of Canadian Heritage launched a review of all the culture-related measures in place, including those that affect news content. However, the latest CRTC consultations on local and community television clearly demonstrated that there were gaps in the available data. For instance, we don’t know how many journalists cover local news in Canada, or even how many hours of news content or news stories are broadcast weekly on the Internet, the radio or television. In this context, outlets like CTV and Global are looking to reduce their local programming, which is mainly news.
To address the lack of relevant data, the Governor in Council could make use of subsection 7(1) of the Broadcasting Act in order to instruct the CRTC to collect more statistics on the industry that it regulates. For written press, more detailed data could be collected by Canadian Heritage.
To conclude, CUPE believes that professional journalism built upon a recognized ethical framework is an essential part of our democracy, and must be supported. Canadians deserve to know what is happening in their communities from the best sources so that they can make informed decisions. The government has the responsibility to implement measures that will ensure that all Canadians have access to news and information that is diversified, complete and of the highest quality. Access to information is an essential part of a healthy democracy.
Thank you very much for listening. It would be our pleasure to answer your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair and members.
I'm Catherine Edwards, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations, or CACTUS. With me is André Desrochers, our board member from Quebec.
CACTUS was formed in 2008 to bring it to the attention of policy-makers that Canada's formerly robust community TV sector had fallen behind the pace of technological change.
Thirty countries recognize community media as a third broadcasting sector complementary to the public and private sectors. In all countries except Canada, community broadcasting is defined by community not-for-profit ownership.
We see community ownership in Canada's community radio sector. Almost 200 not-for-profit community-owned radio stations provide local reflection in communities that are too small to support a public or private sector station as well as an outlet for a diversity of voices in urban areas.
However, community ownership is not the status quo for community TV in this country. Because Canada was the first to offer community TV in the late 1960s, before there were portable video cameras—only unwieldy and expensive studio cameras—the mandate for citizen access was placed under the stewardship of cable companies.
Over 300 Wayne's World-like cable production studios opened countrywide, serving most communities having more than 5,000 people and many smaller ones as well. Cable companies kept costs down by collocating studios with their head ends. For example, in a small place like Arnprior up the Ottawa Valley, the one employee who installed your cable was probably the same guy who opened up the studio and played back your videotape.
These channels were a huge success. They enabled free speech and a diversity of voices on broadcast TV. They offered media literacy training, incubating a generation of Canadian filmmakers, technicians, journalists, writers, and actors, such as Guy Maddin, Dan Aykroyd, and Frédéric Arnould. They also fostered civic engagement by providing unfiltered access to elected officials—such as you—to constituents through open-line “Dial-Your-MP” talk shows and election and council coverage.
All that changed when the digital transition began in the 1990s. Cable companies began to consolidate and to use fibre optics to interconnect formerly separate systems, and the head ends weren't needed anymore. More than 200 of the 300 studios that had enabled TV production in our smallest community disappeared with the head ends.
Even at the big-city studios that remained, cable companies were facing competition from satellite. Citizen access was sidelined in favour of staff-produced slick productions that cable companies hoped would help them retain subscribers.
Despite their efforts, cable penetration slipped from a high of over 80% in the 1980s to just below 60% today, so that a bare majority of Canadians can see the content on a cable community channel, let alone access a production facility to create content of their own.
More than a billion dollars in subscriber money has been spent on these channels over the last decade, yet Numeris reports that only 1.5% of Canadians watch them in a given week.
Subscribers in Montreal have even filed a class action suit against Videotron's MAtv community channel.
These digital media centres would teach not just audio and video production, as in the past, but also web design and gaming. Their content would be distributed not just on cable TV, but over the air, on satellite, on the Internet, and on mobile devices. This $150 million is enough to fund 250 digital community media centres, restoring service to all communities of 5,000 people or more and to many smaller communities as well.
The CRTC did not heed our request. To prepare for the CRTC's most recent local and community TV policy review, we teamed up with community radio, as well as online community media and the gaming community, to propose a single coherent policy to bring community media in Canada into the 20th century. This research and policy proposal was distributed to you in both official languages.
The relevance of digital community media centres to your study is threefold.
First is skills training. The mere existence of the Internet doesn't mean that everyone knows how to use it or that journalistic standards are met. The community sector can produce an hour of content for less than one-tenth of what it costs in the public and private sectors—$500 compared to over $6,000—because we leverage volunteer labour and community infrastructure, but it still takes facilities and professionals to train the public.
Second is more media for more communities. At the recent CRTC hearing on local and community TV, we heard that there are public and private TV stations in just 59 Canadian cities, almost all having populations over 100,000. Even if a news fund were created from the $150 million currently earmarked to support community TV, for example, as some parties have proposed, it would primarily support existing big-city stations, and everyone acknowledged that such a fund would at best be a band-aid, not a long-term solution.
CACTUS's proposal to create a community access media fund, on the other hand, would lead to the reopening of not just television studios but full multimedia production and training centres in almost 200 Canadian population centres in addition to the 59 biggest. No other sector can make this commitment to you. Community media can serve francophone minorities in small to mid-sized markets and in at least some of our more than 500 first nations. The 2012 report from this committee, entitled “Emerging and Digital Media: Opportunities and Challenges”, endorsed our call for digital community media centres.
Third, it would restore diversity. As you've heard from Professor Winseck, Canada's media ownership concentration is extremely high. The more concentrated it has become, the less sense it has made for the same large entities to control the so-called community sector, whose mandate is to provide the very diversity of voices that were lacking.
Our recommendation is that Canada needs a new vision for community media that will equip our citizens and youth with the digital media skills they need to generate their own content, to compete internationally, and to have meaningful dialogue with one another that's not limited to 132 characters on Twitter or fragmented platforms such as Facebook. The community sector offers the biggest bang for the buck to reflect our communities in all media. The money is there; it just needs to be deployed effectively.
Therefore, our recommendations are, first, the Department of Canadian Heritage should develop a digital community media policy for Canada that includes old and new media; second, we should create a community access media fund to support community-operated digital production centres; third, we should direct BDU subscriber revenues for community TV to this fund; and last, the service delivery via the fund and community centres needs to be coordinated with four other ministries, which include the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Economic Development and the Ministry of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour regarding the digital skills training mandate, the Ministry of Democratic Institutions regarding the civic and democratic mandate of community media; and finally, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Communities, because community media centres represent significant infrastructure.
Thanks a lot for doing this study. It is much needed. We look forward to your questions.
Actually, we must find a way to encourage the media to produce local news. We are seeing the same trend as you have so accurately described, and we are concerned. For a number of years, we have seen the importance of local news decline.
I started in 1985 as a journalist for the Journal de Québec. I stopped in 2011. At the time, whether for the Journal de Québec, Le Soleil daily newspaper, the TVA network or Radio-Canada, we would go throughout the regions, in the Lower St. Lawrence or elsewhere, to cover local news. Today, it takes major news to have reporters leave cities and urban centres. Otherwise, they no longer go out. We share your concern on this.
By looking at the situation, we see that incentives are a must. Companies talk about money. So we must find a financial incentive, which is why we are proposing the simple solution of a tax credit. If, in terms of local advertising in traditional media, a company in a small town has an advertising budget of $50,000 a year and receives a tax credit of, say, 20%, perhaps it will still choose to invest its $50,000 of advertising plus the 20% in more advertising. That would get the wheels in motion and encourage media to produce local news.
I think the incentive must be financial, which is why we are proposing those kinds of solutions. It is all well and good to talk about principles, but we are concerned about the quality of the information. That is why we mentioned a code of ethics in our brief. Those things must go hand in hand.
Businesses are increasingly asking news professionals to produce more news on several platforms and to spend less and less time on fact-checking the news, but to increasingly feed content to all sorts of platforms. For our part, we talk about the quality of information, which is not a major point of discussion for big businesses. We are concerned about quantity, but we are also concerned about quality.
Let's first distinguish between digital delivery, broadcasting on digital platforms and digital production.
We have been producing digital content for 20 years. So there is no issue with the production. The issue has more to do with the variety of digital platforms that must be provided with content. As Denis said earlier, it takes a single journalist a lot longer to feed content to a number of platforms than to produce a piece of news and deliver it on media such as television or a newspaper. Journalists have less time to do all the fact checking.
There is also the technological impact. Given that devices are easier to use, journalists are now also camera operators and editors. Sometimes, they are asked to broadcast remotely. We can only imagine what that means. In the past, this meant that they spent an entire day on a story, but now, the story takes one-third of the day. They spend the rest of the time on editing, sending the story and making sure the technology works. So once again, there is a loss of quality.
That is why we are proposing a payroll tax credit. Since their revenue is dropping, the media outlets are cutting jobs and rationalizing by using the technology at the expense of quality. It's not because of bad intentions. It's because the system is leading information in that direction.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you for these community television policies, all 170 pages at 2 a.m. today.
I've been adamant in these meetings about dollars to dimes—and we are hearing this every time somebody comes to this table—and the heritage must fit in somewhere. We just heard from Bell. We all know the situation there.
I will say for Bell, if you don't mind me saying so, that they did buy CTV for one thing: content. They need content. That's why they bought it, so don't feel sorry for them. There was a reason why they bought CTV: because they needed content for people, for their websites and their television stations and so on.
Ms. Blais, you talked about a payroll tax credit. How is that going to work? Just bring us up to date.
Everybody who has come to the heritage committee wants a handout. Whether or not it's the local news improvement fund that they had, everybody wants a pot of money, and I don't know where it's coming from. Now you've proposed another one here today. Fill us in on this, because that is the issue that we have faced here for three months from people. It's that there is or isn't a pot of money, but we need another pot of money. Where is this payroll tax credit coming from?
We wanted to get away from the idea of a direct fund for news. We then looked for a solution that would provide funding based on responsibilities. Yes, we are proposing a tax credit. The money would come from the government, but the tax credit would lead to results.
We see that there are fewer and fewer journalists in the regions. They cover what is happening around news stations, but they are less and less likely to step away from the station or newspaper. To encourage this regional coverage, we are proposing a payroll tax credit. Right now, in the media outlets where some of our members are working, local staff are losing their jobs for the sake of centralizing production. For instance, in the next few months, TVA will centralize production in Montreal for the Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières stations. As a result, people in the regions will be losing their jobs.
If jobs are lost in the regions, their economy is weaker. That is why we believe that a tax credit, even if it meant the government spending more money, would be an asset for the regional economy.
I can comment in an informed manner only from the point of view of the community sector. The 2008 diversity of voices hearing occurred before the most recent mega-mergers—before Bell bought CTV, before Shaw bought Global. We are, as you heard from Professor Winseck, in a much more media-concentrated environment, even more now than we were then, when it was of concern to the CRTC.
From the point of view of the community media sector, it's meant to be like a grassroots safety valve of last resort in a democracy. For example, when nobody would report in an unbiased way on Stephen as a young Reformer in the west, he was on community media in Calgary when I was the volunteer coordinator there. When Elizabeth can't get on a big platform, she can go to community media.
It's extremely important in a really media-concentrated environment. That's when you need community media the most, to provide a diversity of voices and an ability...even for professional journalists. We had a town hall in Toronto last year to talk about having a community media platform in Toronto. To our surprise, in addition to the usual suspects, so to speak—minority groups, the disabled, and Ethiopians who came and said that they're not seen on mainstream media—half the room was full of professional broadcasters who said, “We just want our voices to get out anywhere. We can't even have our documentaries seen anywhere if we have an important topic. And we can't find training.” As Nathalie was saying, it's very difficult. At the CBC you're not allowed to touch an audio cable if you're an editor. It's hard to get those skills.
For all those reasons, community media is the place where we can make sure, at least at the grassroots, there's a diversity of voices. That then percolates up and serves as a creative underpinning for our professional production industry.
So yes, we think it needs an update. Community media has a big role to play there.
There are two issues with it.
One is that for CRTC community channels right now, the companies are supposed to spend 50% of their schedule and budgets facilitating citizens to have a voice. That's to try to encourage cable companies to provide community access. What Rogers is asking is whether they could move money from their big-city community channels, such as Toronto's, to some of their smaller channels. I say “smaller”, but they've shut down the really small ones, so we're talking about mid-sized communities, which are generally the same communities in which we already have other private and public broadcasters. Rogers just wants more money to compete in those markets.
They want to reduce the access percentage in those markets to 30% and use the money to hire professional journalists to do news. Again, this is not the use of that money that was intended under the legislation. Really, they're looking for more flexibility to spend that 2%, which is supposed to serve community media, however they want on professional production, which is what they've been doing over the last 20 years anyway. They've tended to professionalize these channels in order to compete with satellite, as per my presentation.
For us, it's more of the same. It's not going to bring more service to small communities. It's just going to enable Rogers to compete head to head with other private and public broadcasters in mid-sized markets that already have broadcasters. It's not going to bring new news coverage or open new stations.
I have much sympathy for this motion, and I will support it. I would have preferred that we do each particular reference separately as it came in and then were able to provide 48 hours' notice for each, but the principle remains the same and is a good principle.
Ironically, , in her letter, speaks to this being a motion to restrict the rights of MPs. It's actually exactly the opposite. This is a motion that gives independent members the right to make amendments that they would otherwise not be able to make at committee.
What it prevents is one member of the House of Commons, as has happened in the past, namely , tying up the entire House of Commons for days, and literally overnight, with endless voting on motions that are brought about not with the objective of having them seriously debated but rather that of simply tying up the House in endless voting through the nights. The basis for that was that those amendments were not able to be made at committee. That was the basis for them being compelled to be voted on at report stage.
This gives the opportunity for independents to participate fully through proposing those amendments at the committee level and, as such, it is a sensible approach for the orderly management of our business here and in the House.