Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
I would like to thank you for inviting us to appear today as part of your study on the media and local communities. My name is Sylviane Lanthier, and I am the chair of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada. With me today is our director of communications, Serge Quinty.
In nine provinces and three territories, 2.6 million people chose to live part of their lives in French. We can truly talk about linguistic duality because there are dynamic and diverse francophone communities in every region of this country. They embody one of our basic Canadian values. The FCFA is here today as the main advocate for these communities and the people who live in them, people who are determined to live in French.
We are honoured to share this table today with the Association de la presse francophone and the Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada or ARC. The presence of these two organizations in particular very clearly illustrates a fundamental reality of our communities: if we wanted to have local media in French, we had to create them ourselves, for the most part. Developed by and for our communities, our community newspapers and radio stations are the only media, aside from Radio-Canada's regional stations and a few private-sector media, that talk about the daily reality of Canada's francophone population in various parts of the country.
However, our media are suffering today. Last year, one of our newspapers, L'Express d'Ottawa, folded and another, L'Eau Vive in Saskatchewan, suspended publication for a few months. A benefit concert for this newspaper will take place next week, in fact.
When it comes to radio, three of the ARC member stations no longer have paid staff. In places like Halifax and Peace River, the problems are so serious that the station's survival is at risk.
How did we get to this point? The digital shift certainly played a part. When the federal government made the shift to using the Internet for all communications with the Canadian public, advertising in our media suffered. The drop in advertising had a major impact on many of our radio stations and newspapers, as it prevented them from conducting the day-to-day activities that benefit the community they serve. Like the APF, the FCFA filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Official Languages over the government's decision on advertising.
More broadly, government support for community media is still seriously lacking. Many media outlets are located in places where the advertising market alone is not enough to support a French-language outlet, and that is why the private sector does not have a presence. However, even though these radio stations and newspapers have significantly reduced financial viability, their cultural and social viability is not in doubt. The very existence of these media shows how important they are to the community they serve. Conversely, if they don't receive better support, they will disappear, which will be an irreparable loss for Canada's francophone population.
People will talk about how technology has changed, and we recognize the growing importance of digital technology and social platforms in the consumer habits of Canadians, including the francophones who live in our communities. However, I would like to draw your attention to three considerations.
First, we live in a time where the vast majority of television, radio, and news content on digital platforms is produced by the traditional media. As our colleagues from the ARC will tell you, radio has never stopped being popular, even among young people.
Second, high-speed connectivity in Canada has not yet reached the point where everyone can easily access online media products. It is difficult for an Acadian in Nova Scotia to listen to the radio online when he has a dial-up connection rather than high-speed Internet. You can't expect a francophone in the Yukon or the Northwest Territories to watch videos online when he pays an exorbitant monthly price for bandwidth. As we told the CRTC a few weeks ago, there are still many places in Canada, especially rural and remote areas, where the government needs to invest in infrastructure so that francophones can fully be part of the digital world. In these places, radio, television, and newspapers remain the tools of choice.
The third consideration I would like to draw to your attention is as follows. In a multi-platform world where some people choose to read their newspaper online and others in print format, where some listen to the radio over the airwaves and others on a mobile device, content is king. Of course it is important to invest in digital technology, but it is even more important to be able to gather and deliver that content. That is why I encourage this committee and the federal government to support the ability of our media to talk about everyday happenings in our communities.
With that in mind, we would welcome a program to support community media and provide our radio stations and newspapers with the minimum resources they need to do their jobs. This program could also support our community media as they adapt to the digital environment. Many major media outlets are having a hard time making this shift, so imagine what it is like for our newspapers and radio stations.
Basically, as we see it, we have two choices as a society. We can let market forces take their course and run the risk that with the continued erosion of resources, even more media will stop broadcasting or publishing. In that case, we can wait and see whether or not appropriate alternatives emerge from the digital shift. Alternatively, we can invest to strengthen the ability of our media to do their jobs and operate in a digital, multi-platform environment. In that way, our media will remain rooted in our communities.
I would now like to talk briefly about Radio-Canada.
The FCFA estimates that the public broadcaster's regional stations are the only source of local French-language television content for 58% of francophones living outside Quebec. Since these are provincial stations, you will understand that I am using the word “local” pretty broadly.
You and I know the situation Radio-Canada is in right now. In recent years, our communities and the rest of Canada have seen whole swaths of the Crown corporation's programming disappear. Since the CRTC did away with the Local Program Improvement Fund, the regional stations outside Quebec produce almost no television programming aside from news. Youth programs, cultural magazines, and variety shows have all but disappeared. News programming has even been cut from 60 to 30 minutes everywhere except in Ottawa and Moncton. Once again, there are fewer opportunities to talk about day-to-day events in our communities on television and fewer human and physical resources to do so.
The Government of Canada will announce new funding for CBC/Radio-Canada in the upcoming federal budget. At least that is what we hear. That's wonderful, but there is absolutely no guarantee that that new money will benefit the corporation's regional French-language stations in our communities. For one thing, after years of cuts, many areas badly need to make up for lost time. For another, as the chair of the CRTC said at the recent public hearings about local and community television, it is the board that makes the choices that guide the corporation, a board that does not include any representation from our communities, I might add.
In his report on CBC/Radio-Canada funding, commissioned last year by the governments of Quebec and Ontario, consultant Michel Houle recommended that the government reinstate an annual subsidy, over and above basic parliamentary appropriations, to be used exclusively to enhance locally relevant programming on CBC/Radio-Canada radio and television stations outside metropolitan areas. That is something worth exploring. We also recommended to the CRTC that a fund be created to support local French-language television programming outside Quebec.
We urge the federal government to ensure, one way or another, that the money invested in our public broadcaster is used, at least in part, to enhance the French-language television and radio stations that serve our communities. We ask that the government require CBC/Radio-Canada to meet this condition in order to obtain new funding.
In closing, when we think about newspapers and local radio and television stations, we most often think in terms of markets, but when we do we lose sight of two important facts. First, in most of our communities, francophones lack the critical mass for a truly viable advertising market. Second, our French-language media exist to serve not markets, but communities made up of people who are determined to live in French and need these media to find out, in French, what is going on where they live.
We, the 2.6 million francophones living in nine provinces and three territories, need our community newspapers and radio stations. We need Radio-Canada's regional television and radio stations. Even in a digital world, these media have the know-how and the presence in our communities to tell our stories and reflect our realities.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, thank you for inviting us to appear here today.
My name is Francis Sonier, and I am the president of the Association de la presse francophone. Today I am accompanied by the executive director of the APF, Jean-Patrice Meunier.
The Association de la presse francophone is a group of French-language minority community newspapers. We currently represent 22 newspapers in eight provinces and two territories. French is one of Canada's official languages and an important part of our national identity.
There are francophone communities all across the country. Some are large concentrations of people who speak French, while others are small groups.
Manitoba is an excellent example. It includes Saint-Boniface, the real capital of Manitoba's francophone population, and other smaller francophone communities.
Community newspapers act as hubs for these communities. They are channels through which these French identities assemble and become informed about their own communities. Community newspapers are often the only direct link between these people.
The digital age has brought many people closer together, but reliable high-speed Internet connections are not available in all communities. Access to digital information can be difficult in places where the infrastructure is not present, such as northern Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, or even some areas of Newfoundland and Labrador.
These francophone communities often came out of the history of Canada. As we prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, it is important to note that community newspapers have chronicled that history.
Le Moniteur Acadien, based in Shediac, New Brunswick, will also celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2017. Winnipeg's La Liberté recently marked its centenary. Their respective archives reflect the events, the struggles, and the successes that these communities have seen over the years. Women in Manitoba won the right to vote in 1916, and La Liberté was there. These archives show the unique perspective of a francophone minority community.
Community newspapers bring these communities together and contribute to their vitality. They contribute directly to the local and regional economies by creating jobs, promoting local businesses, or just talking about them.
It would be a mistake to compare a community newspaper, which talks specifically about a given region, with a larger, more general newspaper, which has a broader scope and mandate. La Presse covers all of Quebec. The Globe and Mail is a national newspaper.
A community newspaper has a more limited scope. Certainly, it may talk about the larger francophone population, but only because that affects the local community. That is its mandate, its purpose. The major media and daily newspapers will not cover the lobster festival in Shediac, New Brunswick, or run stories on local issues in Hearst, in northern Ontario.
Community newspapers have news teams on the ground. Over the years, the publishers have learned what people want to know about their communities. These newspapers have a much greater presence than any other existing news infrastructure.
I would also mention that a community newspaper costs very little compared to other news infrastructure, considering its impact on the community.
Not all minority official language media can be compared to media in majority communities, where multiple infrastructures exist. If a newspaper, a radio station, or even a television station were to disappear from a majority community, the impact on the community would be minimal compared to the impact it would have on a minority community.
In a majority community, there is a whole range of alternatives. If the Toronto Star folded, that would have a huge impact, of course, but people would have a number of alternate news sources.
In a minority community, though, the situation is not the same. If L'Aurore boréale, the only French-language newspaper in the Yukon, were to fold, the community would have no way of getting local news.
That is the reality. If community newspapers disappear, who will talk about the latest municipal council decisions, the innovative projects done by local francophone students, business start-ups, works by local artists and the results achieved by young francophone athletes?
These are the things that help build a francophone identity and francophone pride.
Another important and worrisome aspect of our industry can be found in the consolidation of media by large corporate entities. Through happenstance, both APF and QCNA currently represent only newspapers that are not corporately owned. We have observed that when it comes to our particular paradigm of official language newspapers in minority situations, this is the best structure to guarantee access to information in our communities.
Corporations have a duty to their shareholders and not to their communities. Decisions are made on the basis of balance sheets and numbers. L'Express d'Ottawa, for example, our last corporate member, stopped its print issue as a business decision. In Quebec, The Westmount Examiner was shut down in October 2015, after 80 years of existence, as well as its sister publication, The West Island Chronicle. All three closures stem from business decisions by Transcontinental.
On the other hand, when L'Eau vive, the only French-language newspaper in Saskatchewan, announced that it was in financial difficulty and had to stop publishing its print edition last November, it did not disappear for good.
The APF met with the newspaper's managers and offered its advice. The community pulled together, and the newspaper will resume printing this week, which is good news.
Minority newspapers are in crisis. Some publications are in a very precarious situation, as the case of L'Eau vive showed. The decline in federal advertising hurt these publications badly, because revenue dropped very quickly, with no transition period.
The newspapers that belong to the APF have seen their advertising revenue from federal departments and agencies decrease by 73% since 2006. That's right, 73%. Together, the newspapers represented by the APF have lost $1.5 million a year in federal advertising. That total hides the fact that some newspapers have seen their advertising revenue fall to zero or close to zero as a result of these decisions and policies.
What is more, that is not the only source of lost revenue for community newspapers. The new formulas for the aid to publishers program and the Canada periodical fund have also affected the newspapers in the APF. Although some newspapers have seen their funding increase, others have suffered significant losses, and the APF has seen an overall reduction of more than 20% over the years. Four newspapers alone have had to absorb losses of roughly $178,000 a year.
Every drop in revenue has a serious impact on these communities. It may mean one less journalist, contributor, or proofreader. Advertising revenue and financial assistance programs guarantee quality editorial content.
The government mentioned the broader reach of television and the Internet to explain the reduction in advertising spending on minority community newspapers. However, statistics show that people in communities read their community newspapers. As was mentioned previously, not everyone has access to the Internet. Large regions of the country served by our publications have little or no Internet access. How can the government reasonably show that Internet advertising reaches these communities?
According to a study that community media conducted with the support of Canadian Heritage, community newspapers have an average readership ranging from 54% to 83%, depending on the region; 71% of communities appreciate their newspaper and consider it important. Community newspapers have an 89% credibility rating. Even though they may seem pervasive, the Internet and social media do not enjoy such credibility.
For example, in 2009, when the government wanted to tell Canadians about the dangers of H1N1 flu, it published notices in the newspapers, in the midst of the decline in advertising spending.
We are not here just to tell you about problems, but also to offer solutions. Regardless of its purpose, a minority community newspaper is first and foremost a cultural element of that community. It is a reflection of the community. In these newspapers, people in the community express themselves in stories, editorials, and opinion pieces.
We have come up with a few suggestions that are in the document you can read. Don't forget that newspapers are cultural businesses and should be considered as such with Canada Post's help. Canada Post offers preferential rates for books. We would like newspapers to benefit from such rates as well. In addition, we would like to have a fund equivalent to 1% of CBC/Radio-Canada's budget for community newspapers and media.
Good morning, Madam Chair and committee members.
My name is François Côté, and I am the secretary general of the Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada. With me this morning is Simon Forgues, who is our development and communications officer.
First, we would like to thank you for inviting us to appear. We are with you this morning to show you that more than 20 years after the Internet entered our lives, radio is still the local medium par excellence, especially in communities like ours. However, even though our radio stations play a major role in preserving our language and culture and enhancing the social and economic vitality of our communities, they are going through a difficult time right now, and that is very worrisome. The same is true of our colleagues at the newspapers, as you have heard.
At the ARC, three of our radio stations no longer have paid staff. Five have only one half-time employee, and four others have only one employee. Under the circumstances, it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to carry out the mandate they were given.
How many times have we heard that our French-language community media are perfect indicators of francophone linguistic vitality in Canada? It is often said that if there are French-language radio stations and newspapers like ours in our communities, then they must be alive and well.
Ladies and gentlemen, these indicators of linguistic vitality are increasingly fragile, basically because of a lack of financial resources. At the rate things are going, soon we won't be able to talk about our radio stations and newspapers as proof that French is alive and well in Canada if nothing is done to help them.
Nearly half of our members are in a precarious situation. Many have posted deficits in recent years, largely because of the lack of stable funding and the decrease in federal advertising.
Good morning. Thank you to all three of you for your presentations here this morning.
I'm from Saskatchewan. We have pockets of French, as you know, highly concentrated in some areas like Gravelbourg, Zenon Park, Arborfield, and so on. It's reassuring, I guess, that L'Eau vive will hit the stands once again on Thursday.
We talk about federal funding. It's interesting, because I think French immersion has really picked up steam. I used to be a school board trustee, up until October 19. We've exploded in our province with French immersion.
I have a couple of questions for you. You talked about federal ads and all that. I don't see any support from provincial bodies toward French. French education we struggle with, so I'm assuming we're going to struggle with the television, with the radio, and I know we're struggling with newspapers in our province. While you can throw some darts at the federal government from 2006 on...and I see court cases in our province, French schools against the provincial government, so let's talk about this. You said you had 2.6 million throughout the country, yet I don't see—other than maybe in Quebec, Ontario a little bit, and New Brunswick—support from provincial governments here, stepping forward in the ad situation.
Let's open this can of worms, because provincial governments spend a lot of money from coast to coast to coast. I don't know your source of revenue. I assume you get enough funding here from Canadian Heritage under the APF. We'll ask questions here in the next seven minutes about that.
But I want to know a little bit about provincial. Can you share some of that with me?
Thank you. I would like to thank all the witnesses for joining us today.
All committee members have received calls. The media are very interested in the study. I have been a member of this committee for four and a half years and I have never seen such excitement over a subject. I think that people feel this is their chance to speak. I commend you all for participating in this work. I hope to have the opportunity to ask Mr. Sonier to talk some more about the solutions he wanted to present and what he would like to see in the report.
Let me talk a bit about the situation of a newspaper like L’Aurore boréale in Yukon. This paper is in a desert, in terms of Internet service. It is located in a remote region and of little interest to advertisers. A car dealer is certainly not selling 25 cars a week there. Moreover, the paper is in a minority situation in both French and English. Regional and traditional print media outside of major centres are facing an environment where advertisers are less interested in traditional media than in the past. This is the source of the problem. There are traditional issues and new issues in Canada. We seek to nurture these two cultures, two languages. This shortage of government advertising that affects you all is paradoxical.
Mr. Forgues, you said earlier that the CRTC asked you to acquire a telecommunications system that cost you nearly $10,000 for each of the stations to broadcast emergency, disaster, public radio and service messages. The government asks you to make an investment but no longer buys advertising from you. It tells you that your radio provides essential services, but it does not give you money every week to supplement your budget. However, the transmitter has to work and you have to pay $10,000. It is a bit of a paradox.
There is the notion of reaching a particular audience. This is a niche service, and it is hard to sell advertising in that context.
Would you find it useful for the committee to receive people involved in media placement so they could tell us about the choices they make with their clients? We heard several accounts about publications that are doing well and have excellent readership. They are selling a lot less advertising, as if suddenly it became worthless to advertise anywhere other than the Internet.
Do you think—I would like to hear your comments and I really want to leave time for Mr. Sonier—that it would be appropriate to receive representatives of major telecommunications companies? One might ask where are the signals that work and where are those that do not work and what are the facts about the Internet. It would also be good to talk about media placement. How do they explain referring clients to all kinds of other options online instead of traditional media?
Ms. Lanthier, I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Thank you very much, honourable members, my colleagues who presented before me, and my colleagues at the table around me. Thank you for inviting the Quebec Community Newspapers Association to these very important proceedings.
Quickly, our English and bilingual publications—we have 30—are independent of any corporate influence and are distributed to 770,000 citizens across the province of Quebec. Our numbers also tell us that eight out of 10 residents read their community newspaper—that's not too bad. We exist to serve this community. We are funded by Canadian Heritage for one-third of our revenue. The rest comes from our classified advertising, display advertising, and sponsorships for annual galas.
Let me get right to the point. The popular mantra among newspaper publishers in the last 20 years has been that a perfect storm has occurred. Unforeseen consequences have led readers to abandon newspapers for quicker news online, thus dragging our legacy advertisers away from a so-called dying media. This was in the chase for customers, and they moved, presumably, to find these customers online.
In reality, in the last 30 years, corporations disguising themselves as newspaper chains scooped up our once independent newspapers. This is referred to as media consolidation or media convergence. These corporations owe allegiance to shareholders and less and less to readers, all the while steadily cutting back on journalists' resources, column width, and line rates and shutting down their newspapers. Then, in an attempt to generate profit, they turned over and devalued their most valuable resource asset, content, by providing journalism and everything else free online. They simply gave it away. I would know. I was a journalist in that time. I had a bird's-eye view. I believe these were called unintended consequences.
By consolidating, the corporate hope was to attract advertisers to online news platforms, but as it turns out, the method of click per thousand across the Internet generated a few cents of revenue. In the end, it was an insurmountable disaster, with no turning back for them.
Did you know that for every dollar generated in online revenue, seven dollars were lost in print? That's a big gap. How do you pay the bills? Well, you have a hard time doing that, as a lot of my colleagues have suggested.
Let's just look back a little bit. I put it before the committee. The Royal Commission on Newspapers in 1981 included in its recommendations: one, prohibitions on further concentration of media ownership; two, tax incentives for wider media ownership; and three, tax breaks to newspapers that devoted more space to local news coverage. For whatever reason, the committee recommendations were not put in place or were ignored, so as a result, the 150-year-old The Gleaner, serving an English minority in Huntingdon, Quebec, closed. The Chronicle, an English newspaper, where I published in my career, closed in December, along with The Westmount Examiner. They were all minority newspapers, all QCNA newspapers, all whittled down to a skeleton of their former pride, all shut down by their corporate owners, one corporation, TC Media, last year, in 2015. This consequence of media concentration, less control by owners, repeats itself on a monthly basis across this country—newspapers that are irreplaceable.
This paradigm change that we're undergoing today has killed interest in many metro dailies, but not so in our local weeklies. Although there's very little in a daily that a reader has not already seen or heard on their phone, tablet, computer, television, or radio, this is not so with community weeklies. Dailies write about breaking news, which has already broken: the stock market, which followers now have instantaneously; sports, where results are pinged as they happen; or even obituaries, where funeral websites are in everyone's bookmarks. What is left for them to report?
On the other hand, community weeklies cover local and often isolated communities that are too small to be covered elsewhere, such as what happens in Hampstead, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Aylmer, Mont Saint-Sauveur, Whitehorse, or St. Boniface, Manitoba, where local city councils are not reported on or followed elsewhere. It is the same for amateur and high school sports. People care more about things that happen in their local community.
Then there are the opinions of editors, local politicians, and citizens. Local community papers have a unique understanding, perspective, and sense of community, which a daily or large corporation can never have. For example, we know Mrs. Wilson, who's been teaching at the school for 25 years and just retired, or Mr. Grant, who served his country with distinction in two wars. We know who is on his way to the NHL, even though he is nine years old. The hyper-local content and community reflection offered in community weeklies are not replicated anywhere else.
Honourable members of this committee, this is a treasure to be protected, yes?
Isolation is the problem our weeklies address. We reach minority citizens and break isolation in a way no other media can, so I urge federal agencies to use community papers to communicate with minority citizens, because, as I stated, we are here to serve our English-speaking communities.
Since we've lost classifieds to the Internet and we have lost many other ads to Facebook and Google, the government should at least have an interest in maintaining a fraction of their commitment to community weeklies. The QCNA—as with most newspaper associations—has seen a decline of 98% in federal advertising since 2010, yet in 2015 Elections Canada used QCNA papers to reach its minority population in Quebec, as well as across the country.
In 2010 during the H1N1 crisis, we delivered, as did my colleagues. The talk among some of my colleagues is whether we need to have a crisis to get your attention. We didn't deliver on Canada's economic action plan because we didn't have the opportunity. However, reaching citizens, for the most part, failed after it was reported in 2003 that adult Canadians were not going to the economic action plan website. I have to say, there's a difference between honouring government commitment and actually reaching the citizens it serves.
I have a few words about the CBC to follow up on some of my colleagues from this morning. There's quite a bit of money heading in that direction, and I think a fraction, 1%, for minority community newspapers would be great. We have often talked with our colleagues, the Association de la presse francophone, about collaborating and developing something. If it is going to be web advertising—and no one's saying we cannot try—we have to have some sort of other formula and some sort of forward funding and support to get there.
We have proven citizenship, readership, and engagement of the community. Any plan that comes our way will be money well spent. We believe that television and social media is one way to go, and newspapers are a way to go. Why can't we collaborate with all three? We call it bundling, and it makes sense.
I have one last note. Our national association, Newspapers Canada, is embarking on a new centralized sale model of representation, one that actually excludes associations representing Canada's official languages. Who then represents our language newspapers and their citizens, or is the question moving towards when we fade away? Well, that seems to be the choice.
Thank you again for the opportunity to present to members today. I do look forward to all of your questions.
Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
I am Jean La Rose, the Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. I am an Abenakis citizen from the Odanak First Nation. With me today is Joel Fortune, our legal advisor on broadcasting regulatory matters.
The purpose of this committee's investigation, we believe, is to better understand how Canadians are informed about local and regional experiences through their news media, and the consequences of news media concentration and new digital media on local news reporting.
APTN is a national Canadian television network. We broadcast programming in English, in French, and in aboriginal languages. While we have broadcast in 32 of the 52 aboriginal languages over the years, we broadcast in at least 15 different languages every year.
APTN is a real success story for aboriginal peoples. Before the launch of APTN in 1999, there was very little, in fact almost no aboriginal reflection on Canadian television. When we looked at this issue before we launched APTN, one young person commented that he saw more aliens on TV than aboriginal people. APTN's role is to address this problem. Our main mission, as described in our most recent CRTC licence renewal, is to provide programming that reflects the lives, cultures, and diverse perspectives of aboriginal peoples, as well as a positive window on aboriginal life for all Canadians. We describe the mission a little more succinctly as “sharing our Peoples’ journey, celebrating our cultures, inspiring our children and honouring the wisdom of our Elders.”
We are licensed by the CRTC and distributed on cable and satellite throughout Canada as a basic-level service. APTN is included in the new skinny basic package that you have undoubtedly heard of. APTN is not funded—and I emphasize the “not funded”—by government sources in any way that is different from other broadcasters. We derive our revenue from the wholesale fees paid to us by cable and satellite distributors, and to a lesser extent, from advertising. APTN does access some of the production funds available to other broadcasters, but not the local programming improvement fund, LPIF. APTN is a non-profit, charitable organization, so all of our revenue goes to support our programming and mandate.
At APTN, we are deeply engaged in producing and broadcasting news programming. We have approximately 60 staff in our news and information programming department, and these staff are located throughout Canada in 14 cities and remote areas. APTN is a national network, but in many ways we play the same role for aboriginal peoples that local television plays for Canadians in communities with local TV. Aboriginal peoples tune in to APTN to see news stories that reflect their day-to-day lives and other broader stories that impact them directly.
Just to give you a better sense of our news coverage, for example, we provided here a series of stories from last Thursday, March 3, for you to read. Given the time I won't read them all, but it gives you an idea of how we balance local, regional, and national news in our news content every day. The stories are wide-ranging, topical, and reflect aboriginal concerns and perspectives at the local, regional, and national levels.
I want to point out as well that if you were to watch our newscasts, from time to time you might see footage from a journalist from CTV feeding a story to APTN, and vice versa. APTN tries to work closely with other broadcasters to expand our news capabilities, and hopefully theirs too, to get our stories out.
In addition to our daily newscasts, we also provide regular, in-depth public affairs programming, which includes InFocus,with our host Cheryl McKenzie; APTN Investigates, featuring investigative journalists looking deeply into aboriginal issues; Face to Face, an interview program featuring people in the headlines and those with direct experience facing various issues of concern to indigenous people; and Nation to Nation, APTN's national political program from Ottawa. I'm sure some of you have had the opportunity to be on Nation to Nation, hosted by Nigel Newlove. Finally there's The Laughing Drum, which is a panel program looking at current indigenous issues from a grassroots perspective. The panelists include well-known aboriginal comedians Candy Palmater and Jerry Barrett. This show looks at serious issues, but in a very down-to-earth way.
All of these programs, including the national news, are available on APTN's website and can be watched on virtually any digital platform. You can see that APTN offers deep and wide-ranging news coverage for aboriginal peoples, and for all Canadians who want to know us better.
As former prime minister Paul Martin once wrote that he was often asked by senior industry leaders in Canada what aboriginal people wanted. He had but one answer for them, “watch APTN and you will understand”.
In a similar vein, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognized the important role that APTN plays as a vital communications link between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians. The TRC states this in its final report, and I will read recommendation number 85:
||We call upon the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, as an independent non-profit broadcaster with programming by, for, and about Aboriginal Peoples, to support reconciliation, including but not limited to:
||i. Continuing to provide leadership in programming and organizational culture that reflects the diverse cultures, languages, and perspectives of Aboriginal Peoples.
||ii. Continuing to develop media initiatives that inform and educate the Canadian public, and connect Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
We at APTN are grateful and encouraged by this kind of recognition and support. We are also daunted by the responsibility we have to reflect the true nature of aboriginal peoples to the best of our abilities.
The committee is looking into the current state of local news in Canada. For aboriginal peoples, APTN really is the same thing as their local television news. However, you can see that we are much more than that. In some ways, we act as a window for all Canadians to see into the lives of indigenous peoples.
Looking at the state of broadcasting as a business, APTN is fortunate because we are not dependent solely on advertising revenue. Subscription revenue paid by cable and satellite providers, which is regulated by the CRTC, has provided us with relative stability over the past few years. For that, we are very grateful, and we are aware of our responsibilities.
Furthermore, APTN has access to the Canada Media Fund (CMF), in a limited way, to help fund programming and to a small fund under Canadian Heritage, the aboriginal languages initiative (ALI), to help fund some programming in aboriginal languages. However, given our mandate from a programming and news perspective, these funds are not sufficient to meet the wide expectations of our peoples and of Canadians who have been tuning us in in growing numbers over the years.
We are well aware that the communications industry is facing a shift in how people view media and how the business model works. This is why we are aggressively pursuing all media platforms that we can with our content.
It must be emphasized that the revenue generated from television supports almost all of the content we produce. Without APTN on TV—which remains highly relevant to our viewers—I don't think there would be anywhere near the amount of professional, high-quality audiovisual news content available to Canadians about indigenous peoples as is currently available. No matter the media on which it is aired, content is what audiences want, and to date, television remains the industry that provides the lion's share of content.
Thank you for the opportunity to present our perspective to this committee of the Commons.
Madam Chair, vice-chairs, members of the committee, thank you for giving us the opportunity to appear. We appreciate your interest in this very important subject.
I would just like to take a minute to recognize International Women's Day, and to say how nice it is to see women on committees of this sort.
To Ms. Fry, a long-time role model for women in politics and leadership, thank you.
My name is Carmel Smyth. I'm a long-time television reporter, at the moment released to be president of the Canadian Media Guild, a union that represents 6,000 people working at about a dozen media organizations in Canada, from CBC/Radio-Canada, Canadian Press, Thomson Reuters, APTN, Shaw Media, and ZoomerMedia, including freelance workers and people who work in factual television. Factual or reality televison employs probably 2,000 or 3,000 people across Canada. These are the people who create the news and the content you watch every day.
As you are aware from my colleagues, from the gentlemen we heard before us, it seems as though every second week a newspaper closes in Canada. Recently in Ottawa, amazingly the Sun and the Ottawa Citizen newsrooms merged, which will obviously significantly impact the coverage on the Hill. You'll see that in a personal way I'm sure, unfortunately.
In Alberta, the Calgary Sun and the Calgary Herald were once proud competitors. Now the two papers will be produced by the same staff. That's amazing in a city of a million and a half people.
We at the CMG have been sounding the alarm about this crisis in local news for many years. We know the devastating impact that funding and staffing cuts are having and continue to have on reporters' ability to cover or investigate stories and to deliver the reporting that Canadians rely on to fully participate in a democracy. Our own research shows that since 2008, in the media, 16,000 jobs have been lost, and the actual numbers are probably far higher. Needless to say, this situation is having real consequences on journalism in Canada as well as on the people who work in the media industry and—as you're hearing today—on their communities.
It's also important to remember that news gathering at the local level can often uncover stories that take on national significance, and I would say this happens frequently. In my own personal example, as a young reporter in Saskatchewan I was doing a story with young hemophiliacs and how difficult it was to deal with their condition. Throughout the course of the discussions, they revealed than many of them were HIV positive because of their frequent use of blood products. At the time that was shocking; we didn't know then how HIV was transmitted. But in any case, I like to think that the early attention, often discovered at the local level, could have significant impact on the lives of Canadians.
Here's another example many of you will probably be more aware of. When the Ocean Ranger, the largest floating oil rig in the world, sank in 1982 off the coast of Newfoundland, the impact on the local community was devastating. Fifty-six of the people who died were Newfoundlanders. But long after the national media left, the local newsroom assigned someone to cover the hearings permanently on an ongoing basis, and we think it's clear that the royal commission's 66 recommendations were implemented afterwards as a result of that continued coverage, again, by local media.
These are just some examples of how important it is for the media to have feet on the ground. Time and time again, intriguing stories are uncovered because people, as my colleagues have said, come to know and to trust local reporters.
The crisis is not only around decreased coverage, but also in the trends that undermine the quality of information. Industry research shows that in digital news coverage, the overlap between public relations and news is increasingly pronounced. For example, branded content or advertorials are increasingly common, and journalists are often required and pressured to present this content, which obviously makes advertisements look like news stories.
Because of the time I'm just going to skip quickly to some of the things that we think could help resolve some of these issues, one, predominantly, is the role of CBC/Radio-Canada.
It's a leader because it serves in 54 communities, in French, English, and aboriginal languages. It's the largest news organization in the country, and we know that it is popular and trusted by Canadians. Yet it's been crippled by devastating cuts impacting, obviously, local news, programming, and original Canadian production. There are 3,000 fewer workers at the CBC since 2006. You're seeing more repeats on television, less original news, less connection in the community. We would like to think that a solution could be following a recommendation of a 2008 heritage committee report—Ms. Fry, you'll be aware of that—recommending that CBC funding be increased to $40 per capita. We think the time has long come for that, and it would help go some ways towards alleviating the current local news media crisis.
Other public service media such as provincial broadcasters TVO and TFO in Ontario, Télé-Québec, and Knowledge Network in British Columbia also make a vital contribution to the media environment. Yet they too are drastically affected by funding cuts and need to be restored.
APTN, the only aboriginal network in North America, deserves special consideration for its unique role in the system. CMG supports the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendation that recognizes APTN as a leader in indigenous programming and its key role in education.
To support local news as well, we are urging the CRTC to establish a public service media fund that could be accessed by all local news services on any platform—provincial education broadcasters, APTN, private networks, the CBC, the public broadcaster—to do local news. That fund could come from a small per cent of the profits large cable and satellite companies make from the system. We, like many others, continue to recommend that the funds should also come from Internet service providers.
That's a good question. Our local readers are loyal, to answer the first part of your question. That's what keeps our numbers at that level, except when we have three newspapers shut down by corporations. Then we drop in our readership.
For incentives we get zero funding from Quebec, period—zero; there's none. The Canadian Heritage funding we get, which is $120,121 annually, remains. We've been told by Canadian Heritage that there's no new money but that we're not going to lose the old money.
As for incentives for digital, in our papers we have journalists who use social media. They all have Twitter, they all have Facebook, and our members all have websites. As Carmel has pointed out, they're strapped. They're doing everything. They're called multimedia journalists.
I have ideas about incorporating a digital-made bundle, but I have to worry about the immediate, present situation of retaining English language-writing journalists in Quebec, because if they keep losing money they'll shift, for one thing, to another trade, which is not uncommon, or they'll find work on a daily, which might last them six months but would give them more money, but in the end is the same kind of thing.
I offer for my members a centralized digital offering to advertisers whereby they can use the QCNA website to advertise to all the other members in our network, if my members don't have a digital platform, which none of them has. However, they can advertise. I can offer corporation A $900 for a full page, but say that if you would like to be in our network we can do it for $60 more per issue, or whatever. Now, I split that with our members, because we have an operating budget as well, but they have an offering. It is working so-so.
That's the furthest I can go at the moment, because I have no other resources available.
Yes. I anticipated that question.
We have a low membership fee. In return for that, we require that each newspaper donate four pages to us. I get to use that member-donated space to advertise our membership in the papers, or I get to use that space for advertising that the QCNA has brought in. That keeps it low.
Also, we have a thing called “blanket classifieds”. As you know, classifieds have dramatically declined in the last 20 years, but these classifieds, as part of membership, go from our customers to all in our network, in one shot. It's one clearing house. They send us the classified ad every week, and boom, it goes to our papers. Through arrangement, we take that money for our operating costs.
Federal advertising dropped by 98.5%. This year, it went up with Elections Canada. The year before, it was $54,000. The year before that, it was $1,500. I had to adjust my budget four times last year when that came around. There are also sponsorships and advertising in our awards newspaper every year, which is one part of our big gala.
I do have to say that it's becoming increasingly difficult. When I came to the role in 2012, I had a $700,000 budget. My proposed budget for the new fiscal year coming up is $385,000. It's the bare minimum. In terms of the cut back to federal advertising, to follow up on this question that we had, we've worked on Public Works and media monitors in government departments, and we've harassed—it's part of our job as salespeople, I guess, to harass—but we've had no luck or success.
Quite frankly, I'm considering what I'm going to do with some of my staff. It's a hard situation.