Catherine Tait is president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada
This is an important year for Canadian culture and for the national public broadcaster. This week, a panel appointed by the federal government will make its recommendations on the legislation that governs broadcasting, and the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada. In parallel, the CRTC, our regulator, has launched a public process to renew our TV and radio licences.
Since I became the president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada 18 months ago, I have been struck by Canadians’ profound attachment to their public broadcaster and their willingness to engage in lively conversation on what we should and should not be doing.
One thing is clear to me: Canadians count on their public broadcaster for much more than trustworthy news. They count on us for their connection to language – and to place. They count on us to reflect their cultures, their perspectives, their shared experiences, as well as their unique realities as Canadians.
And yet, in the digital age, our very raison d’être remains hotly debated. It’s a debate we welcome. Canadians have a stake in the role of their national public broadcaster in the 21st century.
I think it’s important to start with the facts: CBC/Radio-Canada today is not just a TV and radio broadcaster. We are an English and French multiplatform media company – the only one mandated to serve all Canadians. We continue to reach Canadians on linear television and radio; but we reach them in ever-increasing numbers online and on mobile, and through our audio and video streaming platforms.
We create content in eight Indigenous languages. We operate in six time zones. More than 21 million Canadians access our digital services each month. Our podcasts are downloaded more than 10 million times each month. And every day, thousands of hours of our programming, news and entertainment, in English and French, are streamed on demand by Canadians on a variety of devices.
This ambitious collection of services is your national broadcaster.
While foreign streaming services provide phenomenal choice and brilliant programming, their missions differ from ours. They monetize investments in content by leveraging a massive global subscription base. Our focus is on Canadians, first and foremost. While social-media services double-down on optimizing their users for commercial return, your public broadcaster seeks to create a safe place online for civic and civil discourse.
CBC/Radio-Canada’s mandate is to inform, to enlighten and to entertain Canadians. Our choices in entertainment programming are guided by principles of diversity and inclusion, gender parity, and of reflecting the realities of contemporary Canada – along with great storytelling.
We know that Canadians are proud of the international successes of shows such as Kim’s Convenience and Schitt’s Creek because they are authentic Canadian-told stories – and they are entertaining.
And for the times when we want to come together to celebrate as a nation, CBC/Radio-Canada shines a light on our athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics; CBC salutes our best writers through Canada Reads and our best musicians during the Juno Awards weekend; and let us not forget that through Radio-Canada’s annual year-end celebration, Le Bye Bye – not to mention the daily draw of District 31 – francophones across the country continue to connect in record numbers.
An important point about the “inform” part of our mandate. I often say that the beating heart of CBC/Radio-Canada is our news operation – and the extraordinary work of our journalists, at home and around the world. We remain one of Canadians’ most-trusted sources of news and information, all day, across all of our platforms. Our journalists work hard every day to strengthen that trust. A look at our recent coverage of the Newfoundland snowstorm, the tragic plane incident in Iran, or the federal election coverage from coast to coast to coast points to the value of this trust. It is our most precious asset.
But it is also fragile. We are not a pure play digital company with the benefit of a single bottom-line imperative. We are a multi-faceted media company seeking to earn the continued trust of our citizens, to encourage healthy democratic debate, to support creators and their storytelling, and to serve all Canadians, whatever their age, their race, their sexual orientation, their political stripe, their location or their economic situation.
This is your 21st-century public broadcaster.
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