By: Geneviève A. Bonin
On January 15, 2008, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) made announcements to follow up on its Diversity of Voices hearings that were held in Gatineau, Québec in September 2007. Among the policies made public, the Commission conditionally approved the Journalistic Independence Code which is an industry code proposed by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) to help ensure broadcasters maintain a diversity of editorial voices in circumstances where a broadcaster owns a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same market (CRTC, 2008, CRTC establishes a new approach to media ownership). The CRTC conditionally approved the Code on the basis that the CBSC determine a minimum requirement of journalists to be part of the adjudication panel and that it formalize a process to select panel members. The panel will consist of a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 16 adjudicators, half of which are or have been employed by a Canadian broadcasting organization or related organizations (CBSC website) . The CBSC has stated it will be the only one to determine the appointment of panel adjudicators and ensure their independence and qualifications. According to the organization’s Director of Policy, a nominating committee will be set up to choose the people who will be part of the adjudication panel. Moving forward this committee will also be responsible for choosing members for all CBSC panels as this will increase the level of transparency of the nomination process.
Including the Journalistic Independence Code, the CBSC administers seven codes – the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) violence code, code of ethics and equitable portrayal code; the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada Code of Ethics; the Industry code of programming standards and practices governing pay, pay-per-view and video-on-demand services; as well as the pay television and pay-per-view programming code regarding violence. On average, the organization receives 2000 complaints per year filed against members of the CAB who are considered to have contravened the laws and regulations of the CRTC or the aforementioned codes (Director of Policy, CBSC, 2009). As such, the CBSC has been rendering decisions about these complaints since 1991. Recently, however, the CRTC asked the CBSC if it would look into a particular case which is out of its regular purview. It asked the organization if it would consider analyzing the more than 200 complaints filed against the French CBC for its broadcast of the 2008 Bye Bye. The show is a humoristic retrospect of the year’s events and has been popular with the public since its debut in 1968 (CBSC website ). However, the humor in the 2008 edition did not sit well with all audience members. The CBSC agreed to take on the challenge and in its decision of March 17, 2009, it determined that the public broadcaster had gone too far and was in breech of several codes, regulations and conditions of licence (see Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, Quebec Regional Panel, SRC re Bye Bye 2008 ).
Regardless of the outcome, the CRTC must render its own decision and it is likely that it will uphold that of the CBSC for several reasons. Of note, the CBSC has a history of dealing with these types of cases and has built a substantial body of jurisprudence that has gained recognition both in Canada and abroad. But, hasn’t the CRTC done the same thing you ask? And why should we trust an industry led organization? For one thing, the CRTC does not provide decisions in as much detail as the CBSC. It also does not make the decisions available in over 40 languages. Furthermore, the adjudication committees that review important decisions include people from most stakeholder groups. And, since 1997, in the majority of cases, the CBSC rules against the broadcasters (Director of Policy, CBSC, 2009). The bottom line here, however, is what the CRTC intended by letting the CBSC render its version of the Bye Bye decision. To most observers in the industry, it seems like a sign the CRTC may be on the path to outsourcing this part of its operations, but the reasons for doing so still remain unknown. Perhaps, the CRTC has recognized the effectiveness and quality of the CBSC’s decision-making process or maybe it needs to share some of its workload. For the moment, we await the CRTC’s decision and remain hopeful it will shed some light on the reasons behind its request.