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Geneviève A. Bonin | Accountability & the CRTC: an evaluation of the Canadian commercial radio licence renewal process

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An evaluation of the Canadian commercial radio licence renewal process (1997- 2007)

In most areas of public policy, where regulation is expected to exhibit transparency and accountability, it is now recognized that appropriate tools of evaluation are necessary (Braman, 2004, Melody 1990). Broadcasting is not different. However, current regulations and policies used by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) are not sufficient to ensure airwaves are used in the public interest. Evidence is provided by the many scholarly articles and public forum testimonies (Auer, 2007; Canada, 2003).

Formal evaluation tools do not exist in this area, but they are important. In fact, they provide systematic ways of ensuring transparency, providing stakeholders with empirical data necessary for sound decision-making and a structure for assessing policies. My study, in this respect, will not only advance methodological knowledge in the field of evaluating communication policies, it will help develop an effective and current framework adapted to a particular process that has never been formally assessed.

Evidence of similar research conducted in the field of communication is easy to document, for it is quite limited. The lack of empirical studies concerned with the evaluation of CRTC policies and practices is readily confirmed by a literature search for dissertations and peer-reviewed articles. Nevertheless, recently published reports such as Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting produced by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (2003) repeatedly argue that a new approach to evaluation of the broadcasting system and its policies is needed not only because current policies or programs are inadequate, but also because past assessments are out of date and new methodologies should be adopted (Doern, 1997).

Any individual with knowledge of the broadcasting system may remain astonished at the ease in ensuring fail-safe licence renewals. It is, therefore, apparent that the evaluation of media policies and their social impact at the governmental and organisational levels provide for an appropriate subject of analysis (see for example Napoli, 2001; Braman, 2004).

In this context, the objective of my research is to determine how and to what extent the CRTC holds radio station owners accountable to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act, 1991 through the application of the Radio regulations, 1986, the Commercial Radio Policy, 1998 and the Commercial Radio Policy, 2006, as well as broadcasters' promises of performance and their conditions of licence. This analysis will also provide practical solutions about ways in which to execute and improve policies in the future.

The dissertation follows a standard scientific layout and is divided into six chapters:

Chapter one is the introductory chapter of the dissertation. It contains relevant background information on the topic at hand and states the main issues, such as the lack of evaluation tools, the difficulty in assessing performance and the policy guidelines in place. The purpose of the study and research questions follow as well as an explanation of the importance of the study. The chapter also delimits the scope and scale of the research to avoid any confusion. Finally, important concepts are defined for ease of understanding.

Chapter two presents the relevant literature pertaining to evaluation theory, regulation and the CRTC. Evaluation theory has been defined in many ways, therefore this chapter helps in understanding how it is used in a context of communication and more precisely in media in Canada and abroad. This section also outlines the principles behind evaluation theory such as accountability. On the regulation front, the chapter provides context to the regulatory debate, an explanation of political economy and the market failure approach to regulation and an overview of world trends with regards to regulation. The literature on the CRTC is geared towards its history and mission to provide much necessary parameters around its role in the licence renewal process, its powers and governing practices.

Chapter three explains the normative evaluation approach used in the methodology of this research. The first step involved analyze 141 commercial radio stations and their licence renewals held between 1997 and 2007 to determine to what extent the objectives of the laws and policies under the CRTC's jurisdiction were met. This process was done using a documentary analysis of various legal and governmental documents as well as the licence renewal decisions from 1997 to 2007 of the chosen sample of stations. This analysis is complemented by interviews with relevant stakeholders. Grounded theory is the basis for the data analysis.

Chapter four highlights the results which include compelling information about the differences between the written licence renewal process and the actual process. Information regarding the types of "mistakes" the CRTC considers when evaluating a file and the consequences for these actions are also relevant results of the study. Analysis of the data also served to determine to what extent the process lacks in monitoring to uphold the objectives of the laws and policies at hand and provides information on the "closed door" politics behind the process which are not documented.

Chapter five provides an in-depth look at the results by explaining the findings. These explanations go beyond bureaucratic and organisational issues by questioning, for example, some of the ethical practices linked to the partial outsourcing of complaint resolution processes which are key to understanding the "big picture" surrounding the conduct of a particular station. The impact of government involvement or lack thereof is also addressed with regards to the CRTC's policy orientations to resolve day-to-day decisions, especially in situations of radio station non-compliance.

Chapter six brings together the research by shedding light on some of the research's limitations and potential areas for future research such as the need to reassess some of the newer CRTC implementations like service standards and monitoring disclosure, but all in all, this section brings together the project which explains the licence renewal process, a process most Canadians claim to understand, but that in reality, is more complex. Finding a balance between the economic survival of the radio sector and at the same time financing the music industry and promoting cultural values is only one of the many challenges hidden to the average radio listener.

Works Cited

Auer, M. (2007). Is bigger really better? TV and radio ownership policy under review. Policy
Options, 78-83.

Braman, S. (2004). Where has media policy gone? Defining the field in the twenty-first century.
Communication Law & Policy 9(2), 153.

Canada, Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. (2003). Our cultural sovereignty: The
Second century of Canadian broadcasting, Ottawa: House of Commons Canada. Retrieved September 18, 2006 from
http://www.parl.gc.ca/InfoComDoc/37/2/HERI/Studies/Reports/herirp02-e.htm

Doern, B. (1997). Regulating on the run: The transformation of the CRTC as a regulatory
institution." Canadian Public Administration, 40, 3, 516-538.

Melody, W. (1990). Communication policy in the global information economy. In M. Ferguson
(Ed.), Public Communication: The New Imperative (pp. 16-39). London: Sage.

Napoli, P. (2001). Foundations of communications policy: Principles and process in the
regulation of electronic media. Cresskill, NJ, Hampton Press.