Bleak House: Accountability and Canada’s national public broadcaster

The CRTC has for sixty years required licensees like CBC to make announcements about public hearings involving their broadcasting services. Informing communities served by broadcasters about hearings involving their services enables the public to express their views about the services’ performance and plans, promoting the accountability of broadcasters with respect to the licences granted to them by the CRTC for limited periods.

In November 2019 the CRTC announced that it would hold a public hearing in spring 2020 to consider the licensing applications by CBC’s radio and television services, and invited the public to submit comments on CBC’s applications no later than 13 February 2020. (The CRTC later extended this deadline to 20 February 2020.) A review of the CRTC’s online files for the BNoC 2019-379 proceeding did not disclose CBC’s confirmations of its broadcast notifications – documents that were routinely placed on the CRTC’s public-examination files until the mid-1990s.

The Forum obtained a copy of CBC’s broadcast declarations in late August 2020 under the Access to Information Act. This research note presents results from an analysis of 21 declarations made by CBC listing 82 broadcasts announcing the 2020 public hearing and intervention deadline(s). Briefly, it appears that 15 of the 21 declarations and 44 (54%) of the 82 broadcast descriptions contained inaccuracies.

After placing the importance of the broadcast notifications in context, the Forum’s research note describes the CRTC process involving CBC, analyzes the notifications made by CBC in January and February 2020, and identifies apparent inaccuracies in CBC’s declarations and broadcast descriptions. Following a summary of the results, the Forum notes three questions raised by the research in the context of accountability. It makes an interim recommendation to the CRTC, and makes several longer-term proposals to Parliament with respect to new broadcasting legislation.

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