Pierre Juneau, Former President Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
THE GREAT DIFFICULTY OF ESTABLISHING COMMUNICATION IN CANADA
Chairman: Sarah Band, President
Distinguished guests, Head Table guests, Empire Club members, ladies and gentlemen.
Our guest today, Pierre Juneau, has been called "Canada's Cultural Mandarin", and "...a Quebecker who understands English Canada." He has just left the CBC after, "...one of the most remarkable careers in Canadian broadcast history..."
As Chief Executive Officer of the CBC he was responsible for close to 11,000 employees, a budget of nearly $1 billion, two national television and four radio networks, a northern radio and TV service with broadcasting in seven native languages as well as French and English and an international radio service which broadcasts in 10 languages. He is also affectionately called, "...The Patron Saint of Canadian rock'n' roll". And his name will live forever in the Juno awards.
To understand the complexity of this amazing person, it helps to know that his entire career has been involved with the Canadian communications industry in a time when it grew from crystal sets to satellites. He served with the National Film Board, the Board of Broadcast Governors, the CRTC and with the federal government as cabinet minister and public servant. In every task he was directly involved with what Canadians were hearing on their radios and seeing on their screens. He is credited with, "...doing more to change the face of Canadian broadcasting than any man before or since:' John Bassett says of him, ......"if there is one outstanding figure in broadcasting, it would be Pierre Juneau."
It is interesting to see what, at the end of this magnificent career, Pierre Juneau has left to his successors:
-the largest cultural agency in the country
-the long-needed Broadcast Centre for the CBC in Toronto
-NewsWorld, the twenty-four hour news channel
-and finally, a commitment that prime time English TV will be 95 percent Canadian by 1991.
And, in his leaving the CBC, what did Canadians surrender? According to John Bassett, " The greatest mind in broadcasting in this country..." Ladies and gentlemen, to help unravel "The Great Difficulty of Establishing Communication in Canada", let me present Pierre Juneau.
My title today, "The great difficulty of establishing communication in Canada", came to me as I was re-reading a lecture which Northrop Frye gave in Washington in 1977 on Canadian culture and the differences in cultural attitudes between Canadians and Americans.
I thought, with some sadness, that this simple phrase still applies all too accurately to the circumstances in Canada today: Meech lake, Bill 178 in Quebec, the renewed temptation of separatism in Quebec, the refusal of bilingualism on the part of some anglophone municipalities, the feeling in the West and the Maritimes that all the attention is focussed on Ontario and Quebec, etc.
Indeed, it is difficult to bridge the solitudes of Canada. As Northrop Frye points out: "Everywhere in Canada we find solitudes touching other solitudes: every part of Canada has strong separatist feelings, because every part of it is in fact a separation. And behind all these separations lies the silent north full of vast rivers, lakes and islands that, even yet, very few Canadians have ever seen:" That is why, right from the start, instinctively, intuitively, political and social leaders considered broadcasting as a potent force to bring Canadians together. The first radio station in North America, CFCF in Montreal, then called XWA, started on May 20th 1920. Three years later, there were 34 stations in Canada and 500 in the U.S. The first North American radio network, NBC, was created in 1926. Our first network, a publicly owned network, was set up by the CNR in 1927.
Only a few years later, the government decided that broadcasting was of such national importance that a policy was required. So we had the first of many royal commissions on broadcasting, the Aird Commission in 1929. In its conclusions, the Commission expressed a view often repeated since in various reports and statutes: "In a country of the vast geographical dimensions of Canada, broadcasting will undoubtedly become a great force in fostering a national spirit and interpreting national citizenship." Broadcasting was seen then as a national priority and many prime ministers made it a matter of personal interest. They attached their names to it. Mackenzie King created the Aird Commission; R.B Bennett applied the recommendations of the Aird Commission and established the first public broadcasting entity, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission. Under Mackenzie King in 1936, the CRBC became the CBC. In moving the second reading of the Bill creating the CRBC, R.B. Bennett insisted that the bill stood in his name. Radio broadcasting, he said, "can serve as a dependable link .... by which we may be more closely related one with the other in that enduring fellowship which is founded on the clear and sympathetic understanding which grows out of closer mutual knowledge."
I remember how personally interested Lester B. Pearson was in the CBC and in broadcasting. In the spring of 1966, I had just arrived in Ottawa for the third time, this time as Vice-Chairman of the Board of Broadcast Governors. The White Paper on broadcasting, which was to lead to the 1968 Broadcasting Act, was published in the Summer of 1966. Sometime later, a Cabinet Committee started working on the policy decisions that would guide the drafting of the new bill. Judy LaMarsh, as Secretary of State, was the Minister responsible, but Mr. Pearson chaired the Committee himself. I heard him say, perhaps jokingly, that after the job of Prime Minister, the most important job in the country was that of President of the CBC. I can swear that I never thought then that I might eventually occupy that position. For one thing, the incumbent President was Al Ouimet and in spite of his difficulties with Judy LaMarsh, people thought that he would endure as long as the Rock of Gibraltar or, sticking to Canadian content, as long as the Canadian Shield.
Today the rhetoric is still pretty well the same but the reality is different. Some people think the CBC takes too much room in Canada. But the fact is that if you look at the Canadian broadcasting scene today, the CBC occupies much less room than it did in previous decades before CTV, Global, TVA, Quatre-Saisons were developed, before cable brought all U.S. stations not only to Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, but through microwave and satellites to every distant region of the country, before the advent of U.S. and Canadian specialty services became possible as a result of the combination of satellite and cable development.
The pressures for the extension and improvement of CBC services have not come only or even mainly from the CBC. Of course the creative people in and around the CBC and their unions who depend on the CBC for self expression and for jobs, want to preserve and to improve and enlarge the CBC. Of course the Boards, the management and the staff of the CBC believe in its importance for Canadians. But the demands have come from outside the CBC. Paradoxically the CBC throughout the years has been in the ambiguous position of having to resist demands for improvements which it felt were highly desirable but which it could not afford to provide. Demands for more Canadian programs, more drama, more regional programming, more stations, additional transmitters to serve isolated or minority areas, better service for the North, etc. Every day letters and requests have come in. CBC files contain innumerable letters from MPs, MLAs, mayors, premiers, federal ministers, including ministers of finance, asking for improvements and increases in CBC programs and services. Parliamentary committees, Senate committees, royal commissions, task forces have all concluded that Canada needs a more developed CBC. The Task Force on Broadcasting Policy co-chaired by Gerry Caplan and Florian Sauvageau, appointed by the present government, was very much of that view.
And then there are the decisions of the CRTC. If you look up', those decisions dealing with the CBC, you will see that they allti plead for an improvement of CBC services, not only from 1968 to 1975 but also ever since then.
The two recent appointments at the head of the CBC have been seen by everyone, including myself, as excellent appointments. And I would not want to say anything to make the work of these two people more difficult than it already is. Like everybody else, I can only wish them luck, with the conviction that they are not only very capable but totally dedicated to the basic values of the CBC. So I have neither the intention nor the inclination to second guess them on the difficult decisions they have to take. However it is important that we should all look at the facts concerning the CBC and that we should see what are the constraints within which its management must now operate. It seems that the CBC is now in such a position that the best we can hope for is that programs may not be greatly reduced.
Last spring, after the announcement of the budget, I was much more pessimistic. I said then, that after all the cuts, the CBC was likely to become unrecognisable. However, during the summer, certain uncontrolable costs, like taxes, were recognized by the Government and some important help was provided amounting to $19 million a year. But I'm sure it will take some time before we know, and even before the Board and the management of the CBC know, the definite impact on programs and services of this developing budget situation.
In the meantime, the contrast between our traditional rhetoric and actual political decisions has become sadly ironic. We are still paying lip service to the principle of the
CBC as an essential institution. But we have put the CBC in such a position that more and more people, and among them decision makers particularly, are saying that CBC television is too close to private television. So, they say, why do we still need to spend so much money on it? You can read this sort of thing constantly in newspapers and magazines. You hear it in private conversations. In fact, the Minister of Communications himself is saying that publicly as he argues for a more cultural CBC.
Mind you, I don't agree with this assessment of CBC programming. I think that in spite of budget constraints, CBC people, with remarkable spirit and talent, have managed to maintain a level of Canadian programming that private stations cannot match. However the need for more Canadian programming of quality is so obvious to people that this judgment is inevitable. That is why it is made in both English-speaking and French-speaking Canada.
The problem is particularly acute on the English-speaking side because of the overhelming presence of U.S. drama and entertainment on English television. But it now seems that the extremely important goal of increasing Canadian programs to 95 percent in prime time on the English network will now have to be abandoned. This is all the more distressing if we recall that the recent increases in prime time drama were the result of an enormous effort on the part of the English network and regional program staff who had agreed that this goal of 95 percent was so important that some regional programs would be dropped in order to make it possible. And they were.
Let's not forget on the other hand that if we consider the whole day program schedule, the CBC still cannot afford to program more than the minimum demanded by the CRTC regulations: that is 60 percent. This is 22 years after the 1968 Act was passed. French television is doing somewhat better at 71 percent.
The issue on the French side is not so much to increase the quantity of Canadian programs but rather to increase the level of quality in order to differentiate CBC programs more clearly from commercial programs. This problem is felt so vividly in French Canada that there has been a revolt in the last couple of years on the part of all the professional TV groups including producers, writers and artists about the low level of program budgets on French radio and television. They have compared budgets on the French side to those on the English side and have come to the conclusion that French budgets were very much inferior. The Caplan-Sauvageau Task Force had reached the same conclusion. We of course knew this within the CBC. It is due to the fact that management can only equalize program budgets to a certain extent, by using its government funds. The level of commercial revenue is of course much lower on the French side: about half of the English revenue. Therefore management compensates with its government money. But as government funding goes down and the CBC has to rely more on advertising revenue, this has a very negative effect on French program budgets. The number of hours of programming is roughly equal and the total amount of money is much lower; therefore the budget per hour is much lower. In a purely commercial context, this would be considered as quite normal. Baton Broadcasting for instance can spend more per hour than the CTV station in Charlottetown and less than the CBS station in New York. However we have to remember that we are not in a purely commercial context. The CBC is a public service and the Broadcasting Act creates the same status for the French services of the CBC as for the English services. There is no distinct status yet, not under the present legislation. And producers point out that it costs roughly as much, given the same quality level, to produce an hour in French as it does in English. I happen to agree with this, as a general rule.
As a result of this budgetary situation, there are programs on the French network that are maintained only because of their low cost and their expected commercial revenue. I pointed out, however, to our French staff that the solution was not to rob Paul to pay Pierre, since so many needs on the English side were not being met and they agreed with this.
The Board of the CBC was so much concerned with this problem that about a year ago it created a special committee to deal with it. A report was produced for the Board which showed, to no one's surprise, that the facts were right. However it's difficult to see what can be done about it in the ,/Present circumstances. All this to say that not cutting programs will be a bit like being forced to review your household budget and finding out that you may be able to maintain the heat in your house at 15 degrees Celsius.
In such circumstances, one can wonder whether we need a new broadcasting act or whether we need more determination to make the present legislation work? Many of the authorized people in broadcasting have asked that question. In other words, there is a great risk that new legislation may be a replacement for real action. Moreover the proposed new legislation will be adding new objectives to those that already exist and putting additional emphasis on existing objectives. However it doesn't contain anything and neither does the budget, about the means to achieve those ends.
French activities, programs and structures in the CBC, in both radio and television, have always been significantly different--or distinct is no doubt a more contemporary word--from the English programs and activities and structures. The new legislation will add words to that effect but will not do anything to alter the distinctly lower program budgets of French radio and television. Neither will it do anything to improve services or programs to French minorities of the West, the Maritimes or Ontario.
The Bill contains a reference to the need for a complementary or cultural network presumably because, in the eyes of some people, CBC programming is too popular and not cultural enough. But at the same time budget constraints are forcing the CBC to maintain more American commercial programs. Producing more Canadian programs of greater cultural significance is indispensable on both television networks. But it is more expensive than buying US. programs off the shelf or scheduling sports. There is no complicated policy or legislative issue here. It is a budget problem, period. This matter has been discussed in at least three strategy papers of the CBC, one published under Al Johnson and two while I was President, including Let's Do /t, prepared for the Caplan-Sauvageau Committee. They all agree, and so does the staff of the CBC generally, that there should be more Canadian theatre on the air, more music, more dance, more opera from many parts of the country and more programs without commercial interruptions or with fewer commercials. Private broadcasters would be pleased with such a course of action. So would the CBC.
I read in the newspapers that the CAB will join the CBC in opposing before the Parliamentary Committee the establishment by the Broadcasting Bill of a new cultural network. They are right of course. It would be odd, to say the least, for the government to reduce the financial ability of the CBC to produce more cultural programs, and then to turn around and fund a separate "cultural" network. The reason CBC television programming does not contain more performance programs, say from Stratford or Calgary, is not a result of policy. The way the CBC has run its radio networks shows that it knows a thing or two about culture. The reason is purely financial. Advertising income in the CBC has increased from 20 percent to 28 percent of total income. Some of this is just better salesmanship. However when you are forced to count on such a high level of commercial revenue and when your non-commercial income is being reduced, it is bound to have an influence on your programming. There will be, no doubt, renewed emphasis in the bill on the regions, but nothing to enable the CBC to provide a better service to the regions or to the North.
The commercial revenue of the CBC from television advertising has been the subject of a great deal of talk recently in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. After a great deal of lobbying by the broadcasting industry, the Minister of Communications has raised the issue of the CBC abandoning its commercial revenue or some of it. He has suggested that a public debate about this idea might be useful. The debate has taken place many times. My own view on this subject has not changed since 1974 when I was chairman of the CRTC. 1 felt then, with my colleagues of the CRTC, that the CBC should not have to rely on commercial revenue to the extent that it did. We proposed that the average number of minutes of advertising on CBC television be greatly reduced. The idea was rejected by both the CBC and the government. I am still of the same view, namely:
-that the average number of minutes of commercial interruptions per hour should be lower;
-that some other programs should include very few commercial interruptions;
-that more programs should be free of commercials;
-that the news should be uninterrupted, as is now the case. I have expressed this view often in the CBC and I think that generally CBC people are in agreement with it. However the position of the Government has been at the opposite. In the last five years, the Government has explicitely encouraged the CBC to increase its commercial revenue. The CBC could have taken the position that it is independent from the Government and pursued its own course. However, at the same time, the Government has kept reducing the supply of Government operating funds to the CBC in constant dollars. Therefore it is ironical that the Minister of Communications should suggest that the CBC should cut its commercial revenue at the very same time as the Government continues to reduce the buying power of the CBC. What is needed here is not a debate but a solution.
I can't speak for the CBC anymore but I'm sure that provided the loss of commercial revenue would be compensated by Government funds, the CBC could only agree. The private broadcasters would of course agree. I'm not in disagreement with the goal pursued lately by the private broadcasters on this subject. 1 just don't think they are being very brave by directing their campaign against the CBC. That is not where the problem lies. Moreover it's not likely to be effective since it is the Government that has encouraged the
CBC to seek more commercials.
I remain very proud of the Canadian tradition which established a social and cultural role for broadcasting and boldy associated Canadian business with the task of developing the Canadian system. But this system cannot function without a strong public sector and without a strong CBC. "The great difficulty of establishing communication in Canada" can only be resolved with a solid and developing CBC.
Of course, the CBC is not perfect. What institution is perfect? What private organization is perfect? What government department is perfect? I have only spent seven years out of some 40 years of my professional life in the CBC. And I have not agreed with everything in the CBC. But having seen it from the inside, I think it is a remarkable institution with a very high level of competence and dedication. And all those who are in favour of the principle of the CBC should realize that it is time to come to the support of the real CBC. We need the real CBC which is made up of real people and not only of legislation, reports, recommendations and policy documents. Real people, creative people who have been given such a difficult task, cannot go on for years, subject to the kind of harassment that has been going on. Occasionally, like everybody else, they need encouragement and support. Yes, of course, because everybody needs encouragement and support, but also because we ourselves, as individuals and as a country, need the best they can do.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Douglas Todgham, Director of Development, Art Gallery of Ontario and a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.