Yesterday, as I toured Radio Canada International’s Sackville, New Brunswick transmission site, the Canadian press discovered that the Cabinet approved an order that paves the way for RCI to be dismantled. The Metro News reported:
Heritage Minister James Moore recommended an order in council, approved on June 7, that deleted a requirement for RCI to maintain a shortwave service.
That change removed an obstacle to the steep cuts the CBC had announced for RCI in April — $10 million of $12.3 million budget will disappear along with at least three-quarters of its work force.
RCI had planned to file an injunction this past week to prevent CBC from shutting down its shortwave broadcasting facilities, but the new order thwarted their lawyers.
“I don’t know how this happened. I’m just shocked that it did happen. I’m shocked that the minister would make this decision two months after CBC announced the budget cut, two months after the CBC announced they were cutting shortwave,” said Wojtek Gwiazda, spokesman for the RCI Action Committee, a union-supported lobby trying to save the international service.
The Ottawa Citizen quoted RCI Action spokesman, Wojtek Gwiazda, extensively:
“As of June 25, most of the original content will disappear,” he said, “because we won’t have the people to do it.”
Thirty of 45 permanent employees are being laid off, along with a dozen or more contract workers and other regular freelancers.
Gwiazda, spokesman for a group inside RCI attempting to salvage the short wave service and its original programming, said a proposed injunction on behalf of RCI employees was thwarted last week when the Conservative cabinet quietly and quickly changed two key rules under which RCI operates.
Under previous rules, RCI was legally obliged to provide a shortwave service and to consult regularly with the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The government, in its June 7 rule change, has dropped both those requirements.
A spokesman for the Department of Canadian Heritage confirmed the change had been made, but refused to say why.
The Department of Foreign Affairs did not respond to questions about the issue.
[...]NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar accused the CBC and the Conservative government of “taking Canada’s voice off the world stage.
“It is sneaky,” he said in an interview with the Citizen. “They are pretending they aren’t killing it, but they are. Our Commonwealth cousins and others in the G8 have made a commitment that the world should hear their voices. Why not Canada’s?
“How will we keep people in other countries informed about Canada and how will Canada’s voice be heard by the international community.”
Dewar says he’s hearing negative reaction to the RCI cuts from MPs in all parties, and the NDP has written to both Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Heritage Minister James Moore urging a reversal of the decision.
“We are appealing to them to find the money and put this essential service back where it belongs,’ added Dewar. “Canada needs its voice heard and we have to figure out a way to do it. It’s not a lot of money. Let’s find it. Let’s not leave RCI orphaned.”
The Metro News also quoted me:
Thomas Witherspoon, founder of an American non-profit organization called Ears to Our World, said it is shortsighted to cut RCI’s shortwave service because it represents a cost-effective way of showing Canada to the world.
Witherspoon, whose organization distributes shortwave radios to communities in the developing world, recently wrote an impassioned opinion piece defending RCI.
“Here on the overly-lit, information-saturated North American continent, it’s easy to forget that an estimated 1.6 billion human beings — a full one quarter of us — still lack access to reliable power and to the Internet,” he wrote.
“In remote, impoverished, often war-torn regions, radio has become a familiar voice in the darkness. Without radio broadcasters such as RCI — and the light of information they can relay — the night can become very dark, indeed.”
RCI Action formed a response to the Cabinet’s decision:
Hon. James Moore,
A little more than 24 hours ago we at the RCI Action Committee found out that on June 7, 2012, you changed the Order in Council that directs CBC/Radio-Canada in its obligations under the Broadcasting Act in dealing with Radio Canada International.
You have eliminated CBC’s obligation to provide programming on shortwave, depriving almost all Chinese listeners of uncensored news from Canada, since the website of RCI is blocked by the Chinese authorities. And you have made it impossible for most listeners in the world to stay abreast of what’s going on in Canada via radio, because most people do not have easy access to the Internet.
You have also abolished CBC’s obligation to consult with Foreign Affairs about the geographic target areas and languages we broadcast in. Letting it continue in the slashing of services to the Ukraine, Russia and Brazil.
And you have done this after two months of CBC being in contempt of the 2003 Order in Council. Just as we were preparing an injunction to stop the shutting down of shortwave transmissions.
You have cleared the way for the CBC’s destruction of a 67 year old institution. An institution that CBC/Radio-Canada has never understood. It does not understand international broadcasting, the importance of it, and the impact of the 80% cut you are letting them get away with.
It is ironic.
Chinese authorities block RCI’s website. They have not jammed the shortwave frequencies of Radio Canada International. So you’ve done it for them, by shutting down RCI’s Chinese radio programming.
Why have you done this?
Spokesperson, RCI Action Committee
Follow our tag, RCI Cuts to follow these developments.