Cabinet silences Canada’s international voice, RCI Action responds

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?

Yours truly,

Wojtek Gwiazda

Spokesperson, RCI Action Committee

rciaction@yahoo.ca
rciaction.org/blog

Follow our tag, RCI Cuts to follow these developments.

The Link talks about the politics of saving RCI

On Friday’s edition of The Link, Mark Montgomery spoke with Amanda Pfeffer about how international radio is being cut around the world and, more specifically, Canada. They discuss how this happened, who is aware of it and if there is any way to save the service.

It’s an informative segment (though see my correction below).

Since this is one of several features in the show, I’ve recorded this specific segment and posted it for listening below.

You can also listen to the segment by downloading the mp3 here.

Please note that Amanda is a little mis-leading about the bureaucratic structure of US international broadcasting. It is rather confusing.

The BBG (Broadcasting Board of Governors) is the governing body of US international Broadcasting. The IBB (International Broadcasting Bureau) is over all of the broadcast/transmission facilities, engineering functions, human resources, finances and other agency support services. To be clear, the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe, Radio Marti and the Middle East Broadcasting Network all take direction from the BBG, not the IBB.

The organizational chart (below) can shed some light on this.

The BBG Organizational Chart as of May 2012 (Click to enlarge)

The Toronto Star publishes my thoughts on the cuts to Radio Canada International

As many of you know, I find the downsizing of major shortwave broadcasters around the world deeply concerning, especially since so much of the world still relies on the medium as a source of news and information, and for some the only source of potentially life-saving information.

The recent cuts to RCI, however, were particularly painful. In one stroke of a pen, many people lost their jobs, and RCI’s already-skimpy budget was reduced to virtually nil. What’s more, their only international transmitting station–in Sackville, New Brunswick–is slated to be shut down, meaning there is no intention to continue the service, ever.

The Toronto Star has kindly published my thoughts on the matter.  You can read the full article here.

 

RCI Cuts: pink slips – no clear strategy for Internet

(Source: RCI Action)

April 25, 2012:

Facing the reality of job cuts in any workplace is hard enough. When you’re an employee at Radio Canada International – it’s more than a job. It’s more than just a job loss.

Most of us have worked several decades for RCI. It may be an  under appreciated service in Canada. But in the last few weeks, since the April 4 announcement that we would be cut by 80% and stop being a radio station, listeners around the world have rallied to our cause to stop the cuts. They have also told us how much they appreciate what we do, and are astonished that our national public radio and television broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada would hit us with such a huge budget cut, much more then any other service under their control.

Strangely, even when we say an 80% per cent budget cut, it sounds sort of theoretical. When the letter is given to you that you no longer have a job, that your decades of service to Canada’s Voice to the World are redundant, well, that’s something else.

Today that happened to most of us.

About 15 permanent staff have been told they still have a job, 30 have been told they don’t. Three contractual webmasters will remain, but about 10 to 20 contractual employees (researchers, interviewers, hosts) will lose their jobs. Another 10 or 20 people who fill in for staff will have little or no work.

More importantly to us RCI has been almost made to disappear, no more radio programs, just a website, that is yet to be conceived, with little support. How much three employees in each of the five language services: English, French, Arabic, Mandarin and Spanish can do, even with the best of intentions, remains to be seen.

Management is saying we’ll be putting up text, photos, audio, maybe even video. But details are scarce. In fact, that’s the most surprising thing of all. There’s little information on how the website will look or function, there’s no real lead up time to prepare it, we’ll all be busy doing are regular programming until June 24. Then the new website is supposed to be up and running and those of us left, will have to somehow magically make it work.

[…]Next week we are promised a blueprint of the new RCI. Today it’s hard to believe in that future.

I will be very interested to see the blueprint for RCI’s internet future.  Frankly, it will need a strategy to delineate itself from the hundreds of thousands of well-established Internet media sources out there.

RCI listener comments carry common theme

On RCI’s Listener Letters and the RCI Action committee‘s website, you can read listener reactions to the looming RCI cuts.

To their credit, I’ve noticed that RCI programs (like The Link with Marc Montgomery) are continuing “business as usual.” I’ve noticed no degradation of their content or quality.

RCI Action Committee: What you can do

(Source: RCI Action)

How can you help?

How can you help stop this drastic cut of 80% of Radio Canada International’s budget?

Please write to Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, and Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore.  (See addresses below.) If they are your Member of Parliament, please mention that as well.

Ask whether CBC/Radio-Canada should be deciding how strong or weak Canada’s Voice to the World should be?

Whether they feel comfortable with the fact our Chinese audience will now be cut off from RCI’s uncensored news about Canada and the World.

We feel because of the continuing cuts to RCI since 1990 (See: http://rciaction.org/blog), the government should give RCI financial autonomy and take RCI’s budget away from CBC/Radio-Canada’s control.

If you agree with us, please make your point of view heard.

We have very little time to achieve our goal. We’re counting on you.

Some points you might want to bring up with the ministers or your Member of Parliament:

  • RCI’s budget has been cut by more than 80% – from $12.3 million to $2.3 million
  • RCI newsroom will be eliminated, all newscasts cut
  • RCI will no longer be a broadcaster, whether on shortwave or satellite
  • Chinese audience will be cut off from uncensored news from RCI because only shortwave reaches the Chinese, the RCI website is blocked by China
  • Important potential trading partners such as China, India, Russia, Brazil will be cut off from news from Canada, because the RCI website is blocked or the Internet not as accessible as in North America
  • As Canadians we feel it’s essential Canada have a Voice to the World producing programming tailored for an audience not familiar with Canada
  • Canada’s Voice to the World has been a respected source of journalism for the past 67 years

Please consider sending an e-mail to the three ministers, even if you live outside Canada. If you are in Canada, you can send letters free to the ministers, MPs and Senators.

Thank you,

RCI Action Committee

rciaction@yahoo.ca

http://twitter.com/rci_action   http://rciaction.org/blog

Addresses:

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird  E-mail: john.baird@parl.gc.ca

Mailing address:

Hon. John Baird
418N Centre Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

—————————-

Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty:  E-mail: jim.flaherty@parl.gc.ca

Mailing address:

Hon. Jim Flaherty
435-S Centre Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

—————————

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore E-mail: james.moore@parl.gc.ca

Mailing address:

Hon. James Moore
15 Eddy Street, 12th Floor
House of Commons
Gatineau, QC K1A 0M5

——————————-

You’ll find e-mail and mailing addresses of all Members of Parliament here:

http://www.parl.gc.ca/MembersOfParliament/MainMPsCompleteList.aspx?TimePeriod=Current&Language=E

You’ll find e-mail and mailing addresses for all Senators here:

http://www.parl.gc.ca/SenatorsMembers/Senate/SenatorsBiography/ISenator.asp?Language=E

The Gazette: CBC cuts gut cherished international service

More attention to the cuts at RCI from The Gazette of Montreal. This article features quotes from my friend, Sheldon Harvey of the CIDX and the International Radio Report:

(Source: The Gazette)

MONTREAL – Lost amid the auditor-general’s report last week on the F-35 fighter planes and Canada raising the retirement age to 67, was news of the impending demise of Radio Canada International – the CBC’s international service, for many a lifeline to Canadian culture and politics, from as far away as Hanoi or Rio de Janeiro.

While CBC, like other crown corporations and government departments, has to cut 10 per cent of its overall budget as a result of federal cutbacks, RCI, which is administered by the CBC but has long been its poor cousin, was told more than 80 per cent of its budget would be slashed, or $10 million of $12.3 million.

[…]“Upsetting,” “absolutely dreadful,” “shocking.” Those were the words listeners from Bulgaria to Missouri used to describe the end of RCI’s shortwave broadcasts after more than six decades on the air.

[…]Sheldon Harvey, the president of the Canadian International DX Club, and a longtime shortwave enthusiast, said the international service, over the decades, has gained a stellar reputation, ranked just behind the BBC World Service – despite its relatively tiny budget – for its balanced, neutral perspective.

It was never a propaganda tool, like the Voice of America, he said.

“They have table scraps thrown at them, yet are able to put together such high-quality broadcasts for people around the world,” Harvey said. “To see that tossed aside is really sad.”

[T]he idea that listeners in other countries can all go online is farcical, Harvey said. Only 22 per cent of the population in the developing world has access to the Internet, whereas anyone with a wind-up or solar-powered radio can receive shortwave transmissions. What’s more, governments can block the Internet – as they have in Iran, China and parts of the Arab world – all part of today’s Iron Curtain. But as was seen during the Cold War, it’s almost impossible to block shortwave frequencies. If the Soviet Union jammed some frequencies, broadcasters could simply switch to others, Harvey said, and the cat and mouse game continued.

Up till now, RCI also has served to introduce people to Canada during peacetime, whether as potential visitors, trading partners or immigrants, Harvey said. Shutting down its broadcasts is like closing down embassies and trade missions. “It’s waiting for people to come to us, as opposed to knocking on their doors … I don’t think the government realizes how much of the world they are cutting off by doing this.”

[…]“CBC’s mandate is to inform Canadians. But it’s important to have a broader perspective here. … If you believe this country has something to say, you can’t support these cuts.”

Read the full article at The Gazette.  We are actively posting news about the RCI cuts here on the SLWing Post and we also welcome your comments.

You will find the latest news by following our tag: RCI Cuts