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CBC urges more ‘flexible’ licence

CBC in Canada asked for more leniency from federal regulators on Monday as its first licence review in more than a decade got underway in Ottawa.

Hubert Lacroix

Hubert Lacroix

The national public broadcaster wants to air 5% less Canadian content on its English-language TV network and introduce advertising to some of its radio outlets, executives said during the start of the two-week licence hearings before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Much has changed since CBC and its French-language counterpart Radio-Canada received their current licences, said president Hubert Lacroix. He told regulators the network needs “flexibility” in order to meet the challenge of digital media and its already-strained budget,

“The financial challenges we face are daunting. But we will meet them, and we will balance our budget,” said Lacroix.

But, he warned, the network “cannot and will not make commitments we know we may not be able to fulfill.”

The Canadian government cut 10% from the network’s budget earlier this year and more recently the CRTC did away with the multimillion-dollar Local Programming Improvement Fund.

The network is funded by both public money and ad revenue, the latter of which is currently being undercut by the labour dispute at the National Hockey League.

CBC’s current licence requires 80% Canadian content over each 24-hour day. Lacroix wants that knocked down to 75%.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais suggested that firm commitments are “the nature of the beast” when it comes to licences, and perhaps to the CBC in particular.

CBC has taken fire for airing non-Canadian content before, most recently for airing US-made gameshows Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune in early prime, though they have since been replaced.

The lobby group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting warned against the “commercialisation” of the network in a statement, arguing it would undermine a broadcaster that viewers “rely upon for credible news and Canadian entertainment.”

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