Broadcast industry leaders gathered in Ottawa to attend the International Institute of Communications (IIC) conference, organized under the theme, “The Role and Future of Public Broadcasting in the Digital Age.” This event successfully capped off CBC/’Radio-Canada’s 75th anniversary celebrations. Here are a few highlights from the conference.
Public broadcasting around the world
The first plenary panel was moderated by CBC News Network’s Mark Kelley. It aimed to provide an international perspective on public broadcasting, with panellists from around the world discussing the various challenges that their countries face.
Among the topics raised were problems with territory size, the high volume of commercials aired, and accessibility of services in countries with vast geographies. Hamilton Cheng from Taiwan’s Public Television Service Foundation stressed the importance of having a strong public broadcaster to inform, educate and entertain the population. Meanwhile, Pieter Grootes from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa spoke about the difficulty of creating content in 11 languages to meet the demand throughout the country. Caroline Thomson from the BBC talked about the BBC’s “quality first” plan, which aims to keep the BBC delivering quality programming despite the freeze on the British public broadcaster’s licence fee, in effect until 2017. The BBC will produce less content, but will emphasize programming excellence.
The role of public broadcasting
Radio-Canada’s Ottawa bureau chief Emmanuelle Latraverse moderated the second plenary panel, “Is Public Broadcasting Still Vital in Today’s World?” A wide range of panellists joined in the discussion, including news anchor Ezra Levant from Sun News Network who contributed to a lively and provocative debate. However, most of the panel agreed that the current system of public and private broadcasters provided Canadians with the best of both worlds, ensuring healthy competition and a diversity of viewpoints. As pointed out by Carol Off, co-host of CBC Radio’s As it Happens, private and public broadcasters work together to serve Canadians, but it’s the money provided to CBC/Radio-Canada that allows it to produce in-depth regional programming and deliver services in eight Aboriginal languages.
How to stand out in a crowded environment
Mark Scott from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation presented an overview of the media environment in Australia. Like CBC/Radio-Canada, ABC has to contribute to national identity, and inform, educate, entertain and reflect Australia’s cultural diversity. The strategy of Australia’s national public broadcaster depends on innovation. Mr. Scott reiterated the fact that the broadcaster has no choice but to innovate or be washed away. This is especially the case since the Australian media has experienced more change in the past 10 years than in the previous fifty. Australian producers must also, like their counterparts in Canada, deal with the increasing production of American shows that can be sold for less than Australian productions.
- Sophie Bernard-Piché, Editor, CBC/Radio-Canada