Disruption, Trust and the Public Broadcaster
International Institute of Communications
Sixteenth Annual Conference
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Thank you for that lovely introduction Catherine [Cano]. I’m delighted to be here today. And thank you to Hank Intven and Grant Buchanan for the invitation to IIC Canada’s conference. These gatherings are critical to the process of advancing big policy issues. And, as you know, we are currently facing one of the biggest in the past two decades—the modernization of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts in the context of accelerated and ongoing disruption caused by digital innovation.
It is in this context that I would like to talk about trust today. Trust in the media; trust in public institutions; trust in a civil society. I would like to talk about what the public broadcaster can do to build trust; what media organizations can do together to maintain, protect and rebuild trust; and what we think government can do in legislation. Because whatever else we do, we cannot have a healthy democracy without trust. And trust is in trouble.
The Edelman Trust barometer has been tracking the decline in trust among citizens in their government, businesses and media worldwide. It has called 2018 The Battle for Truth. According to their findings, Canadians fall, slightly, in the distrust camp. Two-thirds of Canadians say they are worried about false information or fake news being used as a weapon. And they have good reason to be worried.
We’re bombarded with information; some of it credible, some of it not. Media organizations committed to good journalism—like CBC/Radio-Canada—are competing with a host of others who have their own motivations; whether it’s ad-driven clicks, ideology, or just plain disruption. It’s this information disorder that is undermining trust, on a global scale.
It’s countries with strong public broadcasters that have higher levels of trust. I believe that this is in part because the presence of an arm’s-length public broadcaster, with transparent journalistic standards and principles, can better serve its citizens and hence support democracy.
For all the promise of the digital world—and there are countless positive things about it—there seem to be fewer places where healthy, informed debate—essential to a healthy democracy—is thriving.
Increasingly, whether it’s politics, climate change or #MeToo, tribes are speaking to their tribes, clubs to their members only, with resulting escalation of anger.
This information disorder is happening around the world. And it’s happening here in Canada too.
This summer, you may have heard an analysis of almost 3000 Twitter accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency. That’s the infamous Russian company that targeted the American election, the Brexit vote and the elections in France. Researchers discovered that those accounts were also targeting Canadians with untrue and provocative tweets about asylum seekers, the Quebec City mosque shooter and the Keystone Pipeline. Their goal is to sow discord. To find hot-button issues and inflame all sides.
Disinformation uses the power of digital to amplify its messages, and find allies.
While conspiracy theories and intolerance have always had an audience, the speed and convergence of their appearance on digital platforms allow effective masking of lies. This is creating a crisis.
I truly believe that Canadians still want information they can trust; they still want a space where they can engage in civil, informed debate.
In its latest report, PricewaterhouseCoopers finds that major media brands in the future will be those that have the “ability to build and sustain consumer trust.” The report goes on to identify the vital dimensions of trust as:
Is your content trustworthy?
Are you taking proper care of your consumers’ data?
And is your company good for society?
So what can we in the media business do?
Most importantly, we can join forces to support good journalism. Afterall, the antidote to “fake news” is real news. Subscribe to Canadian newspapers. Support Canadian journalism. We’re very grateful that you’re already supporting CBC/Radio-Canada. All of our great journalism, and all of the other services we provide cost each Canadian just $34. For the entire year. For the typical Canadian household, this is less than their Netflix subscription.
We need a healthy media environment in Canada: diverse viewpoints reflecting all regions of the country; public AND private media. These are the objectives captured in the current Broadcasting Act. They’re there because they are essential to a healthy democracy.
Here are four things we’re doing at CBC/Radio-Canada to build the trust of Canadians:
First, we’re investing in journalism. High-quality, original and investigative journalism. Our journalists are in communities across the country, and our foreign correspondents bring the world home to Canadians. They do incredible work under tremendous pressures—working in all media, straddling legacy TV and radio while producing digital content 24/7 all at the same time. We’re also hiring and training young Indigenous journalists, as well as journalists from underrepresented groups, to make sure we’re reflecting the diversity of this country.
We have standards—and we stand by them. Our journalistic standards and practices are public. When we make mistakes, we correct them quickly and publicly. We’re accountable for what we publish and we have independent ombudsmen to investigate complaints and report to the public. Only through this kind of robust accountability can we earn Canadians’ trust.
Today, CBC/Radio-Canada is consistently Canadians’ most trusted source for news.
In fact, the recent CanTrust Index found that, of all companies in Canada, CBC/Radio-Canada is Canadians’ most-trusted brand overall, at 71%. We need to make sure we maintain this trust and grow it.
The second thing we’re doing is supporting civil debate. We want to make sure Canadians have a public place for civil and respectful discourse, both at the national and local levels. A place where they can engage in passionate debate; share their views; and hear different ones. Programs, like CBC Radio’s Cross-Country Checkup and ICI RDI’s 24|60, are the antidote to the filter bubbles that drive the Internet.
We also use algorithms in our digital services. But we use them to find out what Canadians want more of, and to ensure we are offering them a wider range of perspectives by making recommendations for things they might not have thought about. We moderate comments on our digital sites, not to stifle debate but to improve it, for everyone. And most importantly, we’re transparent about how we use your data.
Third, we’re looking at technology to ensure traceability of content by embedding unique identifiers in our content, so that people know our news content is really ours and hasn’t been altered. I’m sure you’ve seen Deep Fake videos and audio, using machine learning. They’re getting better, faster and easier to make, creating a whole new potential for deception and harm.
Fourth, we’re supporting media literacy. Through our programming and community outreach, we want to help Canadians understand what they’re seeing and to help them decide what to trust.
And most of all, we want them to be engaged in their country. We need our young Canadians to be critical thinkers. We want them to challenge us, to challenge their society in a well-informed way.
I’m particularly proud of our latest initiative, launched just last month: CBC Kids News; news for kids aged 9 to 13, produced by kids. They’re working with our journalists to present stories important to Canadian children. Take a look!
They’re our next generation of great Canadian journalists!
We also recently launched CBC News on Snapchat Discover, a platform that reaches over 10 million young Canadians. We’re offering fresh angles on daily news. Just 24 hours after we launched our first Discover story, it had been viewed over three million times. Just two months after launch, I’m pleased to let you know that our channel has had 131 million global views!
Canadian media companies are struggling. Advertisers are increasingly moving their ad dollars to Google and Facebook. Newspapers are folding and broadcasters have had to reduce local news operations.
Unfortunately, there is still no digital business model to support local news in our communities. We need to collaborate to ensure citizens can continue to be informed on what is happening in their community.
Furthermore, in order to ensure trust, we must work together. Large digital companies like Facebook and Google are taking steps to address the information disorder and we welcome that. But we as Canadian news organizations must take steps of our own.
We need to be clear about one thing. Attacking each other is not a solution. Canadians have told us in studies time and again that they value their public broadcaster.
We all have financial challenges, but it’s not public broadcasting that is hurting private media in Canada. Making the public broadcaster smaller or weaker won’t stop the Googles and Facebooks of the world, or the spread of disinformation. It won’t make Canadian media companies more profitable and it certainly won’t mean better services for Canadians. And it won’t rebuild trust. I believe the solution resides in the approach that the UK regulator has called ‘collaborate to compete’. This means working together to find nationwide solutions.
There ARE things government can do as well. As you know, it’s looking for ways to support community journalism. It’s trying to find ways to protect the integrity of Canadian elections, and it’s modernizing Canada’s cultural policies and key legislation. These are all good initiatives.
We, at CBC/Radio-Canada, would like to see legislation that ensures that the global digital companies, which benefit from Canadians’ love of cultural content, also contribute to supporting the Canadian ecosystem. These companies have a huge influence on Canadians, but their priority is not necessarily the health and survival of our culture.
We also think legislation needs to hold digital companies to the same standards of accuracy and responsibility as traditional media. Countries all over the world are grappling with this issue. I hope we can find the solution here in Canada. We have to.
For CBC/Radio-Canada, this legislative review is extremely important. Our mandate and our independence reside in the Broadcasting Act. And, we cannot be a public broadcaster without these critical tenets.
First our mandate: to inform, enlighten and entertain Canadians. Those three elements are what define public broadcasters the world over; they are each essential to serving the public. This mandate must be strengthened. Second, our independence. When our news organizations are threatened, as they currently are, so is diversity and trust. For this reason alone, independence from political influence for the public broadcaster remains the single most important principle to preserve in the Act.
So this legislative review is critical, not only for the future of CBC/Radio-Canada, but also for the future of trust within our society.
All of us have a role to play in rebuilding trust and strengthening democracy. If you agree, I would ask you to speak up. Share your thoughts with the review panel and with government. Support good journalism. And join in the discussion.