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Friends of Canadian Media’s submission to the finance minister for Pre-Budget Consultations 2024

February 9, 2024

The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P.
Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and Minister of Finance
Finance Canada
James M. Flaherty Building
90 Elgin Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G5

Dear Minister Freeland,

Thank you for this opportunity to provide recommendations in advance of the 2024 Federal Budget.

Friends of Canadian Media (formerly FRIENDS) is a non-partisan citizens’ movement that stands up for Canadian voices in Canadian media – from public broadcasting to news, culture, and online civil discourse – we work to protect and defend Canada’s rich cultural sovereignty and the healthy democracy it sustains. With the successful passing of the Online News Act and the Online Streaming Act, now is the time to turn our collective minds to CBC/Radio-Canada, one of our country’s most vital yet most underfinanced public institutions.

As you know, funding for CBC/Radio-Canada has consistently been slashed since the 1980s. Every prime minister from Brian Mulroney to Stephen Harper has left it worse off than did their predecessor. While your government began investing in our national public broadcaster at the beginning of its first mandate, in constant dollars, funding for CBC/Radio-Canada on a per capita basis has not been this low since 1961. At the same time, it faces increasing demands to provide more programming, in more languages, and on more platforms, all under extreme inflationary conditions.

To make matters worse, we are now seeing a wave of threats to our national public broadcaster’s very existence. Certain politicians would gladly see CBC/Radio-Canada defunded. At a time when misinformation and political tribalism threaten our democratic discourse and undermine the role of credible journalism in public life, Canadians need and want a strong CBC/Radio-Canada more than ever. In fact, research commissioned by Friends of Canadian Media shows that 55% of Canadians surveyed “absolutely trust CBC/Radio-Canada to be reliable and truthful” and a further 58% agreed that CBC/Radio-Canada should continue to receive government funding.

With Heritage Minister St-Onge committed to helping re-define the role of our national public broadcaster, these numbers will, no doubt, grow in the long term. But no matter how novel or enlightened the suggestions of the Heritage Minister’s expert advisory panel may be, more money will be required to move the needle in any meaningful way. And including CBC/Radio-Canada as one of the Crown Corporations required to reduce their annual spending by 3.33% is antithetical to this potential progress. With 800 job cuts already under way, these further reductions will play right into the hands of those who will jump at any opportunity to depict our national public broadcaster as outdated, ineffective, and irrelevant.

But perhaps most importantly, in this climate of recurrent and devasting private media layoffs, we run the risk of the local news deserts that we have seen in print now coming to broadcast news. CBC/Radio-Canada is the only Canadian broadcaster required under the Broadcasting Act to provide news and information programming in all regions across the country. As private broadcasters continue to abandon news, particularly local news, our national public broadcaster must be given the resources both to fill this void and fulfill its legislative mandate. Otherwise, these holes will be filled by more and more special interest groups, misinformation, and disinformation.

With all of the above in mind, we submit that you should exempt CBC/Radio-Canada from the 3.33% Crown Corporation budget freeze announced last year and that Budget 2024 should contain sustainable and steadily rising funding over a 10-year term for CBC/Radio-Canada, providing it with both the resources it needs to fulfill its evolving mandate, and the certainty that arises from stable finances. This kind of financial commitment will send a message to all Canadians that their government believes in CBC/Radio-Canada and the essential and trusted role it plays in Canadian public life.

As part of this process, Friends of Canadian Media would also like to lend its support to the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO) and the Black Screen Office (BSO). Through the passing of Bill C-11, the government has been unequivocal in its support for storytelling that reflects the viewpoints of Indigenous persons and Canadians from Black communities. We, therefore, submit that the ISO and BSO should be provided with a minimum of three years of stable and predictable operational funding to ensure the empowerment of Indigenous people and Black Canadians working in the cultural industries.

All of which is respectively submitted,

Marla Boltman, Executive Director

cc: The Honourable Pascale St-Onge, P.C., M.P., Minister of Canadian Heritage;
Ms. Rachel Bendayen, M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance

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