In our letter to the minister we strongly support the request by the chair of the CRTC to immediately secure administrative monetary penalties under the Broadcasting Act. It is my understanding that the chair of the commission discussed this question with you in an earlier session in May 2008.
We also propose the introduction of civil remedies for those licensees that have been injured, including actual damages and future damages, because of the wilful misconduct of the BDUs. In the United States and in Great Britain, the FCC and Ofcom have wide powers to impose fines on corporations that do not comply with the letter, intent, or expectations of regulations and/or licence conditions. This is not the case with our own CRTC. Your committee and Parliament have to introduce much needed changes to the Broadcasting Act to provide the CRTC with more teeth in dealing with major broadcasting distribution groups that have been extremely vertically integrated and who refuse to abide by existing regulations and licence conditions.
We fully understand that your committee is presently concerned with the survival of local stations and local news within our broadcasting system. However, we encourage the committee to look beyond the immediate problem, because it is only the tip of an oncoming iceberg.
The recent consolidation of ownership in the Canadian broadcasting and distribution sectors has handed the power of life or death of our broadcasting system not to legislators but to a few private enterprise titans: Rogers, Shaw, and Quebecor. All of these major BDUs have amply benefited from past regulations that favoured their development in the interest of having a strong Canadian broadcasting system. This privileged situation has favoured the growth of their companies into what they are today and is a direct result of the contribution of independent, conventional specialty and pay television services, which are now being shunned by the BDUs in favour of their growing businesses, such as local telephone, publishing, Internet, and wireless services.
This was confirmed to us when we met with the chief executive officers of Rogers on February 12, 2009, who told us that their main businesses were phone, Internet, cellular, and broadcast services, in that order. In other words, broadcasting has fallen back to the bottom of priorities. May we remind the committee of key words spoken by a number of prominent Canadians in the past: “It's all about content”. We sincerely believe that we are at a crossroads in terms of where our broadcasting system is going. It is up to you and your fellow parliamentarians to ensure that Canadian content can continue to be developed and, more importantly, get past the BDU gatekeepers to reach Canadians.
Proposed changes to the Broadcasting Act should, one, give the CRTC the power to fine BDUs that do not respect conditions of licence or commission regulations and to award compensation to broadcasters that have suffered financial losses because of BDU misbehaviour; two, give CRTC the power to issue a clear directive to a BDU to remedy non-compliance immediately with regard to any matter that abrogates or denigrates the spirit and/or intent of the Broadcasting Act; three, clearly establish the responsibilities of each component of the broadcasting system, with a special emphasis on a key role BDUs must play in giving priority and promotion to Canadian programming services; offering other services such as Internet, local phone, or wireless services should in no way be done in a business fashion that is detrimental to Canadian broadcasting programming services; and four, ensure that programming services have the right of access to their subscribers through the BDUs to promote and market their service, in addition to providing a possibility of two-way communication with such subscribers.
This completes our oral presentation, and we look forward to responding to any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.