Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I want to start by thanking you for your kind invitation to come and share with you our ideas and concerns about the future of television in Canada and the consequences of our future decisions for our fellow citizens.
Because our time is limited, I do not intend to get into all the topics that are of concern to us. I will however be happy to answer any of your questions to the best of my knowledge.
Like my colleagues, today I would like to draw to your attention television networks that are often overlooked in our debates on the future of the major systems, but which play an essential role in ensuring program diversity both for young people and for local communities. I am speaking of the educational networks.
Created by the provinces and financed entirely or very largely by them, educational networks are explicitly referred to in the Broadcasting Act as an integral component of the broadcasting system. There are five educational networks, which form the Association for Tele-Education in Canada, or ATEC: Knowledge in BC, SCN in Saskatchewan, Tele-Quebec in Quebec, and TVO and TFO in Ontario.
In all discussions held here, they are paid little or no attention. They are public networks, but they are outside CBC/Radio-Canada, the national public broadcaster. They are governed by federal legislation and obtain their licences from the CRTC, but their mandates are provincial. They are among the off-air networks, but they do not belong to any of the major integrated groups that dominate the industry. They have specific, targeted mandates, and are distributed either over the airwaves or on cable, but they are not specialty channels and thus do not have access to the economies of scale or the fees that the latter enjoy. They are aimed primarily at audiences in their own regions and often are not distributed outside their own province. But they are not considered local, either because they do not carry local news programming or because their coverage area has more than 1 million inhabitants.
And yet educational networks, it is important to emphasize, contribute more to diversity than so-called local television, because their entire programming, and not just news bulletins, is aimed at a regionally-defined population. They are with the exception of CBC/Radio-Canada the only networks that offer children and parents free access to a wide range of programs for children, without violence and tailored to promote their development and mental growth. They are also the only networks whose mandate is to reflect their regions. To the extent their resources allow, they strive to carry out this mandate by focusing on the production and broadcasting of documentaries, series and public affairs programs that reflect their regions and make the residents of their province known to one another.
The situation may seem different for Tele-Quebec, because French-language networks are in fact aimed primarily at a Quebec public. However, the Tele-Quebec Act explicitly calls on it to reflect the regional realities and the diversity of Quebec society. We are involved in the regions through the production of a public affairs program promoting cultural activities in different areas, the production and broadcast of documentary, drama and variety series, and the presence of regional personalities. We have 9 regional offices, and are involved in more than 250 partnerships with local organizations. Our association with Canal Savoir brings to the screen a considerable amount of programming from institutions of higher learning and cultural and educational organizations in the regions.
What are the key issues for educational television channels? Like the broadcasters that have appeared before you, educational networks must maintain an adequate level of resources to carry out their mandates and expand access to their products on new platforms, given the increasing importance of the new technologies for its public and particularly for young people, who make up a large proportion of their clientele. Unlike other types of networks, they cannot rely on auxiliary sources of revenue, and the provincial governments on which they depend have been seriously hurt by the economic crisis. It is thus vital that the educational networks not be excluded from any program that may be set up to assist the industry. It must be borne in mind that there is more to television in Canada than CBC/Radio-Canada on the public side and private networks on the other. Neither performs the same role as the educational networks.
It is also important that the unique features of educational networks be taken into account when new rules are formulated for funding allocation by the new Canada Media Fund, as it is now called.
The emphasis placed on market share takes into account neither the mandate nor the coverage areas of educational networks, some of which do not even have real audience-share measures. Educational television targets particular publics, is distributed mainly on the territory of one province, and does not necessarily seek commercial success. It is for these very reasons that it makes an invaluable contribution to the diversity of television in Canada, and is appreciated by a steadily growing number of Canadians.
This is why the educational networks have the following priorities: that the Minister of Canadian Heritage require—because he is in a position to do so—that the board of the Canada Media Fund recognize the special character of educational television networks and take this into account in its policies; that a protected envelope be set aside for the production of programming for children, who are a non-commercial clientele and a priority for all Canadians; that the definition and criteria for the production of documentaries be clarified; that the mechanisms for protecting and enhancing regional production be maintained; lastly, as desired by the whole industry, that the proposed changes be introduced gradually so that there can be a smooth transition for both producers and broadcasters.
One final issue for the future of educational networks is distribution. With the shift to digital, the restricted obligations on satellite distributors, and the possibility of a hybrid strategy for a shift to digital in more remote regions, it is becoming increasingly crucial to ensure: that it be mandatory to distribute educational television networks on all platforms available in their province of origin; that educational networks be able to obtain distribution throughout the country if they so wish, based on negotiated terms and conditions; that the French-language educational networks be made accessible throughout the country, given the limited supply of French-language products for the country's francophone minority communities; that Canadian networks' HD television signals be given priority distribution by satellite throughout the country. It is wrong that our HD signals cannot be carried by satellite because of a lack of capacity, while distributors give preference to American channels.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for giving me this opportunity to remind you of the existence and contribution of the educational television networks to the diversity of Canadian television programming and the well-being of our fellow citizens.
I would be happy to answer your questions.