Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to introduce my colleagues from the CRTC. Christianne Laizner is General Counsel, Telecommunications, and Graham Sheppard is the Senior Annual Returns Auditor.
I understand that you have asked me to appear so that I can discuss the CRTC's administration of access to information requests. I will provide an overview of our approach and then refer to the Local Programming Improvement Fund—a program you seem particularly interested in—as an example of how we apply the legislation.
There are four central principles that have governed the CRTC during my mandate: transparency, predictability, fairness, and timeliness. You will note that I put transparency first. The CRTC is a public organization and members of the public should have the clearest possible picture of how we operate and how they can interact with us. As a government institution, we have been subject to the Access to Information Act since it came into effect. We take access to information requests seriously. We ensure they are processed in a timely manner. Administering the act involves certain costs, but we view these as necessary to ensuring that the commission is as transparent as possible.
As I understand it, you're interested in how we handle information furnished by third parties, particularly information related to broadcasters. Our golden rule is quite simple: when in doubt, disclose.
In order to do our work as a regulator, we often require parties to submit financial, commercial, technical or other information as evidence for our proceedings.
The submitting party may declare such information or parts thereof confidential, as in its view public disclosure would harm its competitive interests. Unless the party itself discloses this information, we keep it confidential.
If we receive an access to information request for such material, after consultation with the submitting party, we will release the non-confidential part, but we will not provide that part of the information for which confidentiality has been established.
If the requester takes the matter to the Federal Court, we will provide the requested documents to the court under seal, but we take no position. After listening to the requester's argument and the counter arguments from the party claiming confidentiality, the court will determine what information, if any, can be released. We then implement the court's decision.
This is the way we operate, and we have never seen any reason to operate in any other way. Compliance with access to information requirements is not an issue with us now, nor has it ever been.
Now let me say a few words about the local programming improvement fund.
The Local Programming Improvement Fund is a good example of our insistence on transparency as a fundamental principle. A little background may be useful.
The fund is our response to a serious problem affecting consumers outside the big cities. Conventional TV stations in small markets have been in precarious financial shape—especially since the worldwide financial crisis struck in 2008.
These stations have found it increasingly difficult to bear the costs of creating their own local programming.
Canadians value their local programming. It reflects their communities and their interests and concerns. Local news is especially important to them, but this content is unfortunately not self-financing in small markets. Therefore, in order to maintain and improve the quality of local programming, we created the LPIF, the local programming improvement fund, in 2008 and began operating it in 2009.
The money comes from a percentage of the gross broadcasting revenue of the cable and satellite distributors, which has been set at 1.5%. Small market stations across the country broadcasting in English and French are eligible for LPIF support.
How do we ensure transparency and accountability in the use of LPIF support? We established the following specific reporting requirements. First, stations must provide an annual LPIF operating report to the commission. The report is designed to show how LPIF moneys have been used to improve the local programming provided to the markets. The improvement must be both quantitative and qualitative.
Here are some of the indicators that must be documented to show that the funds have been put to good use: evidence of audience success and viewer satisfaction; increases in local advertising; increases in original local news stories; the number of local news stories that are picked up nationally; expansion of the news bureaus; and increases in the quantity of the local programming broadcast.
Second, stations must also submit an annual statement of direct local programming expenses. The total disbursed in the broadcast year 2009-2010 was just over $100 million.
Third, we have created an oversight panel, made up of three commissioners, that will investigate any allegation of non-compliance with the fund's terms and conditions. Given that the annual operating report and the statement of direct local programming expenses are filed in confidence, we cannot publish them on our website. However, we publish the following information to provide maximum transparency to the public.
So we put the following things on the website: audited financial statements of the LPIF showing the total amount disbursed during the broadcast year that ended August 31, 2010; a list of eligible stations for 2009-10; the distribution of LPIF moneys by region; and aggregate annual returns that identify the amounts contributed to and received from the LPIF by major distributors and broadcasters respectively. You can find all this information on our website, and it is also included in annex A of my remarks before you.
You may be interested to learn that we have received an access for information request regarding how much each individual market station received in LPIF money. We consulted the broadcasters. The CBC and Rogers had no objections. The others claimed confidentiality. We therefore released the data regarding CBC and Rogers, which I have attached as annex B.
If the requester goes to the Federal Court to obtain similar information from the other stations, lets say, CTV or Global, we will adopt the procedure I explained before. We will take no position. We will deliver the documents under seal to the court and let the opposing party try to convince the court of its position. We will abide by the court ruling.
I hope this has given you an idea of how we treat access to information. We will be pleased to answer any questions that you have.