I would like to begin by thanking Committee members for inviting us to appear this morning. I have been working in public broadcasting for 26 years. For quite sometime now, I have taken a very serious interest in issues dealing with the media and la francophonie, and I'm always very pleased to have a chance to talk about them.
Allow me to introduce two close colleagues who are with me today: Louis Lalande, who was made General Manager for the Regions a few weeks ago, and who has been with the Corporation for a very long time; and Christiane Leblanc, who is the first Executive Director of Espace Musique, Radio-Canada's music channel, which presents a diversity of Canadian music.
This is the first time that I have appeared before the Committee as the person responsible for all French services at Radio-Canada--that we have only very recently consolidated, as a matter of fact. So, this is an opportunity for us to present our overall strategy for French services and share our vision of our role as public broadcaster to Canada's regions and its francophone communities.
This is, in fact, a good time to do this, because by consolidating our services, we have added greatly to the strength of the public network. Just to give you a bit of background, keep in mind that our competitors are big media groups that play the “group” card to the hilt. However, Radio-Canada is certainly the most integrated media group of all, which is something we decided citizens should benefit from. That is the main reason behind our reorganization strategy.
The second reason is simple--things are going well at Radio-Canada. Rarely have our TV or radio audience numbers been as high, or our websites as busy. The time is therefore ripe to promote a new philosophy that stresses our commitment to public service, but also seeks to reinforce the media personality of our channels and networks.
We also wish to strengthen our identity as a public broadcaster. In today's media environment, the Radio-Canada “brand” is one of our strengths and a real asset. It is what sets us apart. And with the proliferation of platforms, our quality, diversity, and depth as a public broadcaster must be evident to all. As a public service group, Radio-Canada must continue to play its role in enhancing the cultural and democratic life of Canadians everywhere.
Last week, Ms. Oda, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, asked the CRTC to assess the impact of changing technology on radio and television in Canada. This is obviously a matter of key concern to us as a public broadcaster. At Radio-Canada, we view new technology as an opportunity to be seized, not a threat to be feared. We are already present on some 27 platforms, including the web, satellite, broadcasting, and cell phones. We will continue to study changes in technology to harness their potential and make our public system available on all emerging platforms, as it should be.
As I was saying, the multi-platform environment offers new opportunities to public broadcasters to better fulfill their mission of service to citizens. For instance, Radio-Canada International can now provide programming to Canadians through the Internet and satellite radio, and platforms that complement Radio-Canada's national and regional services.
Last December, RCI launched a new multilingual channel on Sirius Canada that, for the first time ever, broadcasts programming to the Canadian public. Next fall, RCI will launch a web radio service aimed at newcomers to Canada. Why such a service? Well, apart from the huge challenge we all know it can be for newcomers to integrate, their arrival is also changing the francophone face of Canada all across the country.
Of course, one of the most crucial issues with respect to integration is that of cultural cohabitation in a spirit of mutual understanding and acceptance. It is our role, as a public broadcaster, to forge ties between new citizens and the communities that welcome them.
It was to address this need that we decided to create a new service at Radio Canada International. A veritable multiplatform radio portal, our new web radio channel will broadcast general interest programming and special reports that will take a no-holds-barred look at issues in Canadian society, particularly those related to immigration and the integration of newcomers.
For our francophone communities, this new Radio Canada International service will become a valuable tool for forging ties with newcomers and welcoming them with respect and understanding. This is a great illustration of the role that we, as public broadcasters, must play within contemporary Canadian society.
Of course, another of Radio-Canada's important roles is obviously to offer distinctive, quality programming to francophones from coast to coast. And when I look at our record, I'm proud of what we have accomplished so far and really look forward to what's coming up next season. As you will see, we are present all across Canada and are investing massively to spur production, so as to support francophone culture and see it flourish in every region of the country.
Allow me to cite a few facts that provide a concrete illustration of what this means.
In television, we have eight regional stations, six of which are outside Quebec. The fact is that nearly 60 per cent of regional television budgets is devoted to francophone communities outside Quebec. We present at least one regional edition of Le Téléjournal in each of the regions where we provide services, for a total of 13 regional newscasts. Whether for news or culture, our regional productions reflect life in local communities. In all, we offer nearly 60 hours a week of regional programming.
Again in television, our support for independent productions outside Quebec has increased considerably. In eight years, we have quadrupled the number of projects and television hours funded by the Canadian Television Fund. In 2005-06, there were some 18 projects with a licence value of $2.2 million.
With independent producers in the regions, we have also developed documentaries and dramas that reflect the hopes and realities of local communities.
For example, Francoeur, a drama series written and produced in Ontario, was broadcast in network prime time in the spring and summer of 2005, capturing a 13 per cent share of the viewing audience.
Also, there is the new drama series called Planète Belle-Baie, written by a Caraquet filmmaker and set in a small Acadian town in New Brunswick. Filming of the first eleven episodes of the series began on June 18.
Séquestrés is a new 90-minute drama written and produced in Winnipeg--a first for French-language television in Canada.
As well, ARTV--we are one of the channel's main shareholders--devoted 20 per cent of its budget in 2005-06 to regional productions. Pour l'amour du country, one of the channel's most popular shows, is produced in Moncton. Other products are in the works with producers in Toronto and Winnipeg.
In radio, we have been investing in the regions since the late 1990s, and now have 20 regional production centres, including 11 in communities outside Quebec. Over two thirds of the total radio budget for the regions is earmarked for communities outside Quebec.
At Première Chaîne, 100 per cent of prime time is devoted to regional programming. It is also the only francophone radio network to have reporters right across Canada. Espace Musique, which we will come back to a little later, is also firmly ensconced in the regions.
We also have a strong regional presence on the web. For example, regional news is prominently featured on Radio-Canada.ca, one of the most popular media sites in Canada.
A few years ago, we launched transcultural initiatives for the complete CBC and Radio-Canada networks involving both the French and English media. These projects foster synergies and engender a very beneficial cross-fertilization among the media. They bring communities into closer contact and help them learn about each other. It's a unique approach and a source of great pride for us as a public broadcaster.
I could go on for hours about all our initiatives in the regions, but I would rather turn things over now to my colleagues, who will speak to you about two significant accomplishments by Radio-Canada in terms of reflecting regional realities and contributing to community development. I will turn first to Christiane Leblanc, Executive Director of Espace Musique.