( Leo Gimeno/Radio Canada International)

Prominent Canadians call for a halt to changes at Radio Canada International

A former prime minister of Canada, a former ambassador to the UN and several other prominent Canadians have written an open letter calling for a stop to the changes at Radio Canada International set for April 1, 2021. The signatories call on the prime minister and two other ministers “to maintain the integrity of Canada’s Voice to the World.”

The letter says that for more than 30 years, the domestic broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada has tried to “abandon its obligation to allow the international service to do its job of transmitting the Canadian reality to an external audience.”

CBC/Radio-Canada says a transformed Radio Canada International will translate and adapt articles from its domestic service, produce a weekly podcast in seven languages and produce reports from inside Canada in Chinese, Arabic and Punjabi to engage with ‘its target audience, particularly newcomers to Canada.’ (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

RCI would ‘engage more deeply…particularly (with) newcomers to Canada’

On December 3, 2020, the public broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada announced “a major transformation” of Radio Canada International by which it will eliminate the positions of its 15 journalists and other freelancers. It plans to hire five journalists who would translate and adapt material from the domestic service and three people who would “report from the field” in Canada in Chinese, Arabic and Punjabi. This, it says, would help “engage more deeply with its target audience, particularly newcomers to Canada.”

The open letter contends that this move is in violation of Canada’s Broadcasting Act which obliges the international service to focus on producing programming for an external audience. It adds that “in an interconnected world in search of truth, facts and honest journalism, countries like Canada cannot abdicate their role on the world stage.”

Signatories call for financial and editorial autonomy

Signatories call on the government to block the changes at Radio Canada International and put them on hold until staff and a group of “qualified people outside CBC/Radio-Canada, can propose a plan to rebuild the international service.” They call for the plan to devise a form of financial and editorial autonomy for Radio Canada International “to restore the international mandate and effectiveness” of the service.

Among those who have signed the open letter are former Prime Minister of Canada Joe Clark, former Foreign Affairs Minister and Chair of the World Refugee and Migration Council Lloyd Axworthy, former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Stephen Lewis, former Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada Alex Neve, Actor Donald Sutherland, Executive Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies Kyle Matthews, former Vice-Chairman of the broadcasting regulatory body the CRTC Michel Arpin,  author Naomi Klein and several others. 

The open letter was an initiative of former Radio Canada International host-producer Wojtek Gwiazda. He has fostered previous campaigns to restore Radio Canada International and runs the RCI Action Committee.

Supporters protested an 80 per cent cut to Radio Canada International in June 2012 which obliged it to abandon its shortwave service and layoff staff. The open letter accuses CBC/Radio-Canada of ‘trying to abandon its obligation to allow the international service to do its job.’ (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

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