Major changes at Radio Canada International are set for April 1, 2021. (Leo Gimeno/Radio Canada International)

Former Canadian diplomats call for a halt to changes at RCI

Forty-five former ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general have called on the Canadian government to block the changes to Radio Canada International (RCI) set for April 1, 2021. Theirs is the second open letter to this effect. The first was signed by a former prime minister, a former foreign affairs minister, Canada’s former ambassador to the United Nations and several other prominent Canadians. 

The public broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada, has decided to let go all but three of Radio Canada International’s journalists. It will use its own staff and hire people to translate and adapt content from its own, domestic service. In their letter, the former diplomats say: “RCI’s uniqueness is its experience in explaining the Canadian reality to foreign audiences not familiar, or barely aware of Canada and its reality.”

CBC/Radio-Canada says the changes will help it “engage more deeply with its target audience, particularly newcomers to Canada.” (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

‘Diminishing core mandate…is a mistake,’ say former diplomats

CBC/Radio-Canada also plans to hire three field reporters to provide content in Punjabi, Arabic, Chinese to add to offerings in Spanish, Tagalog, English and French. It states, that will “help the service engage more deeply with its target audience, particularly newcomers to Canada.” In their open letter, the former diplomats say: “We believe that diminishing RCI’s core mandate of programming for an external audience is a mistake…As diplomats who have served Canada all over the globe, we know the benefits to our country of foreign audiences knowing about Canada. We also believe that it is our responsibility as a nation to provide a reliable source of news and information.”

CBC/Radio-Canada does not plan to hire reporters dedicated to creating content in its official languages of English and French. Rather, it plans to have staff adapt content from its domestic service. It states there will be weekly podcasts in each of seven languages.

The former diplomats are calling on the government to intervene and block the changes. And they say they support the request made by the RCI Action Committee that an independent assessment be made of how Radio Canada International can “best continue its international mission, rebuild its capacity to fulfil its core mandate, and do so with a form of financial and editorial autonomy.”

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