ODD CHOICES

Toronto Star - - BUSINESS - Michael Geist

The CBC’s elec­tion cov­er­age raises ques­tions about its rel­e­vance in the cur­rent media en­vi­ron­ment,

Hu­bert Lacroix, the pres­i­dent of the CBC, re­cently placed the fu­ture of the Canada’s na­tional public broad­caster on the elec­toral map with com­ments aimed at spark­ing a re­newed de­bate on fu­ture fund­ing mod­els. Lacroix dis­puted claims that low rat­ings are to blame for the CBC’s fi­nan­cial strug­gles, in­stead point­ing to the need to con­sider al­ter­na­tive fee schemes, in­clud­ing new levies on In­ter­net providers or sup­ple­men­tary charges on tele­vi­sion pur­chases.

Dis­agree­ment over CBC fund­ing is as old as the broad­caster it­self, but the more un­com­fort­able dis­cus­sion for the CBC is its cov­er­age of the cur­rent elec­tion cam­paign — par­tic­u­larly its ap­proach to na­tional de­bates and po­lit­i­cal party advertising — which raises trou­bling ques­tions about its rel­e­vance in the cur­rent media en­vi­ron­ment.

Most would agree that the CBC fea­tures an ex­cel­lent group of re­porters and boasts in­sight­ful an­a­lysts for its panel dis­cus­sions. How­ever, rather than work­ing to make it­self an in­valu­able re­source for the elec­tion, the CBC has been un­nec­es­sar­ily re­stric­tive in its broad­cast­ing choices and in the use of its con­tent.

The most puz­zling de­ci­sion has been its re­fusal to broad­cast de­bates hosted by other or­ga­ni­za­tions. The CBC may be dis­ap­pointed with the de­bate ap­proach adopted by the po­lit­i­cal par­ties in this cam­paign, but that does not change the sense that if the na­tional public broad­caster does not air pro­grams in the na­tional public in­ter­est, it calls into ques­tion the very need for a public broad­caster. In­deed, the CBC seems to have cut its nose off to spite its face by do­ing its best to prove its crit­ics right.

The CBC’s odd cov­er­age choices are not lim­ited to the miss­ing de­bates. Its use of video clips from the de­bates has also been un­nec­es­sar­ily re­stric­tive. For ex­am­ple, be­fore an­a­lyz­ing the re­cent Munk de­bates on the “At Is­sue” panel, host Peter Mans­bridge warned view­ers that “we are lim­ited with the ex­cerpts with the amount we are al­lowed to show.” A sim­i­lar warn­ing pre­ceded the dis­cus­sion at other de­bates.

Yet the re­al­ity is that there was no need to be re­stric­tive in the use of video clips. Cana­dian copy­right law per­mits the use of copy­righted works with­out per­mis­sion as part of the fair deal­ing clause. News re­port­ing is one of the enu­mer­ated pur­poses and even ex­panded clips would easily qual­ify un­der a fair deal­ing anal­y­sis.

All news or­ga­ni­za­tions are free to use as much of the video from de­bates as nec­es­sary to high­light key mo­ments and po­si­tions of each leader. To sug­gest that the law cre­ates sig­nif­i­cant lim­its on the abil­ity to show de­bate clips is in­ac­cu­rate.

In fact, the CBC’s mis­read­ing of the law is not lim­ited to the use of clips within its news broad­casts.

Just be­fore the elec­tion call, it asked YouTube and Face­book to re­move a Con­ser­va­tive cam­paign ad­ver­tise­ment that used clips from a CBC in­ter­view with Lib­eral Leader Justin Trudeau. To sup­port its take­down claim, the CBC ar­gued that “no one — no in­di­vid­ual can­di­date or po­lit­i­cal party, and no gov­ern­ment, cor­po­ra­tion or NGO — may re­use our cre­ative and copy­righted prop­erty with­out our per­mis­sion. This in­cludes our brands, our tal­ent and our con­tent.” That too is wrong. The law fea­tures im­por­tant lim­i­ta­tions on the rights of all copy­right hold­ers and all media or­ga­ni­za­tions regularly rely on them in their re­port­ing. The lim­its of copy­right ex­tend to cam­paign com­mer­cials and there is lit­tle that the CBC (or any­one else) can do about it.

With its rejection of the na­tional de­bates, its lim­ited use of de­bate clips and its at­tempts to limit re­use of its broad­cast con­tent, Canada’s na­tional public broad­caster has marginal­ized it­self dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign at the very time that it could be de­mon­strat­ing its rel­e­vance to the na­tional po­lit­i­cal cov­er­age. Michael Geist holds the Canada Re­search Chair in In­ter­net and E-com­merce Law at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa, Fac­ulty of Law. He can be reached at mgeist@uot­tawa.ca or online at michael­geist.ca.

NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

CBC’s most puz­zling de­ci­sion has been its re­fusal to broad­cast de­bates hosted by other or­ga­ni­za­tions.

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