Making the CBC/Radio-Canada’s Giant Castle More User-Friendly

Making the CBC/Radio-Canada’s Giant Castle More User-Friendly

The culture industries appear to be at a crossroads. Shifting advertising practices as well as audience viewing and consumption habits continue to contribute to new challenges and opportunities for media and entertainment providers throughout the world. With its new “A Space for All of Us” strategy, Canada’s national public broadcaster – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio-Canada (CBC/Radio-Canada) – is facing hard choices while looking to rethink how the Corporation serves Canadians in an increasingly digitized information and entertainment landscape. By opening up CBC/Radio-Canada to the people that it’s mandated to serve, Canada’s national public broadcaster can reaffirm and build off of the Corporation’s impressive legacy by contributing to the country’s cultural consciousness.


The CBC/Radio-Canada and its precursor – the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC), established by the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act of 1932 – have been a part of the country’s cultural sphere since the early 1930s. Throughout its history, the CBC/Radio-Canada has been envisioned as a means of protecting Canada’s cultural sovereignty, in the face of American content to the South, while helping to establish domestic, Canadian media industries.


It has been over twenty years since the CBC/Radio-Canada’s mandate was updated by Parliament. The most recent Broadcasting Act (1991) states that the CBC/Radio-Canada “should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains” (3(1)(l)) and “contribute to shared national consciousness and identity” (3(1)( In the intervening years, the CBC/Radio-Canada has increasingly moved into digital and Internet-based spheres in order to reach Canadians via the media of their choice.


The contemporary media and cultural environments must be adapted to in order to reach and connect Canadians from coast to coast to coast. CBC/Radio-Canada President and CEO Hubert T. Lacroix describes the current situation as “a transformational moment for the national public broadcaster”. Mr. Lacroix envisions the future of the CBC/Radio-Canada as “the public space at the heart of our conversations and experiences as Canadians” (p. 1). With some creative thinking, the digital environments that the “A Space for All of Us” strategy seeks to capitalize upon can help foster these ‘public spaces’ and contribute to the stewardship and production of pluralistic forms of Canadian cultural identity.


In a recent opinion piece in The Guardian newspaper, Canadian ex-pat Cory Doctorow argues that the CBC/Radio-Canada should look to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) short-lived BBC Creative Archive as a means of opening up the Corporation’s archive of publicly funded cultural goods to the people of Canada so that they can combine and create from these public resources. For Doctorow, “there's nothing more ‘digital first’ than ensuring that the most common online activities – copying, sharing, and remixing – are built into the nation's digital heritage”. The relational creativity that Doctorow describes has recently been given legal credence through the Copyright Modernization Act (2012).


The Copyright Modernization Act provides legal circumstances where the creation of non-commercial user-generated content is not an infringement of copyright. In particular, the use of these materials must be solely non-commercial in purpose, the source of the materials must be attributed (where possible), is not derived from already infringing materials, and must not have a “substantial adverse effect, financial or otherwise” on the existing rights holder and/or the existing work.


As a new part of legislation, the specifics of the “Non-Commercial User-Generated Content” provision (29.21) – or the ‘YouTube Exception’ – have yet to be tried and defined via the courts. However, as the country’s public broadcaster, the CBC/Radio-Canada could be on the vanguard of this emerging cultural space by providing its archival materials to the public for their digital use and repurposing. Allowing Canadians to access and ‘remix’ publicly funded cultural resources in new and innovative ways could help create a CBC/Radio-Canada ‘space for all of us’ that reflects the dynamism of Canadian culture.


Of course, establishing such an archive is no small task and the CBC/Radio-Canada will need to exert human and financial resources to make this a reality. As Drs. Rosemary Coombe, Darren Wershler, and Martin Zeilinger state in Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online, cultural works often entail the use of overlapping works – such as the music contained in a soundtrack to a television program – that are protected and governed by embedded intellectual property rights (p. 31). The CBC/Radio-Canada will, therefore, need to ensure that the works available in its archives do not run afoul of the legal rights of other creators and contributors. These processes require technological and human infrastructure that may strain the Corporation’s already fragile financial situation.


However, by more clearly linking and contributing to the daily and cultural lives of Canadians as a source of digital cultural resources, the CBC/Radio-Canada will have yet another means of defending its Parliamentary appropriation. As Dr. Kyle Asquith, Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor, argues in his chapter in Dynamic Fair Dealing, “the CBC[/RadioCanada] has an institutional history of taking risks, innovating, and connecting with Canadians in new ways. … given its mandate, funding source, and history, the CBC[/RadioCanada] is well equipped to set the bar for Canadian broadcasting” (p. 96).


Somewhat insulated from the commercial pressures facing Canada’s private broadcasters, the CBC/Radio-Canada has the ability to be creative and innovative as the Corporation works to fulfill its mandate. Opening up the public broadcaster’s archive to Canadians as a source of cultural resources may be challenging. However, the opportunities to further contribute to the country’s cultural heritage and facilitate a dynamic cultural future for Canadians, as well as the Corporation itself, is a space that the CBC/Radio-Canada should work to create.


Joseph F. Turcotte is an IPilogue Editor, a PhD Candidate and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow in the Communication & Culture Program (Politics & Policy) at York University, and a Nathanson Graduate Fellow at the Jack & Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security at Osgoode Hall Law School.