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The CBC/Radio Canada, Canada’s public broadcaster, has had its federal broadcast license renewed to 2027, but the strings attached include first-time obligations to support indie TV producers from “equity-seeking” communities.
The CRTC, the country’s TV and telecom watchdog will require that CBC’s English-language services direct at least 30 percent of overall programming expenditures to local indie series produced by “indigenous producers, OLMC (bilingual) producers, racialized producers, producers with disabilities and producers who self-identify as LGBTQ2.”
And for the last year of its upcoming broadcast license term, the CBC will see the minimum expenditure level raised to 35 percent.
“The CRTC is modernizing its approach to ensure that the CBC/Radio-Canada’s programming can adapt to and reflect the evolving preferences of Canadians, including equity-seeking and official-language minority communities and indigenous peoples. We are giving the CBC/Radio-Canada more flexibility while ensuring it is accountable and representative of our various geographic and cultural realities in both official languages,” CRTC chair and CEO Ian Scott said in a statement.
While the Canadian pubcaster has had no specific obligations to support indigenous and diverse programming, the CBC has put a focus in recent years on increasing its content diversity. But the CRTC, in agreeing to renew the CBC’s federal license, said minimum spending requirements for content diversity will help close a continuing equity gap when it comes to supporting indie film and TV producers from under-served communities.
“The commission finds that the issue of diversity and the relevance of the CBC’s programming has taken on more pressing importance and that the public broadcaster has a key role to play in ensuring that Canada’s broadcasting system meets the programming needs of indigenous peoples and of Canadians in all their diversity,” the CRTC stated in its license renewal judgement.
During public hearings on the public broadcaster’s license renewal, CBC execs argued it was too early to earmark certain funds for specific communities because dividing up the network’s programming pie “in an equitable manner would present certain challenges.” The result, CBC execs added, was potentially opening the way to “programming by mathematics,” the CRTC recounted in its final report.
The TV watchdog is also looking for more accountability from the CBC in how it measures content diversity. That follows the CBC facing controversies around representation on two of its original series commissioned from indie producers, the indigenous drama Trickster and the Kim’s Convenience comedy, which recently ended a successful run on Netflix.
Canadian film director Michelle Latimer apologized for wrongly claiming indigenous family roots in a Quebec Algonquin community after helming the first season of Trickster, a CBC TV drama about an Indigenous teen struggling to support his dysfunctional family as myth, magic, and monsters seep into his life.
The controversy around Latimer’s indigenous ancestry sparked criticism from the Canadian film industry, where generous subsidies are increasingly on offer to First Nations filmmakers amid an industry reckoning. And in social media posts, two stars of CBC’s Kim’s Convenience comedy — including Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star Simu Liu — shared behind-the-scenes experiences of working on a show they claim suffered from diversity issues, unfair pay and racist storylines on season five.
Regarding the pubcaster’s in-house programming, the CRTC said it will impose new reporting requirements “to measure the diversity of the CBC’s programming-related workforce, including staff who have decision-making responsibilities for in-house programming.”
In June 2021, ahead of the license renewal hearings, the CBC said it would require that at least 30 percent of all key creative roles on its new original scripted and unscripted series commissioned from indie producers must be held by people who are Indigenous, black, people of color or persons with disabilities.
Elsewhere, Telefilm Canada, the country’s top film financier, has taken increasing measures of its own to fix a two-tiered industry where privileged producers receive generous and automatic funding long kept out of reach of Canadian filmmakers from BIPOC and other under-served communities.
And the Canadian TV industry as a whole is working towards the first-time measurement of BIPOC media audiences by Numeris, the Canadian TV industry’s stats collector, to help boost on-screen representation.
Numeris and Canadian broadcasters measure local audiences for popular African American-themed series like Power, Scandal, Empire, Atlanta, Greenleaf, Dear White People, Black-ish and Insecure that play to big audiences north of the border.
But Canada’s TV landscape has traditionally had far fewer homegrown shows with people of color on or behind the camera until Black Lives Matter protests prompted by the 2020 murder of George Floyd unleashed an industry reckoning.
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