CBC responds to growing dissent over digital presence

The Globe’s Phillip Crawley was among those appearing before the standing committee on Canadian Heritage.
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The CBC’s growing digital presence was questioned by members of the media industry that appeared at Tuesday’s standing committee on Canadian Heritage hearing.

Phillip Crawley, publisher and CEO of the Globe and Mail, singled out a newly added “Opinion” tab on the CBC News website as putting the pubcaster more into a place traditionally taken by newspapers.

“The mandate of the CBC is pretty loose,” Crawley later told MiC. “It is pretty widely interpreted. We have been scratching our heads as to why the CBC has been adding columns to its website.”

He urged the committee to look at a whitepaper from the U.K. government which denounced the BBC’s growing online presence, saying that it was taking away from local news media. While he did call out the CBC’s growing online presence, Crawley also said the Globe’s online readership has been growing. Though he didn’t give exact figures for online, overall paid readership for the paper is up 7% year-over-year.

Crawley said yesterday that the CBC is the Globe‘s largest Canadian competitor for visitors online and he doesn’t think the government giving more money to the pubcaster is helping already struggling Canadian newspapers. The federal government pledged an increase in funding of $675-million over five years for the CBC in its last budget, following years of deep cuts.

In response to the comments, the CBC sent back a recent statement made addressing the opposition to the pubcaster launching new digital channels like the “Opinion” tab.

“The facts, by now, are pretty clear,” said Heather Conway, EVP of English services at the CBC in the statement. “The challenges facing media in Canada are many but they are not being caused by the public broadcaster. No one has yet found a reliable way to make people pay for news content on the internet. Large newspaper companies responded to their challenges by merging the content offered by their smaller papers. This has made CBC/Radio-Canada’s presence more important than ever. Limiting what public broadcasting can do only means fewer services for Canadians. It won’t help private companies be more profitable. It won’t increase news coverage or the diversity of views, especially in communities.”

Government funding as a solution to the newspaper industry’s woes was also discussed at yesterday’s hearing. Crawley said that the Globe‘s owner, The Woodbridge Company, doesn’t think government handouts are the best way forward to combat declines in the newspaper industry. That stance is in contradiction to many in the industry, including the Coalition pour la pérennité de la presse d’information au Québec (coalition to ensure the long-term survival of print news media in Québec) and Postmedia, which have both stated that more government assistance would be of benefit to the struggling industry.

Crawley added the Globe‘s owners do think that tax credits, like the Ontario one which removed newspapers from eligibility in 2015, are of benefit. He noted the Globe used those credits to add to its digital teams for a number of years.

The standing committee on Canadian Heritage’s hearings around “media and local communities” are expected to wrap this month with a report issued on the group’s findings in early 2017.

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