Photo above: Left-right: Tam Goossen, past president, Urban Alliance on Race Relations & member of the Ontario Press Council; Dr. Joseph Y.K. Wong, founding member of the Chinese Canadian National Council; Dominic Campione, president of the Canadian Ethnocultural Council; Amy Casipullai, senior coordinator, policy and communications, Ontario Council ofAgencies Serving Immigrants; and Deepa Mattoo, staff lawyer, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario at a press conference held at Ryerson University on May 19. Photo by Neil Armstrong.
By Neil Armstrong
PRIDE Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario — Some community groups in Toronto say the gravity of Roger’s decision to eliminate OMNI TV’s local news programming and staff, and its impact on local communities, demands an urgent intervention by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
The Canadian Ethnocultural Council, Urban Alliance on Race Relations, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, and the Chinese Canadian National Council-Toronto Chapter, held a press conference at Ryerson University on May 19, to voice their concern over what they call “the systematic dismantling of multilingual programming by Rogers Media.”
Rogers cut 110 jobs from its television operations on May 6, mainly at the OMNI multicultural stations, eliminating newscasts in multiple languages.
The cuts were in response to continuing financial losses within Rogers Media-owned OMNI and CityTV stations.
The Globe and Mail reported earlier this month that in an interview, Colette Watson, Rogers’s vice-president of television and operations, said the OMNI news broadcasts cost $9 million to produce last year but brought in only about $3.9 million. She said the moves, along with other programming changes, were expected to make the OMNI operations “revenue-neutral.”
Rogers also said the retooling of the broadcasts will allow for a deeper focus on local issues.
“OMNI has been able to develop a very unique multilingual broadcast model that is just a gem and it’s a legacy that it’s just a shame and outright kind of disbelief, on our part, that Rogers would kind of betray the kind of public trust that has been given to them by eliminating all this,” said Tam Goossen, past president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and a member of the Ontario Press Council.
She said that on top of this they have been making a lot of money so the whole financial reasoning is a bit complicated.
“Rogers made a big profit. It reported a profit of $255 million for the first three months of this year alone. So how is it that Rogers made more cuts to OMNI, this time to the core programming based on its assertion to the CRTC that OMNI is not financially viable,” said Dr. Joseph Y.K. Wong, founding member of Chinese Canadian National Council.
He said the most recent cuts to Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian and Punjabi newscasts followed cuts made in 2013 of Portuguese and South Asian newscasts and diversity programing which eliminated 21 shows and affected 12 languages.
“We are asking the CRTC to convene an immediate hearing to review OMNI’s license. We believe that Rogers has misrepresented its intentions to CRTC. We also believe that Rogers is in breach of the letter and spirit of Canada’s Broadcasting Act. Rogers made assurance to the CRTC in April 2014 that, ‘it does not foresee large change to its ethnic and third language programs schedule in the next year and plans to continue to offer its local broadcasts, newscasts in their current slots for the foreseeable future.’”
The groups are asking the CRTC to suspend consideration of all further applications from Rogers unless and until:
- Rogers restores OMNI news broadcasting without diminishing the quality of its programming or service delivery, and reinstates news programming staff;
- Rogers adequately funds OMNI in-house productions, i.e. local news broadcasting on par with its other systems; and
- Rogers restores OMNI’s dedicated sales/marketing division to its full capacity.
Meanwhile, Dominic Campione, president of the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, said
“no news is bad news” citing the cuts as being not just bad for OMNI, but for Canada.
Amy Casipullai, senior coordinator, policy and communications, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), said OMNI provided an important perspective on the world that is not and cannot be reflected by other media organizations.
“Television is an important source of programming for Canada’s many ethnocultural communities. It connects people to events back home but its also strongly connected to Canada so in that OMNI’s programming provided a completely unique perspective and a completely unique way of looking at news in a way that was relevant to the communities that were here.”
She said OMNI was also an important source of jobs for internationally trained professionals and developed a leadership in media production that was unparalleled in any other news organization in Canada.
Deepa Mattoo, staff lawyer at the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario said the multilingual channels have been helpful in providing information in a linguistically and culturally sensitive way.
“We want Rogers to understand that community specific programming gives voice to racialized communites and individuals and it provides a platform for discussing issues that help members of our communities to participate in a broader national issue. From our clinic’s perspective, it’s a civic engagement issue and taking away programs like this actually takes away the opportunities of civic engagement from people,” she continued.
Meanwhile, Paul de Silva, who was at CFMT with its founder, Daniel Iannuzzi, in the changeover when Rogers bought the station (now OMNI), said the situation requires analysis which takes time, money and expertise and which the CRTC can do.
“They should be doing this with pressure, which is good, I’m very glad that the communities are speaking out. Because, without that pressure they won’t do it,” he said emphasizing that the communities should be pressing the CRTC to do a thorough analysis, which the CRTC has said they are going to do.
He said the CRTC will be looking at Rogers as a whole, not the individual parts of the corporate empire.
With over 35 years in television production, de Silva said because technology has changed the business with the Internet and with digital, Rogers can say that people are watching their home news on the Internet and therefore they’re not watching the Rogers stations.
“So the ripple effect is therefore advertisers are not buying cause they know the audience is not there. So, it’s a whole set of circumstances that has created a situation where Rogers in saying, and I think it’s legitimate, because what they’re saying is they’re losing money. Now businesses are not in business to lose money. In that respect, I understand Rogers. This is a capitalist economy we’re working in.”
The veteran producer said the company has said that it is making half the amount of revenue that it did five or ten years ago because of the downturn in the economy, technological change, and audience taste has changed.
He was the project manager/director of an application to the CRTC in 2007 for a national network that was focused more on Canadian original programming that would increase the amount of independent production and increase the amount of independent production from ethnocultural and racialized communities.
It was a diversity-focused channel, modeled in some ways on a channel that exists in Australia, SBS, a multicultural diverse channel, similar to Channel 4 in Britain.
He said his application was turned down by the CRTC, which said its regulations and policies for the private channels would serve that purpose.
De Silva said the reason the cable companies didn’t want this is that the only way a channel like this can work and be financed is on what they call a must-carry cable basis stipulated in Section 9(1)H of the Broadcasting Act.
“What we need for the multicultural communities is a national tv network modeled on the APTN model. APTN is there to serve the aboriginal communities. We need a national tv network to serve the multicultural racialized communities on a must-carry 9(1)H basis, which guarantees a predictable, stable, and consistent revenue stream. Because without that, who’s going to pay for it.”
He said the CRTC can look at the numbers and decide on whether Rogers has to adhere by its original conditions of license and provide adequate funding for original programming, or come up with or approve another model that will serve the needs of the communities in a consistent and adequately funded way.
Also at the press conference was Dr. Winnie Ng, Unifor Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University, who described the situation as “death by a thousand cuts,” noting that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when cuts are made to OMNI and then Rogers says that the station is not profitable.