BCE Inc., the parent company of Bell Media, is seeking the removal of local news requirements under federal broadcasting regulations, which currently mandate specific spending and broadcasting hours on local news across its stations.
The request was filed with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on June 14, and coincides with Bell’s announcement of 1,300 job cuts, closure of nine radio stations and two international bureaus, signalling significant changes in news delivery methods due to mounting financial pressure.
The regulatory requisites Bell is contesting stipulate spending on local news and specify the number of hours per week stations should broadcast news reflective of local communities in both large and smaller markets. Bell’s application has called these requirements into question, indicating the possible erosion of local news coverage.
Bell Media owns 35 local television stations, including CTV, CTV Two, and Noovo, as well as three discretionary news services— CP24, CTV News Channel, and BNN Bloomberg. The company alleges these outlets are experiencing financial strain, and in response seeks to eliminate the mandate for English-language television stations in metropolitan areas to broadcast at least 14 hours of local programming weekly. Similarly, in Quebec, it wants to abandon the requirement to broadcast a minimum of five hours of weekly local programming at its station in Montreal.
Bell’s application also seeks to dispense with the need for major market stations, such as those in Toronto and Vancouver, to broadcast a minimum of six hours of locally-reflective news weekly. For stations outside major markets, Bell proposes reducing the three-hour minimum requirement. Moreover, it’s asking for a waiver from the obligation to dedicate 11% of the previous year’s gross revenues to acquiring or investing in local news.
The request comes amid substantial job cuts at Bell Media, amounting to a six percent reduction in staff. Dwayne Winseck, a professor at Carleton University’s school of journalism and communications, describes Bell’s move as “aggressive,” with potential adverse implications for local journalism. He criticizes the company for selectively highlighting less profitable parts of its business, while its telecommunications division remains lucrative.
In a secondary application, Bell has requested the CRTC reduce its obligation for Canadian content spending on English-language television stations from 30% to 20% of the previous year’s revenues. It also proposes a reduction in spending on programs of national interest from 7.5% to 5% of the previous year’s revenues.
Bell contends the CRTC’s implementation of the Online Streaming Act could potentially offer financial support via compensation from online streaming conglomerates such as Netflix. However, the company maintains it can’t wait much longer for the regulator’s deliberations on the new bill.
Information for this story was found via Bell Media. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.