By Greg O’Brien
IT MAY BE 41 YEARS since he made the statement in that headline – during the famous first hearing into making Canadian radio and TV far more Canadian in content and ownership, but former CRTC chair and CBC CEO Pierre Juneau stands by it.
“All broadcasting should be Canadian, should be owned by Canadians, and should contain a percentage of Canadians,” he said just last week in an interview with Cartt.ca.
The Cancon argument dates back well past that historic 1970 hearing and has, amazingly, not abated or seemingly changed one bit as broadcasters this week freshly and further picked at the issue during their license hearings in Gatineau.
Back in 1968 Canada’s new Broadcasting Act was passed, creating the CRTC (then, the Canadian Radio Television Commission, which in 1976 became the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) and Pierre Juneau was appointed its first chairman. Also that year, it turns out, your faithful reporter was born.
All that means is the policies Juneau and his contemporaries built absolutely shaped the Canadian experience of my generation. Everything we saw on television and heard on the radio in the course of our lives has been ultimately guided by the first policies created and nurtured by M Juneau’s CRTC and the industry it regulated.
Sure, the law and many of those policies have been altered and updated over the decades, but Juneau (pictured) is widely credited for helping lay the foundation for the healthy music scene we have in Canada today, for example. Many in the music business in Canada agree their industry grew strongly in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s thanks to the 30% Canadian content demands the CRTC placed on radio stations beginning in 1971 as a result of that radio and television hearing. As a bit of a reward, as many know, the Juno Awards were a hat-tip to M Juneau when re-named by (now defunct) RPM magazine’s Walt Grealis and Stan Klees.
THE EARLY CRTC HE OVERSAW was tasked early on by the nascent Trudeau federal government with stemming the tide of American electronic media, getting more Canadian-made shows on TV and kicking foreign ownership out of Canadian broadcasting and those young whipper-snapper cable companies. It was difficult and contentious, but backed by the new law, Juneau and his team pulled it off and Canada was able to build its own distinct radio and TV industries (although not one without its ongoing challenges), protected by regulation.
It’s easy – and very wrong – to dismiss the CRTC of Juneau’s time as irrelevant relics of the past. The arrogance we smug 2011 technophiles sometimes emit is palpable when we talk about the “revolution” going on now, what with our fancy iPads, Androids and BlackBerrys, Twitters, Googles and Facebooks.
This is unlike any other age, many of us are certain. We are, in a word, wrong – because revolutionary change permeates every era. Every generation thinks theirs faced changes and challenges that top all others and Juneau’s generation feels the same.
The 1950s, ’60s and ’70s were as full of technical and cultural shifts as any other. It saw the dawn of television, computers, FM radio, cable and satellite television, and fibre optics (to say nothing about the Space Race and scary new mass weaponry) – all transformative technologies which folks then struggled with just as much as we try to adapt to change now. So, it’s rather instructive to take a look back at the career of the man who was the first CRTC chair, to examine the changes he underwent and undertook over his career, a career which also included a seven-year stint in as president of the CBC, where he ended up having to face down new Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who slashed the CBC’s budget by some $100 million.
Juneau was even Minister of Communications for a few months in 1975 under Pierre Trudeau, but resigned as minister after failing to win a seat in a by-election.
JUNEAU ACTUALLY STUDIED philosophy, first in Montreal and later in Paris. He had little desire to be a teacher or professor, but loved the arts and culture in general. “I knew I wasn’t an artist, but I was interested in culture,” he said during our interview in his home in Montreal where he lives with his wife of 64 years, Fernande. “I wasn’t interested really into teaching, but I was interested in culture, in life, the importance of culture in life, and that was my interest in Paris.”
While there, he was offered a job in 1950 that set him on his career path – with the National Film Board.
His first two months in that job mostly involved seeing as many of the NFB films as he could and reading as much of the board’s library as possible, after which he was sent to Montreal to establish the NFB’s beachhead in Quebec and get NFB works shown in as many places as possible.
Then after a two year stint in London spreading the NFB into Europe, Juneau was brought back to Canada to establish a full French-language arm of the NFB. “Among the things that I’m proud of was everything at the film board then was in English. If you were a film producer, film director, filmmaker at the film board, you had to appear before a committee to present a plan… and they would discuss your project and approve or disapprove all in English. And some of the French filmmakers, were not very good in English, so it got a bit awkward,” recalls the 88-year-old.
“It took a while, but… one day, I said, ‘Listen, it’s about time that we set up a francophone section’,” and shortly thereafter, Juneau was placed in charge of what would become the ONF. (And while Juneau doesn’t do any online film watching, he thinks it’s pretty nifty that anyone can watch NFB content anywhere and anytime we like. That makes spreading the NFB content a lot easier than when he was doing it in the ’50s.)
Juneau was with the NFB until 1964 when he was named vice-chair of the Board of Broadcast Governors, the precursor to the CRTC and in 1968 when the CRTC was created, named the first chairman and set about to Canadianize an industry.
“At that time, just to give you a few examples, the main Anglophone station in Montreal was British-owned. The main francophone station in Quebec City and the Anglophone station belonged to an American organization – and it was like that all over the country,” he said. The new law said companies had to be 80% Canadian-owned and with so many majority- or outright-owned by Americans, it was a big job. “The orders we got was it had to be done as fast as possible and it took about two years because we had to call each of them to a hearing.
“They would come and apply, and try to get an exception or whatever… and we of course never accepted any exceptions.”
BESIDES OWNERSHIP, THE biggest battle was to get Canadian content on the airwaves. Then, as now, Canadian broadcasters resisted. Then, as now, they find it more profitable to show American programming in prime time and had to be forced to make and air Cancon.
Juneau credits former commissioner Gordon Hughes (of Nova Scotia) with distilling the issue at hand at the time. He recalled Hughes noting in a public forum that he was in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II then saying: “When I came back to Canada, I went to see all the films on the war because I had been so much impressed with that experience,” Juneau remembers Hughes’ recounting. “And he said, ‘You know, during all the time that I saw all those foreign films, I never saw a Canadian soldier.’
And that, said Juneau, made the broadcasting company owners stop and think – and the new policy released in 1970 called for 60% Cancon in prime time.
As he himself said then, as noted by the CBC archives, “The Canadian broadcasting system should be used essentially, basically, predominantly, to help Canadians communicate among themselves.”
Juneau adds he’s not a fan of the vertical integration that has been allowed to happen over the years, making big companies bigger and causing a serious decline in real local expression. “I would have done my best to avoid that,” he told us. “We put a lot of emphasis on the importance of regional stations, and for the regional stations to have programs of their own about their own areas, yes. That was crucial in our mind at the time.”
This applies to the consolidation of cable, too, since during his time at the CRTC, Juneau was a proponent of grassroots community access cable, much of which has gone away as cablecos merged and grew.
And asked what he thinks of the recent pushes to increase foreign ownership in telecom and broadcasting here? “Ridiculous,” he said.
After leaving the CRTC in 1975 (his vice-chair broadcasting Harry Boyle took over and telecom was added to the Commission’s purview) and his attempt at running for office, Juneau ended up as a policy advisor for Prime Minister Trudeau, chair of the National Capital Commission and deputy minister of communications.
IN 1982 HOWEVER, HE was appointed president and CEO of the CBC and immediately undertook some housecleaning. He instituted a number of professional business policies (the previous president, Al Johnson, was a university professor, not a businessman), let some people go and under his watch, the CBC centre was built in Toronto and CBC Newsworld launched. In fact, Juneau’s last day at the CBC in 1989 was Newsworld’s first day on air.
But in the middle of his mandate, the Liberal government under which he flourished (Prime Minister Trudeau was a long-time friend) was tossed out of office, replaced with the Conservatives, led by Brian Mulroney – and they made it clear they wanted Juneau out.
“I never had any direct difficulties with Mr. Mulroney,” he said, “but rumours were going around as to what the attitude of the new government might be. And so even close friends of mine… would come to see me in a very friendly way and they would say, ‘Well, they’re going to be very tough on the budget of the CBC. And in the interest of the CBC, you should think of leaving CBC, resigning from the CBC, to save the CBC’,” remembers Juneau.
“And I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry. I don’t agree with that theory at all.’ The independence of the management and this president of the CBC is the symbol of the independence of the CBC, and it has worked up until now when the heads of the CBC have had the guts to maintain their position, whatever the situation.”
He was invited to resign by two successive high-ranking Conservatives and each time, he told them he wasn’t leaving.
“The president of CBC is independent, and he doesn’t resign just because they don’t like him,” he added.
The heat eventually subsided, helped by the fact, recalls a thankful Juneau, that Baton Broadcasting’s John Bassett and Ted Rogers, both Conservative supporters, publicly called for people to back off.
IT’S CLEAR THAT IF YOU brought a 1971 era broadcaster or regulator suddenly forward in time to 2011, this could seem like the Jetsons come to life and that broadcaster might well be very frightened at what new technology is doing to traditional media (adding opportunity while threatening established business plans). Despite all that, what is clear is that M Juneau, Boyle and their contemporaries did more right than wrong in shaping policy that allowed Canadians to build their own industry and their own content, despite the challenge of living in the shadow of the world’s largest cultural exporter, the USA.
So with a half-completed group license process, a new vertical integration hearing coming in June, coupled with all the new media possibilities that surround us and the ongoing usage-based billing fight feeding today’s converged state of affairs and endless complaining, perhaps something M Juneau said back in 1970 in a CBC Radio report can help understand what to do next, and maybe think about every day:
“Isn’t it about time we all took a look at this thing (broadcasting) to see whether or not it is performing the best service possible for the people of this country, under today’s circumstances?”
Cartt.ca would like to thank the Canadian Communications Foundation for some of the background facts and other help with this story.