Submission to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage
by Jacques Bensimon
Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson of the NFB

New Media, new Broadcast Challenges and
A New Approach from the National Film Board of Canada

September 10, 2001

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is making a timely assessment of the broadcasting system and its success in meeting the objectives of the Broadcasting Act of 1991. The last comprehensive study was the 1986 Task Force on Broadcasting Policy (Caplan-Sauvageau). Its recommendations reinforced the need for a broadcasting system that holistically supports national cohesion by developing awareness of Canada, reflecting cultural diversity, providing a wide range of Canadian content programming, and providing for a continuing expression of Canadian identity. The Caplan-Sauvageau Task Force further recommended a broadcasting system that would serve the special needs of geographic regions and actively contribute to the flow and exchange of information among regions.

The ensuing amendments to the Broadcasting Act served several purposes. They strengthened broadcasters' Canadian content responsibilities, reinforced the CBC's role within the system's fragile ecology, and paved the way for new players while continuing to restrict foreign ownership. The 1991 amendments even ensured the possibility of alternative channels to balance the offerings of conventional, specialty and pay television in order to offer a wider range of quality Canadian programming.

What the Act could not do, however, was predict the vast changes looming for the system. The "information highway" laid the way for the Internet revolution, whose liberating and democratizing technology has had, and will have, unfathomable ramifications for global communications.

Canada must update its broadcasting legislation to ensure that the social and cultural policy goals of distinctive Canadian programming, quality, social cohesion, and inclusion carried out through a public/private model are truly applied throughout the system, including the Internet, and specialty services.

The National Film Board of Canada, as a national cultural institution, has a role to play within a strengthened public private model. The NFB was established in 1939 to produce, distribute and promote films designed to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations, to represent the Government of Canada in its relations with filmmakers, to engage in research in film activities, and to advise the Governor-in-Council in connection with film activities. It is in our capacity as a public institution mandated to produce Canadian stories on film and digital media, and in our role as a research center and advisor on film matters, that we present this submission to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.