The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage wrapped up its lengthy hearing on the media and local news last week with appearances from Facebook, Google, and the Globe and Mail (I appeared before the committee last month and my opening comments and review of the discussion that followed can be found here). The high profile witnesses sparked another round of debate over the ongoing troubles in the newspaper industry with intensifying criticism of the CBC’s emphasis on digital news services, including a new opinion section and its acceptance of digital advertising, which are both viewed as direct competition for the struggling private sector alternatives.
For example, Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley told the committee that the CBC is the Globe’s largest competitor in the digital ad space. He expressed concern over the inclusion of opinion, which is viewed as further encroaching on newspapers’ turf, and pointed to the BBC’s approach, which faces government-backed restrictions on accepting digital advertising on its domestic websites. The CBC criticism has emerged as a common theme for several years with many media organizations and commentators arguing that CBC should not be in the business of competing with newspapers.
The CBC responded on Monday with a letter to the committee titled “limiting access to the digital public space is not in the public interest.” The CBC argued that given the struggles of smaller papers, its online presence is more important than ever. Further, it tried to downplay the significance of its digital advertising revenue, arguing that it amounts to $25 million annually, a very small share of the total digital advertising expenditures in Canada.