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Cuts to Radio Canada International can only hurt Canada’s image and influence abroad

Filed in Opinion by on 2nd Mar 2021
Cuts to Radio Canada International can only hurt Canada’s image and influence abroad

Cuts to Radio Canada International can only hurt Canada’s image and influence abroad

Politicians proclaim the world needs more Canada, then complain when they learn the world does not know enough about us.

Beset by a pandemic and hemmed in by America-first administrations in Washington, the shrinking horizons of Canadian foreign policy have seemingly exhausted the Liberal government’s global ambitions. Politicians proclaim the world needs more Canada, then complain when they learn the world does not know enough about us.

If Canada was rejected by the global community in its bid to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council, perhaps it is because the world does not recognize us and how we have changed over the last 20 years: our diversity, our economic strengths, our liberal democratic values, our respect for the rule of law, and our love of hockey.

Most troubling is the decision by the CBC to force Radio Canada International (RCI) to abandon its mandate of producing programming for international audiences. Imagine the BBC World Service being told to stop being a “world service.” 

Peaceful protest in Beijing before Red Army attack 04 June 1989

The RCI decision is an example of the CBC echoing federal government cutting or curtailing instruments of soft power that could achieve the simultaneous goals of projecting Canadian values and undertaking more effective direct diplomacy.

In 1990, RCI had a staff of 200, trained to offer programming specifically prepared and tailored for international audiences in 14 languages. When the dust settles on CBC’s “major transformation,” Canada’s “Voice to the World” will have nine employees, translating texts from the CBC and Radio-Canada websites nominally for global audiences.

This transformation has a clear, yet worrisome agenda, focused as it is on diaspora communities and media in Canada, which is not part of RCI’s mandate. For the first time in 75 years of RCI’s history, there will be no producer, journalist or production staff working in English or French.

Despite Canada’s international priorities and multilateral relations, CBC cut RCI services to Japan, Germany, Brazil, Russia and the Ukraine, among others. In 2012, in violation of Order in Council 2003-0358, the CBC forced RCI to stop being a radio station broadcasting on shortwave. As a result, Canada lost almost all of its Chinese audience.

In a world beset by geopolitical rivalries, the ability to directly engage local populations abroad, free of interference, is absolutely essential. The RCI has a role to play as a truthful source of information, particularly for areas of the world where that information is both limited and distorted.

Open letter to PM, Ministers call for international service to be strengthened, not cut

RCI Newsroom, Nobody home

The change in RCI’s funding and mandate is reflective of a widespread tendency by governments and organizations such as the CBC to trumpet the advantages of the digital world and its access to the globe, with little thought to what connecting with others is all about.

Here, the role of RCI remains vital as a source of information in troubled times. Its programming, since its inception, has been tailored to help international audiences understand Canada’s reality. Whether this content comes through shortwave radio broadcasts, satellite, the Internet, podcasts or mobile apps, it is the content that matters.

This is not the time for retreat. Consider a situation some 30 years ago that mirrors current events. Following the attack by Chinese authorities on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the federal government decided that RCI would start its Chinese service in earnest, stating at the time: “We will be joining Radio Australia, Voice of America and the BBC in our collective effort to keep the truth alive.” In an era of disinformation when even the major social media players cannot be counted on for messaging the truth, RCI has an important role to play as part of Canada ‘s “alliance of values.”

In an interconnected world in search of truth, facts and honest journalism, countries such as Canada cannot abdicate their role on the world stage. Retrenchment is not an option. RCI, despite being a bare shadow of its former self, must be made whole again.

David Carment is Editor of the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal and Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Trump – Summits

Filed in Perspectives by on 23rd Jul 2018 0 Comments
Trump – Summits

It’s almost impossible not to have an opinion about Donald Trump. Those who elected him think they made the right choice, and with exceptions, tend to overlook his unorthodox approach to politics. Those who didn’t vote for him are dismayed at his ignorance, his attacks on immigrants, his disdain for women, diplomacy and international accords, and how he treats his allies. They are also dismayed at his praise of authoritarian leaders such as Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.  In America’s heartland where voters see him as the man who will bring back jobs and prosperity, Trump is a hero. Elsewhere, Trump is described by such words as ignorant, clinically insane, uninformed, a bull in a china shop, inept, isolationist and treasonous.

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North Korea: Breaking The Impasse

Filed in Articles by on 3rd Sep 2017 6 Comments
North Korea: Breaking The Impasse

North Korea has once again raised international tensions with its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. In Washington, President Donald Trump reacted quickly calling North Korea a rogue nation that continues to be hostile and dangerous to the United States. He also said “Appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing”. In August Trump vowed to stop North Korea if it didn’t stop its nuclear development. Describing the test as a “perfect success”, North Korea announced on state television that it had tested a hydrogen bomb designed for use on its new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Japanese and South Korean officials say the test registered as an earthquake about ten times more powerful than North Korea’s last nuclear test a year ago.  Continue Reading »

Deceptive Narratives

Filed in Perspectives by on 25th Aug 2017 4 Comments
Deceptive Narratives

In politics, and especially in international relations, what you see is not always what you get. Recently, in a televised address from a US military base in Fort Myer, Virginia, President Donald Trump announced that he would send more troops to Afghanistan. Even though Trump called for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan during his election campaign for the presidency, he said that he had changed his mind and planned to step up the war against Islamic terrorism. Trump said that Afghanistan would come under greater pressure to reform its military, and root out corruption in its bureaucracy. “Our support is not a blank cheque. Our patience is not unlimited.” He also said that Pakistan had to stop providing a haven for terrorists, warning that Islamabad would have “much to lose” if it didn’t comply. Citing “principled realism”, Trump said his approach was different from the Obama administration because it allowed military commanders to make key decisions based on “conditions on the ground and not arbitrary timetables”. There were few details about how many troops would be sent, or how long they would stay in Afghanistan. However, in June 2017 Trump agreed to increase the current US force of 4800 soldiers in Afghanistan by 3900. The Pentagon delayed the extra deployment while awaiting a strategy. The US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, said in addition to the extra deployment, several NATO allies have also “committed to increasing their troop numbers” above the current thirteen-thousand NATO troops in Afghanistan. Continue Reading »

Washington Manoeuvres

Filed in Perspectives by on 17th Aug 2017 3 Comments
Washington Manoeuvres

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang appear to have gone down a notch from boil to simmer as diplomatic efforts continue in an effort to prevent full-scale conflict. After days of incendiary comments from the leaders of the United States and North Korea, both seem to be stepping back a step. After receiving plans from his generals to launch missiles into waters off the US territory of Guam, North Korea’s state news agency says Pyongyang will monitor what the United States does next before deciding whether to launch the missiles. Kim Jong Un says he will go through with the launch if the “Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity.” Less than a week earlier, Kim Jong Un threatened to fire missiles at Guam after President Donald Trump warned North Korea that it would “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it makes more threats against the United States. Days after his warning President Trump played down tensions with North Korea by announcing an investigation into China’s trade practices. With what seems a deliberate distraction caused by Trump’s ambiguous statements on violence at a Unite-the-Right rally in Virginia, the public seems to have forgotten the situation in North Korea. Continue Reading »