Unifor files complaint with CRTC, alleges Rogers is breaking licence

Fairchild TV Studio, Richmond Hill, ON. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Raysonho

The union representing workers at Rogers Media-owned OMNI Television has filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) alleging the company is violating its broadcast licence by contracting work out to a competitor.

Unifor locals 723M and 830M filed the complaint on October 2. The union is asking the CRTC to hold a hearing to determine whether Rogers Media has violated its licence agreement. If the commission finds Rogers has breached the agreement, the union wants the CRTC to order the broadcaster to follow the commission's orders.

In May, the CRTC granted Rogers a three-year licence for OMNI Regional, television broadcasts that would air programs in Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian and Punjabi. To help pay for this, the company would receive 12 cents from each cable subscriber per month. The commission also ordered all cable providers to broadcast the programs. The licence includes a requirement that the company produce and broadcast half-hour national news programs each day in Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian and Punjabi. These new shows began airing on September 1.

But, the union says, Rogers was not producing the Cantonese and Mandarin news programs. Instead, Rogers contracted Fairchild TV, a Canadian Cantonese language specialty channel, to produce the programs.

The complaint alleges that Rogers informed the union of its decision to use Fairchild in July, despite the fact that one year earlier, the company had informed the union Rogers would produce the shows in-house. 

Howard Law, Media Director for Unifor, argues that this violates the licence agreement stipulating Rogers would produce the programming in-house. "It's a promise, made to the public, to Canada," Law says. "You're supposed to keep your promises."

Rogers claims it has not violated the agreement. In an emailed statement to rabble.ca, the company said that using an established outside company would put Rogers in a "better position to offer Canadians access to quality multicultural and multilingual programming no matter where they live." The statement argues that the arrangement with Fairchild TV does not violate the licence agreement, and that if it did, Rogers would not have agreed to it. Rogers is also required to produce Chinese current affairs shows. The company statement says these are being produced in-house.

Rogers has yet to file a response to the CRTC.

Job losses stem from Fairchild TV contract
The agreement between Rogers and Fairchild TV has, indirectly, created job losses, says Law.

In May 2015, Rogers laid off more than 100 workers when it cancelled several of its OMNI programs, saying they were not making enough money. Many of those positions returned when Rogers was given its licence for OMNI Regional this past May. But jobs for the production of Mandarin and Cantonese news shows were not restored. Instead, Fairchild TV hired workers who are not Rogers employees or members of the union, the complaint to the CRTC alleges.

Chinese community groups are also concerned about Rogers' contracting out its Chinese news programming.

Avvy Go, Clinic Director at the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto, says it doesn't make sense for a company to hire a competitor to do its work. Go says that Rogers' decision would be like CBC hiring CTV to produce its news shows. The Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, along with the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, has also filed a complaint with the CRTC, demanding a public hearing into Rogers' actions. Contracting out news programs to Fairchild TV greatly decreases the diversity of Chinese television news, especially since Fairchild TV and OMNI are the two main Chinese television news broadcasters in Canada, said Go.

News reports also need to be free of obvious political biases, regardless of the opinions of people who work at the broadcasters, Go said. Go explained that she is not confident that Fairchild's reporting is always free of bias, arguing that the network's coverage of former prime minister Stephen Harper was uncritical.

"We watch news because we want to know what's happening," Go said. "If I want to watch something with a political analysis, I'll watch political analysis programs."

Rita Giang, Fairchild TV's News Director, is known for her strong conservative political views. Unifor provided translations of Giang's blog posts as part of its complaint to the CRTC. A post from 2014 explicitly directs readers to vote for Ontario Progressive Conservatives candidates in the provincial election. Giang's posts also repeatedly describe mainstream media as "left-leaning" or "liberal," regardless of the topic. One post claims the CBC and theToronto Star helped Justin Trudeau become Prime Minister, and alleges the publications have failed to criticize him since his election, the post says. Another accuses the media of fabricating stories about Brian Mulroney. In one, Giang says the media contributed to the death of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Others criticize negative reports about U.S. President Donald Trump.

"If Fairchild wants the licence, then they should come and try to get it," said Law, arguing that this would allow the public insight into Fairchild TV's News Director's opinions and be able to comment on the licence. Instead, Rogers allowed Fairchild to produce the programs after promising to do so itself.

Alvis Choi, Executive Director of the Toronto chapter of the Chinese-Canadian National Council, echoed Go's concern about lack of diversity in Chinese news programming. Social justice can only advance if more progressive voices are also heard, Choi said. The organization has not filed a complaint with the CRTC. 

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Raysonho

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