OMNI Regional launches Sept. 1 amid controversy over contracting out newscasts
Union and community groups object to fact Chinese newscasts are being contracted out to Fairchild TV.
Canada’s newest television network, OMNI Regional, is expected to debut with a splash on Friday.
But the Rogers-owned station is already mired in controversy.
Rogers is accused by community groups, including the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, and the union representing OMNI workers of breaching CRTC conditions that granted the broadcaster a lucrative mandatory carriage licence.
The groups say by outsourcing its Chinese-language programming to a competitor, Rogers has reduced the diversity of voices for ethnic communities.
“This is not what was intended by the CRTC in granting this extraordinary licence,” says Nigel Barriffe, president of the Urban Alliance, in a statement to be released Friday and obtained by the Star. “Not only should the news be produced in Canada, but Rogers Media should produce it.”
The CRTC granted the licence that allows OMNI to be carried as part of basic digital TV packages so it could restore multilingual newscasts that were cancelled in a controversial move in 2015 that saw the broadcaster lay off workers.
That created a backlash from the public, the union and members of Parliament, including then defence minister Julian Fantino who called it a deep and “personal transgression” to the Italian community.
In its defence, the broadcaster said the network had become increasingly unprofitable. It replaced local news with current affairs shows that did not have original reporting. The special mandatory carriage licence is significant because it means Rogers will get an estimated $14 million in potential revenue from subscribers.
The broadcasts being restored include four daily 30-minute newscasts in Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese and Punjabi on the new OMNI Regional channel.
Manuel Fonseca, director of lifestyle and entertainment production for OMNI, said in a statement Thursday that the broadcaster was delivering a much needed service.
“Our commitment through OMNI Regional is to deliver much-needed language newscasts to as many Canadian households as possible, and our mission is to grant every citizen access to quality multicultural and multilingual programming — no matter where they live.”
A Rogers spokesperson confirmed that production will be contracted out to Vancouver-based Fairchild Television, which broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese. The national Italian newscast and local Punjabi programs will remain in house. However, the broadcaster says it remains open to working in collaboration with other ethnic news media in the future.
“We believe our arrangement with Fairchild is fully compliant with our licence requirements or we would not have entered into it,” a Rogers spokesperson told the Star. “We respect our licence obligations and understand the importance of compliance, particularly for a service of this exceptional nature.”
Community groups say OMNI coverage in the past has been relatively neutral: the CNN of the Chinese broadcasting world. Fairchild has a reputation for a more conservative bent and has been likened to FOX news.
News broadcasts have traditionally been one way for TV stations to brand their networks. It would be inconceivable for CBC to contract out its news to CTV, for example, say critics.
“Given the limited access to Chinese-language TV newscasts, it is outrageous that Rogers Media would contract out to the only other major broadcaster of Chinese-language newscasts to provide its own news teams, which it has done in the past,” says Avvy Go, director of the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, in a statement. “Handing off production . . . to Fairchild TV means eliminating the opportunity for differing views and possibly reducing access to local news by our communities.”
At issue is the definition of what “produced” means. Under the terms and conditions of licence, OMNI agreed to “produce and broadcast daily national 30-minute newscasts” in four languages. Whether this means in house or contracting out the work is up for interpretation. Rogers says it will retain “full editorial control” over the Fairchild newscasts.
“Why would you even want to subcontract out to your main competitor?” says Howard Law, media director for UNIFOR, the union that represents OMNI workers.
“To save money, the $20-billion company has decided to subcontract the reporting and production of the Chinese-language daily news to the lower paying Fairchild TV.”
Law says the union will file a complaint with the CRTC as well as a grievance with Rogers.