- Howard Law
FAREWELL JEAN-PIERRE BLAIS
The adieu of a prematurely exiting senior bureaucrat is not a pretty sight. Take the case of Jean-Pierre Blais, the departing Chair of Canada’s broadcasting and telecom regulator the CRTC.
In his speech to the Banff World Media Festival on June 13th, Mr. Blais defiantly defended his five-year legacy, proclaimed his vision of the future, and ripped his critics as personally as he felt disrespected during his leadership of the Commission.
In his 6,000-word speech he admonished broadcasting executives sitting in the crowd to pay attention to broadband and connectivity, in case they hadn’t quite noticed which direction their multi-billion dollar industry was taking. He went on to itemize how he, Jean-Pierre Blais, personally lead Canada into the Internet future, ruling after ruling.
No thanks to his critics, mind you. “Here I am speaking to companies, guilds, associations, and unions,” he said, whose “private commercial interests” are in opposition to “Canadian subscribers and taxpayers.”
Even worse, his critics apparently use “fake news to discredit their opponents and direct attention away from more significant issues. I know of this first hand at a very personal level.”
He feels wounded, you see.
It may be that Mr. Blais was not much loved during his reign at the CRTC. It’s interesting that some civil servants who served with him years ago at the Heritage Department describe him warmly as a collegial and open-minded fellow. But anyone who watched him run a CRTC hearing could not help notice how driven he was to convince everyone he was the smartest guy in the room.
As for his critics, yes I am one. Mr. Blais did nothing for local TV news despite having every opportunity to do so. His legacy on local TV was little more than loosening licencing rules to allow (but not force) broadcasters to divert CanCon dollars from community TV and specialty channels to local news. Meanwhile he gave finger-wagging public speeches about the importance of local news to our democratic society and the corporate responsibility to support journalism.
His “bold prediction” that "print journalism is about to end” might be the best illustration of the gap between reality and Mr Blais' self-image when it comes to local news.
Of course print journalism will end. That’s hardly a revelation, nor is it the point. The question is: will journalism survive in a digital future?
There isn’t a clear answer to that question in any western democracy, given the collapse of the advertising-based business model for print journalism and the declining finances of TV journalism. As Google and Facebook devour the world’s online advertising market, most industry spokespersons ---all of whom Blais says you should ignore--- are telling government that journalism won’t survive without government aid.
Blais will have none of it, saying government should not fund newsgathering. He questions whether there is even “a role for government in culture.” With his libertarian colours in full plumage, Mr. Blais describes himself as “speaking truth to power” which seems to mean anyone who disagrees with him. If he pops up at the Fraser Institute or some other conservative think-tank in the near future, expect to hear more of the same.
An under-investigated policy issue is how much money might be delivered by a Media Bargaining Code requiring Google and Facebook to share revenue with Canadian media outlets, otherwise known as pay-fo