Radio-Canada addresses backlash over brand change

MONTREAL – The French-language CBC sought to calm a backlash over its rebranding efforts following complaints from top to bottom within the organization.

Radio-Canada issued a statement late Thursday after fielding complaints from the federal cabinet table to the shop floor, with one of its own workers’ unions condemning a move that also drew a fair bit of public ridicule online.

The organization moved to insist its historic name will remain prominent.

The organization’s executive vice-president said in a statement that he wanted to correct “misperceptions” that the organization was changing its name.

Louis Lalande said it’s not. He said the new brand name “Ici” — French for, “Here” — will be part of the identity but the organizational name won’t otherwise change.

“The organization is called Radio-Canada,” he said in a statement.

“On my new business card, and those of all my colleagues, you will find the words, ‘Ici Radio-Canada.’ We are immensely proud of our name and its heritage.”

The marketing effort has sown considerable confusion. Radio-Canada employees themselves have not been immune to that bewilderment.

Just a day earlier, there was a screen crawl on the organization’s all-news network declaring, “Bye Bye Radio-Canada.”

A union representing Radio-Canada workers, meanwhile, said it was “firmly” opposed to the new moniker. Some employees also grumbled privately on their own social networks about the new brand, as did viewers and listeners.

Beneath a story on Radio-Canada’s own website, comments condemning the switch were getting approximately 15 clicks of support from other readers for each one that disagreed.

Radio-Canada management was being sandwiched from both sides: it wasn’t just their workers’ union complaining, but also their political boss.

Heritage Minister James Moore repeated a warning that Radio-Canada had better tread carefully. He said he spoke to CBC president Hubert Lacroix again Thursday.

“I spoke to the head of Radio-Canada and I said that it must clearly be Canadian,” Moore told the House of Commons.

Much of the reaction in blogs and online commentary has been about the removal of the word “Canada” from the brand identity.

There has always been rampant speculation about the French network’s political leanings over the years, and its prominent role in the country’s political history has done little to assuage that.

Two recent Quebec City bureau chiefs now hold ministerial positions in the Parti Quebecois government, and that pro-independence party was founded by a 1960s Radio-Canada star, Rene Levesque.

On the other hand, a number of former employees have belonged to pro-Canada parties and cabinets, and several have even held the role of governor general.

Conservative Maxime Bernier was more scathing than his colleague Moore, saying he was “insulted and outraged” by the decision. He urged the Crown corporation to reconsider.

The employees’ labour union questioned the timing.

It noted that the marketing effort cost more than $400,000 at a difficult financial moment marked by job cuts, federal cutbacks, and turmoil in the media landscape.

Radio-Canada can’t say how much it actually spent on the exercise, beyond the $400,000 for external consultants while stressing that 95 per cent of the overall work is being covered by other, existing communications budgets.

“In this period of job losses and budget cuts this decision is just unwelcome and inappropriate,” said the Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada, the broadcaster’s communications union.

The union also said the move obscures a treasured brand.

“This new name also sows confusion among the public, which has known, watched, and loved Radio-Canada for almost 80 years now,” it said in a statement.

The public broadcaster has argued that the word, “Ici,” is also part of the network’s history. It says it has used the slogan, “Ici Radio-Canada,” since the 1930s.

“Radio-Canada doesn’t go away, ICI is added,” Lalande said in the statement.

He said the media landscape is changing quickly with more speciality channels and digital platforms being added to the mix. Radio-Canada itself has four TV networks, two radio networks and four digital platforms with more to come.

“In this context, adopting a simple, consistent brand identity — a common denominator for all Radio-Canada platforms — is necessary to ensure a strong place for the public broadcaster and its distinctive content,” Lalande said.

Opposition parties, however, joined the government in criticizing the decision.

Quebec Liberal lieutenant Marc Garneau said he wasn’t surprised by the blowback. He added, however, that Radio-Canada was an arm’s length institution.

“It’s an iconic institution, not only in Quebec — primarily in Quebec — but also outside Quebec,” said Garneau, the Liberal industry critic.

“Changing the name is something that some people are going to be upset about, quite a few people, but they are technically allowed to do it. I personally would prefer if it stayed Radio-Canada, but I’m just a citizen in that respect.”

The New Democratic Party’s heritage critic, Pierre Nantel, said he also thinks Radio-Canada is a very strong brand and shouldn’t be tinkered with.

“Obviously everybody is reacting strongly. And it shows I’m not alone in thinking Radio-Canada is a strong brand. Don’t play with a big brand like this,” he said.

He added, however, that Radio-Canada is free to change its brand if it wants to.

He also warned the Conservatives not to try taking advantage of any backlash over the name change to threaten funding cuts.

French-language reaction in Quebec was less than glowing.

A story in Le Devoir newspaper, meanwhile, began: “The unthinkable, the unbelievable, the inconceivable is happening…”

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