Canada’s Explosive Media Situation

The Canadian media industry and communications infrastructure is about to explode.

I’m finding it very difficult to defend the CBC in its current state. They’ve spent a lot of money outbidding companies like CTV on shows like Jeopardy, they’ve lost the National Anthem, er Hockey Night in Canada Theme to TSN, and they’ve dropped a raft of successful shows.

For these and other reasons, the CBC is going to run short of funds this year, despite a massive $65 billion deficit perpetrated by the Conservatives.

Of course, that’s just one-one-thousandth of the expected budget shortfall over the next two years, but the Conservatives will do everything they can to generate the most explosive politics from the situation.

They position themselves as great overseers of the market, free trade and other elements of neo-liberal economics and here they are, the greatest socialists on the planet.  Of course, you’d better be wearing caviar tuxedos when you go to the trough with this one.  In other words, people who aren’t friends of Conservatives (FOCers) need not line up.

That means if you’re in public broadcasting, hit the streets.  Chump.

I’ve heard rumours about a number of public programs and how much they cost the Canadian public on an annual basis.  Most of them suggest a figure in the $2-3 billion range. These taxpayer-funded pork-barrel programs for the media industry are positioned as thinly-veiled ‘Can Con’ initiatives.  Two of the more popular programs include the “Canadian TV and Video Tax Credit” and the “Canadian Magazine Fund”.  There are many, many other programs that divert, rechannel, misuse and abuse piles of Canadian cash, but we raraely hear about those programs.

To my knowledge, these programs have yet to come under any kind of intense public scrutiny.

I wonder why?

Is it because, like just a few days ago, when Heritage Minister James Moore announced more than $75 million in funding for Canadian magazines, most of that cash will go to fund major Canadian media players such as Transcontinental, Rogers and Quebecor?

Research:  http://www.cbc.ca/arts/media/story/2009/02/17/magazines-fund.html

Here’s just a sampling of the publications that will be ‘capped’ with a taxpayer subsidy of $1.5 million per year:

  • Canadian Living.
  • Maclean’s.
  • Western Producer.
  • Reader’s Digest.
  • House and Home.
  • Chatelaine.

Do I read this right? We give $1.5 per year to Maclean’s so that they can support people that become subject of Human Rights Tribunals?

Give me a break.

As one of millions of Canadians that want public radio, TV and web (skip the print – too many dead trees), I have to sit idly by while Conservatives load up the coffers for organizations that should go to the stock market for funding?

This is an issue that will get nuclear quickly unless we all work together to figure out a more sustainable way to manage our content, our media and our national identity.  Yes, our national identity.

The current CRTC hearings are focusing on tiny issues that remind me of the ‘pieces of the puzzle’ expression. Net neutrality: piece. Funding for SOCAN artists: piece.  CBC funding: piece . CanCon: piece.

All of these pieces need to be considered as a larger puzzle that we can put together if we want to.

Unfortunately, the current government would sooner light a match to the pile of TNT that sits under all of our media behinds and light it up with great glee.  They would sooner ruin one of the last remaining (and most successful) broadcasters on the planet, but their actions will invite intense scrutiny to the small handful of massive media conglomerates in this country that profit from our subsidies every year.

Other research:

http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/cavco/pgm/cipc-cptc/pubs/103-eng.cfm

http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/fcm-cmf/index-eng.cfm

(PS:  If you have other links that describe the details of funding for these and other programs, please let us know.  Either post a link in the comments or email info@exciteddelirium.ca))

8 comments on “Canada’s Explosive Media Situation

  1. Quick question, what is the billion dollars the CBC gets every year buying Canada? This seems to be missing from the entire conversation. I've been searching the financials for CBC but I cannot seem to get any idea of why exactally the CBC is getting this cash.
    Are they required to purchase Canadian programing…. have a transmitter in every small town…. they develope in house stuff obviously, is that required? Ad free CBC radio? The ability to have a show like Marketplace ad free(not any more but..)?
    James Moore, Minister of the 'lympics, was going on about the “billion” dollars piped into CBC every year and I think the other side of the story has yet to really be delivered to Canada… even by the CBC themselves….

  2. You know, you ask a really good question and I allude to the mystery that surrounds all public finance of media in this country, but didn't ask it specifically, so thank you for the comment.

    I felt a little defensive at first when I read your comment, but it does drill into the raison d'etre of the CBC and why they may have missed their mandate by buying US programming. What are they spending money on? What SHOULD they be spending money on? What CAN they spend money on that no one else is supporting (eg. BitTorrent distribution of shows)?

    The CBC would go a long way to garner support from Canadians if they were more transparent.

    Of course, once we start investigating the spending, we should have better accountability related to ALL of the organizations that are at the trough. At least the CBC is supposed to be public, but what about the dozen or so other companies that are privately-held but have agendas that are inconsistent with the public good?

    Another topic that I shied away from is the notion that a lot of funding does support smaller publications, possibly even those that have positions that contradict the Conservative mindset. Does this mean they'll lose all of their funding in the process?

    A spin on what I said: once we start asking a few questions, it becomes a really, really messy can of worms.

    The other take on the story: how can we improve Canada's media and communications infrastructure THROUGH the CBC? Can we expand the mandate of the CBC to be service provider, since Bell and Rogers have failed to exhibit neutrality? It's not a discussion that will get much momentum with our current government, but maybe the CBC needs to move away from content (since everyone is producing content these days) and focus more on infrastructure and accessibility.

  3. This is what the CBC is mandated to provide under the Broadcasting Act:

    (l) the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;

    (m) the programming provided by the Corporation should

    (i) be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,

    (ii) reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,

    (iii) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,

    (iv) be in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities,

    (v) strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French,

    (vi) contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,

    (vii) be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and

    (viii) reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada;

    http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/B-9.01/

    I worked for the Department in a number of positions and I was there when the Refundable Film & Television Tax Credit was introduced. It was designed to replace the former Capital Cost Allowance program that failed to deliver a strong and vibrant Canadian film and television industry with quality productions. The CCA was responsible for rewarding investors of some really crappy films and/or television productions that were produced cheaply in Canada for US broadcasters. It did little to bolster a fledgling industry in the two+ decades of its operations. Jokes of dentists investing in films as tax write-offs stem from this regime.

    There is no doubt that the tax credit as an industry stimulus works. Quebec introduced the first tax credit program, followed by the feds and Ontario. Eventually other provinces followed because the economic benefits were undeniable. It's a labour based formula, so tax payer investment is offset by tax revenue generated by income taxes.

    Although I didn't work on the development of the Magazine Fund, I did work on the WTO split-run magazine challenge (Time Warner) and the subsequent legislation that gave rise to the fund. There were very few options for controlling competition from US giants because of NAFTA and GATT obligations. Personally, I think a stronger case could have been made for “cultural” exemption before the WTO since there were some interesting cases based on foods being a cultural good exempt from direct foreign competition (rice in Japan for example). The government of the day was being pressured to come up with a solution from both the US and Canadian publishers. So this is the legislation we came up with, the Foreign Publishers Advertising Services Act:

    http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/showtdm/cs/F-29.6

    At the time, media concentration was not as entrenched as it is now but the trend was definitely there (but for some reason, the powers that be did not want to focus on that dimension). The largest publishers were definitely driving the demands for an advertising based solution because they were the ones in direct competition for ad revenues. Smaller and independent publications were justly pissed off that they weren't being given as much consideration but at the same time recognized that the collapse of the industry as a whole would also impact their ability to survive. Another aspect that many people fail to recognize is that there is a whole sub-industry of professional periodicals that also relies heavily on ad revenues and face the fiercest competition from foreign publishers. All this to say that it is an industry driven measure that sustains that sector and the Magazine Fund is peanuts compared to federal money that goes to support other industry sectors.

  4. Hi Beijing York:

    Thank you for this detail and thank you for your comments! This will keep me busy.

    When I posted this article, I was hoping to take this discussion to a higher level (which I think we are): most of the programs that all of us have mentioned above refer to the traditional media formats and I'm curious to see how we should encourage individuals to provide their own version of Canadian content. I don't feel these questions are being asked by the CRTC or other media critics, although I could be wrong.

    Once we start to appreciate that we might need to shift the focus of the CBC from one of programming to one of programmer, a lot of these funding questions can be diverted to questions like “what should we do to build a world-class infrastructure that supports world-class technology development and world-class User-Generated Content”?

    What do you think?

  5. I haven't worked for the feds for nearly 10 years so I have no idea of what their thinking is on new technology as it relates to culture and sovereignty. I certainly don't think there should be cancon rules and regs for the internet. There were programs to help organizations digitize their cultural collections, as well as other programs to help non-profits create web sites and to promote technological innovation, but I'm not sure where that stands to date. With the impending rough ride/collapse of traditional media,

    I think there is going to be pressure to make the internet a more commercial space in a traditional way. Newspapers may abandon their print edition and demand subscription or user fees for their online edition. Lots of professional periodicals do that already. The problem is that the ad to editorial to circulation formula is a completely different beast on the web. The background programming for lots of sites allows for customized ad generation (a la google) and the most successful sites are geared to creating maximum traffic – all done for free. Some newspapers tried to use the subscription model for their online editions and ended up giving that approach up in lieu for a subscription wall for accessing older articles.

    Right now, the internet is a thing of beauty in my opinion. I don't want to see the media/entertainment giants divvy up this unregulated open line of communications with control over content and distribution. Nor do I want to see governments stepping in to control or regulate how we use it.

  6. Hi BY:

    Thanks again for the feedback.

    I agree with you about the Internet: let's do our best to keep things open-source, void of government control and without shaping.

    That said, I hope to clarify my idea that maybe it's time for the CBC to get out of the content business and into the infrastructure business. If they make it easy for Canadians to produce their own content, we should see an explosion in Cancon and the situation remedies itself. Right? Maybe I'm being a little too naive.

    Anyways, thanks again.
    Happy Friday!
    Excited Delirium

  7. Canada’s Explosive Media Situation is a great entry to note. It has a lot of informative talks that are really valuable and practical. Carry on and looking forward reading more posts like this.

  8. I concur what a really well written article, thank you for sharing it.

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