Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I Say Make Em Pay

Last Friday the CRTC, our broadcast regulator, asked the federal government for a change to the law governing how it regulates TV networks, cable providers, radio broadcasters, etc. and requested the right to fine companies that don't follow regulations because (from THIS ARTICLE by Susan Krashinsky in the Globe & Mail), according to the CRTC "...too many companies in the broadcast system are breaking the rules..."

Too many companies? Wouldn't just one company be too many?

It's gotten embarrassing. Over the past several years we've seen networks arbitrarily change their programming to serve their need for more profit as opposed to continuing to service the conditions of license for channel they were assigned in first place. Or we've seen them make application after application to try to reduce their Canadian Content requirement percentages...these applications submitted after already making said reductions of course. And we've seen cable providers like Shaw Communications move channels around without 60 days notice or run advertising on community channels or on more than one occasion submit late payments to the Canada Media Fund which assists homegrown production. And don't get me started on the whole 'Save Local TV' vs 'Stop The TV tax' debacle....that shit should have earned everyone involved a big-ass fine.

The reduction of cable or TV network licence terms from seven years down to five or two years has been the only 'slap on the wrist' the CRTC has been able to impose on said guilty networks and cable providers, and it's meant nothing...rule-breaking continues to run rampant.

And I'm still trying to figure out Shaw's response in the Globe article to the CRTC's petition.

“It’s an interesting situation, the regulator appealing to the legislators,” said Ken Stein, head of regulatory affairs at Shaw. “…We don’t think fines are appropriate. I think the way to deal with things is for the chairman or the vice-chairman to pick up the phone. That’s the way it’s been done for 50 years.”

Pick up the phone and call to say: "Hey, you're breaking the rules!" To which the response has always seemed to be: "Uh, really? I don't think so. We'll get back to you on that. Or better yet, let's hold a hearing six months down the road and discuss it then." Yeah that's worked really well so far.

The article goes on to say:

The regulator’s issue is not only with cable companies. Since the beginning of this year, the CRTC has renewed 127 radio broadcast licences, and over half of those were given only short-term renewals because they had not complied with regulations – such as the requirement to keep program logs to show their stations were broadcasting at least 35 per cent Canadian content, for example.

Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein has also been vocal about the issue. Last April, in his presentation to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology in Ottawa, along with his comments on foreign ownership, Mr. von Finckenstein said the regulator should be able to fine companies, the same way it can telemarketers that violate the National Do Not Call List.

And I agree, even though some may disagree with me - the same some who feel the CRTC and Chairman Finckenstein serve no purpose and are only there to bow down and serve interests of the media conglomerates in this country. But I contest that if the CRTC were in fact in the back pocket of big media, they wouldn't be petitioning for right to fine the rule-breakers. They wouldn't be asking the government for the power.

I've written HERE BEFORE on the blog about the CRTC having no teeth and needing a bigger bat...hell, any bat...so they can not only police but actually enforce the broadcasting rules and regulations that currently exist out there.

But in order to give the CRTC the power to impose monetary penalties, Parliament would have to pass an amendment to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Act. I say Parliament should give the CRTC the power, and put no maximum on the fine amount. Why no maximum? Because with cable providers like Shaw and Bell and Rogers having gobbled up the majority of Canadian TV networks recently, a small fine will just be a drop in the bucket to these guys.

Make em pay...big. And let's see if that has any effect on them all playing by the rules. Hell, it certainly can't hurt. And if Parliament won't grant the power, well then maybe it is the time to look at disbanding the CRTC.

1 comment:

Clint Johnson said...

We can have a more beneficial effect without adding more rules, regulations and giving more power to bureaucrats.

Gradually take away the barriers against foreign networks sending their content into Canada.

First, stop the geoblocking and allow the foreign (read American) networks the ability to stream their own shows into Canada and sell through channels like iTunes.ca, Hulu and XBox Live. At this point they will still make more money off selling the window to Canadian networks but it would allow them to give us access to shows that aren't bought up here- like 'Terriers'.

Then, phase out substitution and let the American's sell commercial space on the channel they have here rather than mandate the Canadian networks simply shove their own commercials in there.

The Canadian networks insist that the only way they can afford to create their own shows is with the profits they make from the protection racket set up with the CRTC. Since they are simply using the profits to fly down to LA and buy more American shows, we can dismiss that argument right off the bat.

As long as they are protected from American networks and make most of their revenue from American shows, they will never create anything more than the bare minimum required by law. In fact, they will fight tooth and nail to avoid even that much. The way things are set up, they are fiscally irresponsible to waste money on creating Canadian content.

They won't have to be threatened, cajoled or pleaded with to create original content- they will create or go out of business. As a side benefit, the shows they create will actually have to generate an audience outside of the CRTC bean counters who are simply concerned that the forms are filled out correctly.