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The Heritage Minister’s Review of media and cultural industries, and why you should care

In 2016, a major development CMG is keeping a close eye on is Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly’s review of Canadian media and cultural industries. The minister announced the sweeping review in April 2016, saying “everything is on the table” and that all of Canada’s cultural institutions, policies, broadcast and telecommunications legislation could be overhauled.

This includes CBC/Radio-Canada’s mandate – and presumably its funding – as well as the rules that govern the production of Canadian programming on radio and television across the board. The current system was set up to support the development of a Canadian industry, and to ensure it was not smothered by the robustly financed U.S. entertainment juggernaut.

All of this means the next few years of a Liberal government could bring about significant and long-term change for Canada’s media, news and cultural sectors. In the case of the CBC, if the Liberals accept current CBC President Hubert Lacroix’s 2020 proposal to take resources out of radio and television programming in order to focus only on an online CBC, we could see a much diminished public broadcaster without in-house production, presence on important platforms or any real commitment to local news.

Part one of Minister Joly’s review – now completed – was a national survey  that seemed to emphasize a free-market approach and support for Canadian programming that could compete on the global market (more generic Hollywood hit potential, as it has been described to me.)

In a second phase, Minister Joly appointed a panel of “industry experts”, who are expected to hold six workshops across Canada. The 12-person panel has been called a sounding board and it includes representatives from the industry – from APTN, Rogers, Ryerson, TVO, National Film Board and CPAC, to independent producers, private production DHX Media, and Secret City records.

It’s an advisory group that could play a key role in shaping the upcoming policy decisions in this area, and yet there is no one on it directly representing the CBC, even though the public broadcaster has been called Canada’s most significant cultural institution and its mandate may be the most substantial issue under review.

In a related but separate initiative, the minister also hired the Public Policy Forum (PPF), led by former Globe and Mail Editor Edward Greenspon, to study the future of journalism. It’s fair to assume Greenspon will report into the general media and cultural review, but that has not been made clear. In fact, the initial announcement for the journalism study seemed to suggest its focus would be on the crisis in newspapers, but we later learned that the PPF will be examining the news business as a whole, including broadcasting and online services, and will be holding roundtables in cities across the country. CMG has been involved by sharing our research on programming and job cuts as well as our experience and ideas on news coverage and funding solutions.

Because we believe it’s important to make sure the Forum also hears the reality from working journalists, we have submitted names of CMG members to take part in the PPF roundtables in different cities and we know some have already been contacted. We are grateful to these volunteers for being willing to share their insight.

Through all of this, we have been urging the minister to include in her review the way the money flows in today’s system. Much different than a decade ago, now the non-regulated side of the industry – such as large Internet Service Providers (ISP) now playing a role as distributers of programming and content – are earning large profits from the growth in video streaming. Like us, many in the industry feel anyone who profits from the system should be required to contribute a very small fraction of their profit to support Canadian programming, including content available on computer and mobile screens. This is exactly what CMG argued earlier this year at a CRTC hearing.

The fact that online giants now take an estimated $US 800 million a year from Canada every year without contributing a penny in Canadian taxes or in support of production here is a serious issue and should be addressed as part of the Heritage review.

Some of our priorities for the review are:

1. Canadian content regulations must be strengthened – If there were no regulations ensuring support for the creation and broadcasting of original Canadian programming including news, would any company produce it when it is cheaper and more profitable to redistribute American content?

We believe successful pro-active regulations can nurture an industry with a healthy mix of public, private and community media, including online. Our rules must also help check excessive media concentration in our system.

CMG and many other concerned groups continue to caution that competition from U.S. programming is increasing, not declining, as is access to global content via multiple platforms. So if there is going to be a Canadian industry and opportunities, we continue to need well thought-out regulatory and funding  incentives to make it happen.

2. CBC is important now more than ever – The services provided by the national public broadcaster are vital to Canadians, as we have heard in survey after survey – 89% agree that a strong CBC is important to the country, 91% say it plays an important role in shaping Canadian identity and culture, and more than 90% say they value its courageous reporting.

We know there are political and cultural forces pushing for more privatization; they insist the finances of purchasing product instead of producing it are attractive, but they don’t talk about what we stand to lose. So we remain concerned the review, if not conducted objectively and openly, could lead to a shrinking CBC/Radio-Canada putting at further risk all original production, journalistic capacity and jobs.

3. CBC funding must increase – Currently, CBC/Radio-Canada is funded at approximately $29 a year per Canadian. Because its role and capacity to unite Canadians are crucial, we continue to stress that the solution is appropriate funding, not decreasing its role so it costs less.

CMG continues to lobby at the federal level to increase CBC/Radio-Canada’s core funding starting at $43.50 per Canadian, which is still only half the average of what public broadcasters in other developed democracies receive ($87 a year per capita).

4. Advertising: There will be discussions about advertising and the extent to which the public broadcaster should run ads as private broadcasters do. Given the low level of CBC/Radio-Canada’s funding, it’s easy to understand why ads are necessary.

Few Canadians know that private networks that keep pushing for this discussion do receive hundreds of millions of dollars in government support themselves.

Like many industry players, we agree with proposals to leverage tax credit policy for advertising in Canadian outlets, and other tax incentives to support Canadian news and programming.

Quick reminder: At the same time as the Heritage Minister’s review takes place, Liberal MP Hedy Fry, chair of the House of Commons Committee on Canadian Heritage, is heading a separate study looking at the state of local news. CMG appeared before this Committee in March this year to speak about the value of local news and the challenges faced by media workers. We also stressed that provincial educational broadcasters like TVO, tfo, as well as globally  admired APTN are instrumental in fostering the diversity of voices needed in a healthy media system, and need appropriate regulatory and funding supports.
We expect the results of this local news review will also be incorporated into Joly’s larger review of the whole system.

Those are some of the reasons we are actively involved in this process. We hope the review will enhance Canada’s media and cultural ecosystem, strengthen journalistic capacity, and ensure CBC/Radio-Canada continues to play its vital role for Canadians, on all platforms. We are looking for decisions that are based on principle and evidence, and not unduly motivated by powerful players pushing for increasing profits without regard to the public good.

Carmel Smyth
CMG President


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