Writers Guild of Canada: CRTC decision spells potential disaster

From a media release:

Yesterday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) dealt a major blow to Canadian screenwriters — and Canadian audiences. In its decision on licence renewals for Bell, Corus, and Rogers, the Commission rolled back the broadcasters’ minimum financial contributions to Canadian drama and other programing.

This despite the fact that the WGC’s modest proposal to the CRTC, reflecting well-researched data, asked only for the maintenance of the status quo in terms of broadcasters’ financial contributions towards “programs of national interest” (PNI). PNI includes drama, documentary, and some children’s programming, programing that is at the heart of Canadian on-screen entertainment. But the CRTC set PNI spending minimums for broadcasters at 5%, basically cutting them by up to 44% for certain groups.

“This could mean the devastation of Canadian domestic production,” says Maureen Parker, Executive Director of the WGC. “These cuts potentially amount to over a $200 million loss for PNI over a five-year licence term. Canadian screenwriters only work on domestic productions, not on American shows filming in Canada, and if there is not enough work for them they will simply leave. Once our talent pool is gone you can’t get it back.”

CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais, a Harper appointee who has allowed the CRTC to become greatly diminished, has also set us on a course that will make it more and more difficult for Canadians to view stories about ourselves. This, despite the fact that it is only our Canadianness that distinguishes us: Our compassion, our humour, our concern about issues such as cultural diversity, healthcare, and the environment. A Canadian culture that cannot speak to Canadianness through its own storytelling is not Canada. We should not accept it. Nor should the Liberal government.

The headline of the CRTC’s own press release announcing the decision is, “The CRTC supports the production of original content.” This can only be viewed as fake news. There is nothing meaningful about specifically original production in these decisions. The release goes on to claim that the CRTC “ensures on stable funding for Canadian production in all program categories, by focusing especially on dramas, documentaries, and musical and variety shows.” This is patently untrue, given the reduction of PNI requirements. And, since broadcaster spending on PNI also typically attracts investment from other sources like the Canada Media Fund, the potential total impact could be double or triple the $200 million drop in PNI investments themselves.

“If Canadian programming is expendable,” says Maureen Parker, “Why protect the big private broadcasters? What is the CRTC’s purpose if not to ensure that spending on the creation of Canadian drama, documentary, and children’s programming is at the very least maintained? It’s almost as though the very body intended to promote Canadian programming — the CRTC — is actively working to erode it.”

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and owner of TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.
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3 thoughts on “Writers Guild of Canada: CRTC decision spells potential disaster”

  1. I’ve been saying for years to anybody who’d listen the CRTC has never even come close to honouring it’s mandate, and now it’s dismantling CANCON altogether. Only one explanation answers why. It like everything else in Canada is owned, controlled, and run by Americans.

  2. What drives America is money, and money alone. Money drives us too, but we temper our money obsession with a little bit of compassion for the least fortunate among us. That alone is enough to make me proud to be a Canadian. It also makes for a huge difference between the Canadian and American psyches. I agree that our writing and programming must reflect that difference. The problem is that our shows – when reflected against the incredible amount of cutting edge creativity, human drama and showmanship we see from Britain, France, Sweden, Denmark, etc. etc., on Netflix and other streamers – are often wanting.
    Why?
    There’s a dull grey sheen to the decisions made by bureaucrats in government funding agencies that passes on to producers and writers – disagreement loses funding. The networks, like the cable companies are conservative and don’t really care what happens as long as they can make obscene profits. The result is that no one’s driven to try to hit a home run by doing something that hasn’t been done, something new and different. It’s much easier to stick to the “tried and true” and aim for a single or double. That’s why we’ll never create a “Seinfeld” or “The Larry Sanders Show”, but churn out a “Little Mosque” or “Schitt’s Creek” over and over.
    The irony of this is that the free-market system, as ugly as it can be, is more successful at producing desirable entertainment (and sometimes even art) than our government controlled funding method. A sad tale, but true.

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