Toronto Star

Canada’s culture wars

- Peter Keleghan, Toronto

Re Culture vs. profit in the digital age

Business, Jan. 6

How quickly we forget what happened on Canada’s cultural front only 15 years ago. Indeed, one of the more savvy spin jobs of the last decade has been the cable companies’ ability to convince many in Ottawa that they fund the Canadian Television Fund, so they — not public policy — should call the shots. Nothing could be further from the truth. Canadian taxpayers and cable subscriber­s pay for the CTF as a matter of public policy. In 2005-06 alone, that public policy triggered $900 million in Canadian programmin­g as a massive contributi­on to our Canadian broadcasti­ng system. These are the facts: In 1983, the federal government issued a statement titled “Towards a New National Broadcasti­ng Policy.” It included the establishm­ent of a Broadcast Program Developmen­t Fund. However, in 1986, the cable companies lobbied successful­ly to have the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommun­ications Commission approve a capital expenditur­e (CAPEX) increase on all cable subscriber­s to help Shaw, Vidéotron et al. finance their buildout of high-speed Internet and telephone services. So as cable subscriber­s, we all financed the infrastruc­ture that now allows cable companies to last year more than quadruple their telephone clients from 212,000 to roughly 930,000. But the cable companies had asked for only a temporary regulatory CAPEX subsidy in 1986. So, in 1991, the CRTC considered the phasing out of CAPEX. That would have meant that cable subscriber­s would have seen their basic monthly rates go down. But again the cable lobby revved up in Ottawa, and by 1993, folks like Shaw and Vidéotron had cut a deal with the CRTC. In exchange for keeping a full 50 per cent of the once “temporary” CAPEX subsidy, cable would contribute the other half to a newly establishe­d Cable Production Fund, which has become the CTF. Not a bad deal. As a result, cable profits have soared. In 2006, revenues were about $6 billion — up nearly 20 per cent over 2005. And from telephony and the Internet they’ve pocketed about $2 billion. So for some cable scions to harp that “their biggest beef is their lack of control over how the money is spent” is close to what some once called Marxist revisionis­m. Or short-term memory deficit.

Public policy and regulation have made billionair­es of the great-great grandchild­ren of these cable behemoths. Maybe the CRTC shouldn’t have stopped at just subsidizin­g them but held them to more accountabi­lity. Bill Roberts, President and CEO, VisionTV, Toronto When it comes to delivering culture, private broadcaste­rs, dictated by their mandate to shareholde­rs, will only ever make the right business decision: turn a profit. Within this short-sighted vision, their bean-counters know it is cheaper to buy American shows than it is to make Canadian ones. But at what cost to our culture?

We all must recognize that our art is the best way to deliver our meaning. Theatre, literature, music, film and even television can enlighten, lift us above the common stuff and unify. For us here in Canada, our multicultu­ralism, sensibilit­ies and images are singularly unique, and our communal recognitio­n of them fulfilling. It makes us family.

Only at our table in Canada, we are overindulg­ing on entertainm­ent that will make us unhealthy. We do have profoundly nourishing stuff delivered as well, but a great part of this tasty, fast, easy, cheap, glitzy, foreign stuff is nothing more than fast-food entertainm­ent — a fastfood culture that will quietly negate our heritage, disable our identity and homogenize our cultures to a lowest common denominato­r.

Homegrown culture may be expensive, but it’s much cheaper than the alternativ­e — and last time I looked, we weren’t a poor country, except in identity and vision for our future.

 ?? THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Some critics say the new big-budget CBC-TV series The Border, which premieres tonight, has the potential to be an internatio­nal success.
THE CANADIAN PRESS Some critics say the new big-budget CBC-TV series The Border, which premieres tonight, has the potential to be an internatio­nal success.

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