What’s At Stake

Tim Denton helpfully calls attention to a recent speech by Glenn O'Farrell, the President of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters.  As Tim rightly notes, the speech is nothing less than a call for greater Internet regulation as the CAB frets about its ability to compete against an "unregulated broadband system."  In its place the CAB argues that Canada needs policy "that embraces the tenets of the Broadcasting Act, and that creates a fair marketplace for all Canadian broadcasters."

O'Farrell adds that "if we allow broadband technology to irreversibly undermine broadcasters' ability to continue in that tradition [the tradition of Canadian music support and Canwest Global], we risk losing, little by little and bit by bit, the most powerful vehicles of cultural expression in Canada.  This is what's at stake."

Nonsense.  Consider the great contribution of Canada's private broadcasters to Canadian cultural expression.  Several weeks ago, CTV, the leading private broadcaster, trumpeted its ratings success.  Of the top 20 shows in Canada during the prior month, four were Canadian – two broadcasts of Hockey Night in Canada, one broadcast of the CTV National News, and an episode of Corner Gas.  While Corner Gas may have a following, it hardly stands as a powerful vehicle of cultural expression amidst the plethora of U.S. shows that CTV, Global, and the other private broadcasters proudly pump out each evening.

Moreover, the notion that private broadcasters have a monopoly on cultural expression is undermined not only by their U.S.-dominated broadcast schedules, but also by the reality of what is happening online.  Millions of bloggers, podcasters, video bloggers, digital photo posters, fan fiction scriptwriters, wikipedia contributors, and open source software programmers are behind a remarkable story of culture and creativity.  Canadian policy should be promoting and encouraging that form of culture, not seeking to burden it with new regulations designed to benefit incumbent broadcast businesses.

O'Farrell concludes by arguing that:

"Public policy that respects fair competition and continues to uphold the Broadcasting Act will be needed if we are to safeguard outlets for Canadian expression, Canadian culture and a Canadian identity in a borderless world."

There are lots of ways to safeguard Canadian expression, culture, and identity – but the CAB solution of broadcaster protectionism isn't one them.  Instead, we should promote Canadian expression by facilitating user generated content.  We should promote Canadian culture by rejecting the broadcasters' lobbying for the broadcast flag and the WIPO Broadcasting Treaty that serves only to lock-down Canadian content.  And we should promote the Canadian identity by supporting public broadcasting and demanding that our private broadcasters do much more than just promote the latest episode of Lost or Desperate Housewives.


  1. Here, here. A voice of reason.
    I find it rich that a “Canadian Association of Broadcasters” who traditionally devote the balance of CanCon quotas to American programming, are putting forth the “Cultural Protectionist” argument.

    It almost goes without saying, that most of the Association’s membership are the ones who fought those regulations to begin with. Your counter-argument for unfettered canadian-user-generated content is well received.

    I look forward to seeing when/if the government re-evaluates the CBC. If one looks to the BBC, you’ll see a public broadcaster giving away nearly all of its original content for free online. You’ll also see a thriving and world renown institution of British culture. Perhaps a similar strategy and policy could be adapted in the case of our own CBC?

  2. Dwight Williams says:

    On the BBC Approach to Content Access an
    It’s an idea certainly worth giving serious consideration to, in my view.

    As for CanCon drama in general, I feel we keep missing good opportunities to make good, profitable CanCon. Take _Bones_ for example. The novels that this show is inspired by are half the time set in Montreal!

    How did that chance slip through our domestic networks’ collective fingers?