#26-10 – The terrors of taxing television.

It would be most impolite for the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to ignore an order under the broadcasting Act from Her Excellency the Governor General in Council. It might even be considered foolish because an Order in Council is in reality an order from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

It can only be assumed therefore that there has been some communication between the commission and someone of high self-importance in the PMO before the CRTC referred its recommendations on taxing cable and satellite companies for local television stations to the courts instead of ‘as soon as practicable’ to the government. It also appears that someone in the PMO reconsidered how it would look for the PMO to order the cable and satellite companies to pay television stations for their local signals. While it would certainly encourage a large portion of the country’s major news media to look fondly on Prime Minister Harper, some might call it buying their support. It looks much less compromising for the CRTC to do the pandering.

Mind you, somebody will have to find a way to muzzle CRTC Commissioner Michel Morin for the new scenario to work. You did not have to be a genius to see that the other commissioners were ignoring their instructions to pay attention to the general public on the impact of taxing them for watching local television. It just took a lot of guts for Morin to issue a minority report pointing out that the public was ignored.

You had to be there to appreciate it. The Toronto hearing room measured about two by three metres. Three or four public participants would be crammed behind a table on one side, opposite an old television set and a personal camera on a laptop computer. The little camera sent the participants’ group picture to the CRTC headquarters and, in return, the participants were sent a picture of the chair and his commissioner cohorts. The quality of the pictures, sound and personal comfort was definitely marginal.

But it was what they could see while giving their presentation that told the participants that whatever they said, it hardly mattered. The sheer boredom on the faces of the chair commissioners while people were speaking said it all. Sure they paid some attention when the industry spokespersons had their say earlier in the week but they so obviously wanted to go home when it was the public’s turn.

You would think that out of 190,000 people responding to their call for input, they would have found some people with something to say. Even just among the 20,000 people who sent in their own comments instead of having the industry people speak for them, there should have been some interesting input.

To be fair, most people stuck fairly close to what they said they were going to say. Their comments had already been read before they were chosen to make a presentation. While the majority report said the speakers were chosen at random, Commissioner Morin blew the whistle on that fiction and said the speakers were carefully chosen. Anybody familiar with how the Ottawa systems work had no trouble being selected to make a presentation.

If I were a gambler—which I am—I would bet with confidence that the courts will tell the CRTC that the commission has the power to force the television networks and cable/satellite people to negotiate. After all, if the CRTC does not have that power, what has the commission been doing for the past 30 years?

And as to why the CBC is being left out of the negotiations, just consider how fond Prime Minister Harper is of the people’s broadcaster.

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