Babel’s earnest Member of Parliament, Mr. Brown, must have very thick skin. Every time he comes up in a pile of manure, he seems to busy himself digging into it to see if someone left him a pony. He recently took on a job usually left by politicos to the spin doctors. In a July 10 news release on his web site, Mr. Brown claims success for his local petition to help save CTVglobemedia’s ‘A’ Channel in Babel. In making such a claim, he ignores the advice of members of the Conservative caucus who serve on the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
It is possible that he never read the Conservative minority report from the committee that was issued last month. It is even more likely that he did not know that the committee was studying the problems of local television while he was getting an unnecessary petition together for A Channel. Mind you, he only got a few hundred signatures on it. In a riding with a population of some 135,000, you would think the sitting Member of Parliament would be able to get thousands of signatures.
But not Mr. Brown. Maybe, his constituents are tiring of his constant in-your-face campaigning. Or maybe, he was too far out of his depth with the subject matter. Does he think there is a nice warm feeling to having a television station here in the riding? The station is just one of the hundreds of channels available to cable and satellite users in the market area. His caucus colleagues, who heard hundreds of hours of submissions from industry experts on the subject, indicated in their report their “most fervent and rigorous opposition to any potential fee–for–carriage system, either negotiated or imposed.” In this, they were just more strident than the majority report. The opposition members of the committee of the House had also rejected taxing cable and satellite users to support local stations.
Mr. Brown’s little victory came from last week’s report from the Canadian Radio Television-Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The CRTC had done what it had already told the committee it would do. It has instructed the major carriers of television signals—cable and satellite providers—that they had to sit down with their counterparts at the local broadcasting outlets and negotiate a solution to the ‘fee-for-carriage’ argument. There are many observers of the industry who would like to be able to serve the tea and crumpets for those social events. The only problem is the threat from the CRTC that if the signal distributors and the local outlets do not play nice and find an equitable solution, the CRTC will step in and find a solution for them.
If Mr. Brown thinks that is a win, it shows how little he knows. He does not seem to understand that money A Channel might extract from the cable and satellite companies will come from the pockets of the voters in his riding, the users of cable and satellite services. While the famously avaricious Lord Thompson once claimed that a television station licence is a licence for the holder to print money, modern broadcasters are making their money from specialty channels, targeted audiences and production of programming. We are already contributing part of our cable and satellite fees to producers of Canadian programs. Nothing is free.
But bear in mind, times are changing. Television is working with new technologies in a world linked by satellites. Programmers try to outdo each other to build audiences. Some of their ideas are brilliant and some are disgusting. It is the viewer watching the programs who determines where we are going.
There are times when we should take a tip from the classic 1976 movie Network and tell Mr. Brown and A Channel and the cable and satellite providers that we are ‘mad as hell and we’re not going to take this any more.’
And then we can go play golf on our Wii.
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