Tuesday, July 21, 2009



Are you starting to get the feeling that the CRTC, Canada’s TV, Internet and Telecommunications regulator, is beginning to think it’s a branch of the CIA or maybe even CSIS?

I mean, what’s with all the fricken secrecy lately!?

Have these guys got real classified information to protect or would they just like people to believe they’re suddenly that important?

First they were redacting hearing documents, as if the public they were appointed to serve didn’t deserve to know what was going on in publicly funded meetings.

A couple of weeks back, they announced they were levelling fines on two Telemarketing firms that violated their “Do Not Call” list.

But the companies being fined and the amounts they had to pay were not revealed – and won’t be unless they don’t cough up by the end of the month.

And then there’s this little nugget from Conservative Blogger Stephen Taylor, indicating the Commission erased a section of its “Review of Broadcasting in New Media” after publishing it suddenly pretending their report never said what it used to say.

These guys even silence their own, snuffing out any ideas from their personal staff, despite the cost and time involved in doing the research and work involved in coming up with those ideas.

Somehow speaking openly and honestly has come to be considered a dangerous practice at the CRTC.

Posing the question -- “If they can’t be straight with us, how are we supposed to be straight with them?

And also making some people wonder if this cloak of secrecy is a way of hiding the CRTC from publicly revealing their own incompetence and inability to actually regulate the industries they are charged with regulating.

Let’s take this “Do Not Call” fine first.

The CRTC initially sold the lists of numbers telemarketers were not supposed to call to telemarketers; ostensibly to make sure they knew who not to bother -- but apparently without any real protections in place to make sure nobody used those lists or passed them on to people operating outside the CRTC’s jurisdiction.

Maybe these firms did just that but why the reluctance to reveal their names? Does the CRTC not want to publicly ‘shame’ them? Because anybody who has dealt with telemarketers knows that they have no shame. Tell them you can’t afford what they’re selling and they’ll call back ten minutes later offering you a new Visa card.

Is there any chance this whole ‘fine’ thing is really an elaborate sham to make them look like they’re handling things?

They’re taking heat for the failure of the “Do Not call” list. So they pretend they are penalizing “a couple of guys” who broke the rules. Yeah, that’ll show the public they mean business. I mean, how do we know these penalized companies even exist – or are the worst offenders?

And how much is the fine? Huge or a slap on the wrist the culprits won’t even notice? And where does it get paid? In what item line of the Federal budget will this income be shown? And how do we know it actually has been paid beyond the CRTC’s say so?

This is not how the Federal budgets of open democracies operate – with secret payments being made God knows where with no accounting oversight to acknowledge where it’s coming from or to make sure it doesn’t actually end up paying for somebody’s Book of the Month Club subscription.

For the last few months, entangled in the mess the Commission has made of the broadcast system, by allowing acquisitions which have been financially disastrous for all involved and threaten to completely capsize the broadcast system – or at least shrink it to the point where it no longer provides what Canadians want to see broadcast; Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein has bemoaned the CRTC’s “lack of teeth” ie: the inability to enforce their rulings.

So how is any unnamed Telemarketer going to feel obligated to pay this unnamed fine anyway? Revealing that maybe this is a straw man move by the CRTC to make it appear they are doing something when they are not.

Which brings me to the CRTC announcement (also from a couple of weeks ago) that the Cableco’s will increase their commitment to local television by supplying a further $100 Million to the Local Programming Improvement fund.

The broadcasters immediately announced local TV had been “saved” (at least for now) took a few bargain priced stations off the auction block and otherwise celebrated the windfall – as well as the right to produce far less local programming than they had previously.

In the new Maxwell Smart legalese of the Commission, the press release announcing this aspect of the deal said…

“In addition, the Commission has harmonized its requirements for the broadcast of local programming in English- and French-language markets. Each week, local television stations will have to air a minimum number of hours of programming that is produced locally and that speaks to, and about, the community.”

Ooooh, that sounds so firm and forceful – until you learn that under the new rules most local stations are only required to produce one hour of local news and information daily.

One hour – for their share of $100 Million.

However, the Cableco’s simultaneously announced they weren’t paying the new freight rate, so there.

And who’s going to make them?

I mean if the CRTC couldn’t enforce their own requirements for Shaw and Rogers to actually make Super Channel available to their subscribers and the subscribers aware of its availability, how will they force them to cough up another hundred mil of their own money for no additional programming at all?

Actually make that $100 Million for less programming.

Much less.

The situation got so bad at Super Channel, that the movie network, launched two years ago to challenge the geographic monopolies in Canada's pay-television sector finally filed for protection from its creditors.

Yet, despite several appeals to the CRTC, the Commission didn’t move to help them. However, a little whining from their historical favorites, the terrestrial broadcasters, and they’re quick to find them the money they supposedly need.

I say “supposedly” because simultaneous to the CRTC releasing their edict, the Federal Government’s own statistical arm StatsCan reported that Canadian television revenues were up 5.4% in 2008.

Yep, despite what the industry would have you believe, private television broadcasters in Canada earned profits of $691 million in 2008.

Much of that was in Specialties and Pay to be sure (all owned wholly or in part by conventional TV nets) but apparently the “disastrous decline” in conventional broadcasting that had resulted in mass firings, layoffs and cuts in programming was a mere –1.8%.

I wonder how those Stascan figures compare with what the broadcasters told the CRTC in those closed sessions that later had their minutes redacted?

Yet, the CRTC still chose to hand the broadcasters $100 Million of somebody else’s money – the Cable Company’s for now - but it’ll be yours if the cableco’s take the hit and pass it on.

There was initial support from the Writers Guild for the decision, mostly because the CRTC held the line on the amount of Canadian content the broadcasters are required to carry.

But while there may be screenwriter jobs saved for now, that may not be the case if folks start dropping channels to reduce their cable bills and those dropped channels are ones which create work for Canadian writers.

This is a vicious circle that has been created by the CRTC’s initial mistakes and their inability to own up to screwing the pooch.

They’ve had a history of ignoring their mandate of protecting the Canadian public. And with this decision they’ve thumbed their nose at the public’s elected representatives.

The Parliamentary Heritage Committee that also held hearings on the local TV issue, in passing the final decision to the CRTC, requested that they take the profits of the broadcasters’ entire corporate holdings into account when determining their financial need.

But the CRTC did not.

More and more, the CRTC is becoming a rogue arm of the Federal government, protecting neither Canadian consumers nor the artists and producers who serve them – and trying to cover their shortcomings with an ever darkening veil of secrecy.


Brandon Laraby said...

Thank you for this, Jim. Very, very interesting.

meatgeemale said...

........The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG -- Canwest Global Communications Corp. (TSX:CGS) announced Wednesday it would close two of its local conventional television stations by the end of August.

A Canwest representative said about 80 jobs in total are affected by the closures of CHEK-TV in Victoria and CHCA-TV in Red Deer, Alta.

.............guess these are not"local" enough to qualify as local!!!!!!