I gave a fairly polite run down of the Group Licence Renewal decision over at TV, Eh! Here I want to focus on one particularly wonky part of the decision – data reporting – and why it matters.
For their GLR submissions, the CMPA, ACTRA, DGC and WGC commissioned Mario Mota of Boon Dog Professional Services to review the annual reports of the broadcasters and the applications and assess how the broadcasters had met their CPE and PNI CPE obligations and what it would mean for Canadian programming in general and PNI in particular if the broadcasters were granted their requested changes. Mario did the best that he could but was stymied by inconsistent and inaccurate reporting. The CRTC requires the reports but doesn’t review them.
The GLR decision includes requirements for more detailed reporting on a number of categories including original programming, Indigenous programming, Official Language Minority Community programming and women in key creative roles. There will also be information bulletins to help broadcasters fill out the forms correctly. There was no mention of a review or compliance regime.
The question, and why this matters, is will these new reporting requirements make it easier for stakeholders to assess broadcasters performance in spending money on and broadcasting Canadian programming? As long as there is no review process the answer is no. It looks like broadcasters will still be able to fill out (or not fill out with sections left intentionally blank) the forms any way they want. When it comes time to review broadcaster performance again in four years and compare it to their promises, the independent production sector may still be doing it with one hand tied behind their back.
That leads me to ask: does the current Commission appreciate the role of the independent production sector in public hearings? This I wonder.
The independent production sector pointed out that the broadcasters proposals on PNI CPE would allow them to spend less money on PNI. That was dismissed. The independent production sector argued that the definition of independent production was being eroded by broadcaster behaviour and as the need for an independent production sector is enshrined in the Broadcasting Act it needed to be protected. That was ignored. It pointed out that exhibition requirements in prime time are still relevant as that is still when most people watch television. That was ignored. It argued for some kind of protection for children’s programming since Corus is the major children’s broadcaster in Canada but with the removal of genre protection it can walk away at any time. It argued variously for protections for Canadian feature film, documentaries, development and ensuring that CPE is spent on original programming.
None of these issues were mentioned. Not reviewed and dismissed. Nothing. It comes across as if the Commission thinks that it has all the necessary information and does not need to hear the perspectives of those who create the content that is broadcast. If this was true, it would undermine the public hearing process where all stakeholders have the opportunity to present evidence. It is the independent production sector’s job to provide a different perspective than the broadcasters, based on different priorities. It is the Commission’s job to weigh those different priorities and make decisions based on the public interest as defined in the Broadcasting Act.
I know that the Commission understand what its job is, but by not ensuring that the independent production sector has the tools that they need to do their job well (i.e. the data) and ignoring many of their concerns, it appears as if the Commission has taken sides. It feels like engaging with the Commission at a public hearing is as useful as hitting your head against a wall. After a while it hurts too much and you just stop.