Tag Archives: Canadian government

Heritage Committee on Local TV

This morning I listened to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (#CHPC).  It was their first meeting on a study on ‘The Media and Local Communities’ which is also their first study.  I tuned in because it’s the first real meeting for this committee in this Parliament and I wanted to hear them interact with senior staff at Heritage and the CRTC (and then last minute additions from Industry – I mean Innovation, Science and Economic Development – and the Competition Bureau).  I’m not that interested in local tv but I’m glad I did tune in.

I was talking to my local MP, Julie Dabrusin, on the weekend since she sits on the Heritage Committee and I realized when I spoke to her about the local tv study that her interests in it were broader than my interpretation of the terms of reference of the study.  The minutes describe it as:

“… how Canadians, and especially local communities, are informed about local and regional experiences through news, broadcasting, digital and print media; the unintended consequences of news media concentration and the erosion of local news reporting and the impact of new media”

In listening to the meeting though I was struck by how wide ranging the questions were. Heritage started off by giving a very rapid ‘Canadian media policy 101’ talk with what sounded like (the feed was audio-only) a lot of slides.  A few of the MPs sounded overwhelmed.  It should be remembered that I believe Pierre Nantel (NDP) and Hedy Fry (Lib) are the only MPs there with previous experience on the committee.   So some of the questions continued on the 101 theme (‘how is Canadian media funded’ – I think I heard Helen Kennedy’s sigh before she started counting the ways) while others went off on to topics like diversity, funding for digital media, local news, newspaper consolidation, Broadcasting Act objectives, the Bell-Astral merger and the inability for anyone to make any money on digital platforms (that was a Conservative MP statement without any evidence).

The CRTC could not really say much because their local tv proceeding is outstanding and there are rules about not discussing a pending proceeding.  They did chat a bit about why LPIF wasn’t renewed, which honestly could have been the topic of a whole meeting as it had been a whole hearing.  They made a pitch that they are lowering barriers to innovation and encouraging broadcasters to evolve to multiplatform businesses, though without specifics.  Innovation, Science and Economic Development made some odd statements about how millennials don’t care about funding for digital media, just access and making money from their content.  Umm, just because you can make content for peanuts doesn’t mean you want to.   The Competition Bureau said they didn’t care about whether diversity of voices was impacted by consolidation, only if there was a negative economic impact.

There were some good questions but my favourites unfortunately were thrown in at the end when there wasn’t time for answers so we won’t hear them publicly.  Julie Dabrusin asked if the CRTC planned to update the 8 year old Diversity study (I swear I didn’t plant that question) and Hedy Fry asked who was in a position to regulate digital platforms for accuracy.  I suspect Scott Hutton of the CRTC was pretty happy there was no time to answer that last one!  The answers should be incorporated in their report so I’ll be looking for them.

Things could obviously change over the minimum 10 meetings that will be devoted to this study but based on today the Committee will be asking all sorts of questions about the media landscape and I’ll try to pay attention when I can.  It’s good to hear what the MPs are interested in and what topics they need help on (i.e. yes, there are businesses making money with content on digital platforms).

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Comparing the Culture Platforms of the Major Parties

Over at TV, Eh! I have compared the Conservative, NDP, Liberal and Green platforms on culture, to the extent they have them.  I’ve also incorporated additional points from the NDP and Liberals from the Screen-Industries Debate yesterday as well as a few points I’ve received from direct questions to the parties.  I’ll update the post if I receive additional info and let everyone know if there’s more there.

If you work in digital media you are likely disappointed by the lack of discussion of your issues.  There have been brief references to a National Digital Strategy (by the NDP) and to digital being part of the CBC’s mandate (by the Liberals) but nothing specifically addressing the sector.  As outlined by Sasha Boersma in her blog post, some digital media issues overlap with mainstream issues while others are very specific to that sector.  The only way to become part of the discussion (for these and other cultural issues) is to ask candidates and parties where they stand – in person, by email, on twitter etc.  These are the last few days of the campaign but every party wants your vote.

Please do vote October 19th (or October 9 – 12th in the Advance Polls).

UPDATE:  The Canadian Media Production Association compiled their own list of party promises including a lovely and handy one page chart here.  Also, the NDP have released a fully costed platform and you can find the costing for the cultural promises on page 70.

Update – Party Positions on Arts and Culture

Well, some of them.

The Canadian Arts Coalition sent the four national parties a questionnaire to solicit party positions on arts and culture.  The Greens, Liberals and NDP responded and those answers are posted here.  The questions slant towards the Canada Council and don’t take into consideration culture as an economic driver but it is still interesting to read the responses and see to what extent the parties have thought out responses to questions about the Canada Council, international markets, digital content and the CBC.

I will let you come to your own conclusions about who has the most detailed, pro-active response to the questions but honestly, there is good stuff in all three of them.

The Cultural Sector is Missing in #Elxn42 – so far

[Full disclosure, I do belong to a political party but this is a non-partisan post about politics and Canadian media – or at least I’m trying my best for it to be non-partisan.  I think all the parties are failing on this point]

We are 24 days into a 78-day campaign in Canada (if I have my math right).  The top issue is the economy and how each party’s strategy to create economic growth and jobs differs from the others.  There are a few other issues, such as accountability, integrity, the environment and women’s issues (which by the way, I hate as a term since it refers to issues we all are or should be concerned with).  Very little if anything has been said about arts and culture.

What do we do about that?  It is rare for us to see arts and culture make the national stage.  In 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper helped make arts and culture a campaign issue when he suggested that ‘ordinary working people’ had no sympathy for rich artists whining about their subsidies while attending galas but that kind of gaffe is rare (it never occurred again).  It is also hard to talk about the need for Canadian arts and culture funding and legislation during a recession as even those of us in the sector tend to think it is not as important as health care, education and jobs – or at least will be perceived that way by voters.

That’s the problem because the cultural sectors are economic drivers that can help stimulate the economy and create jobs while at the same time giving voice to a nation’s stories.  Support for the cultural sectors should therefore be part of any party’s plan to support the economy and not just a throw away line to show they’ve thought about culture (for Liberals, Green and NDP I think that line is ‘restore cuts to the CBC’ while the Conservatives are probably focused on their big planned celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017).

Until/unless the parties come up with either detailed platforms relating to culture or incorporate the cultural sector into their detailed platforms on the economy then I think the only solution is for Canadians to ask their local candidates where they stand on arts and culture issues.  Here are a few that I think are important, and yes, I’m going to start with the CBC:

  • The CBC needs more than restoration of its budget cuts.  It needs a new agreement between the government and the CBC to identify its priorities and ensure that it has the necessary funding to meet those priorities.
  • Funding for Canadian content (all the programs at Heritage) is based on archaic methods of distribution. What will the next government do to update those programs?  For example, Canadian film and television tax credits need to include digital platforms as an approved method of distribution capable of triggering those tax credits.  The government’s agreement with the Canada Media Fund should not limit CMF’s ability to support content created primarily for digital platforms.
  • The Copyright Act is scheduled to be reviewed starting July 29, 2017 however in the last budget bill, without any discussion or public consultation, the government extended the copyright term for musical works. The government should commit to make no amendments to the Copyright Act without consultation and review.
  • Yes, we have Netflix and other non-Canadian services which earn revenues from Canadians, pay no taxes in Canada, draw eyeballs away from the regulated and contributing broadcasting system and make no contributions to supporting the production of Canadian programming. We need a solution, not empty rhetoric.
  • Affordable universal access to broadband. You might not think that’s an arts and culture issue but a basic right of citizenship and you would be right, but I put it here because as more and more content migrates to digital platforms, those who cannot afford broadband will increasingly find themselves unable to have the choice to enjoy a wide variety of high quality Canadian programming.  It is important to connect rural communities and the north but it is just as important to make sure that the urban poor (and at current ISP rates, also the not so poor) can have affordable access.  There are programs in many other countries to ensure that citizens have universal access to affordable broadband and we should look at them.

Those are just a few arts and culture topics that you could ask your candidates.  If you have other topics you would like to add to the list, let me know and I’ll update the post.

Digital Canada 150 2.0 – Have They Gotten It Right Yet? Not so much.

I was going to break down the differences between Digital Canada 150 (released April 4, 2014) and Digital Canada 150 2.0 (released today) but it’s kind of ridiculous. Very little has changed in the past year. It is still more of a ‘look what we did including a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with a national digital strategy but sounds good’ than a plan for ensuring that Canada and all Canadians are digitally literate, part of the digital economy, using the tools and enjoying the content.

Yay – the government connected more rural Canadians to broadband but still no mention of ensuring affordable access to broadband for Canadians regardless of where they live. Increasingly, digital literacy and access are essential elements to exercise of Canadian citizenship and this continued omission supports the digital divide between those who can exercise their citizenship and those who cannot.  [Note – contrast that with the Digital Argentina law of 2014 that, among other things, is aimed at ensuring fair access of all citizens to telecommunications including the Internet.  Under that law the government of Argentina can set the rates for Internet access to ensure affordable access for all.  Just saying.]

Yay – the CRTC (which is an arm’s length tribunal so can’t really be part of the government’s strategy unless it isn’t that arm’s length) has instituted unbundling like the government said it would. No mention of the fact that we really won’t know the consequences of that decision for consumers and for broadcasters until it is implemented in 2016 or explanation of how that relates to a digital strategy.

Yay – the @Canada twitter handle exercises digital diplomacy. I dare you – go check out that twitter handle.

Screenshot 2015-07-15 14.22.22

Yay – the government created digital content through the NFB, funding the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Music Fund and digitizing publications for Library and Archives Canada. They actually have funded a great deal of digital content through the Canada Media Fund and their budget cuts have forced the CBC to be more innovative in using digital platforms but for some reason these are accomplishments the government does not want to brag about. I get the CBC point (it’s hard to brag about what someone has had to do when you slashed their budget) but CMF?? [They do describe Telefilm Canada as an audio-visual industry success story so I do wonder if someone at Industry Canada got confused and thinks Telefilm and the CMF are the same thing and doesn’t realize that Telefilm only funds features.]

The report does cover a number of other issues (I’m not going to even touch the reference to Bill C-51 as an example of Internet Safety) but those are of greatest relevance to an audio-visual industry. BUT. What the audio-visual industry called for in the 2010 consultations was vision and a plan to ensure that all Canadians had access to digital platforms and the choice to enjoy Canadian content when they got there. It asked for an overhaul of the various silo’d funding programs to have a coordinated strategy to fund single platform and multi-platform content in a digital world. It asked for funding mechanisms to ensure that Canadian content continued to be created even as business models and technology evolved.  It asked for training programs that ensured that emerging and more established talent had the skills needed to create and exploit content.

For a quick refresher on the agonizing pace of waiting for a National Digital Strategy that included content, see my post on the release of Digital Canada 150 on April 4, 2014 in response to the Industry Canada consultation in 2010.

So, we’re still waiting for some vision.

Heritage Committee Report on the Canadian Feature Film Industry

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recently released its report on its study on the Canadian Feature Film Industry. Over the spring a number of feature film stakeholders had appeared before the Committee or sent in submissions and this report is the result.
First a little context. Standing Committee reviews can be useful to study a sector within their jurisdiction, raise issues and make recommendations to the government. There is no obligation for the government to act on these recommendations or to even comment on them. These are the dying days of this Parliament and it is unlikely that the government will even notice this Report. However, it can also educate and inform Department of Canadian Heritage staff and help them to develop policies that could be implemented in the future.   As well, given that we are leading up to an election, this kind of a study could inform party platforms or future government proposals.

I recommend reading this report for a couple of reasons. If you are new to Canadian feature film policy it is a fairly accurate (not always the case) overview of the current state of the industry.   A wide selection of stakeholders appeared before the Committee and many topical issues and proposed solutions were presented. If this is your field then it is also interesting to see which issues the Committee as a whole, and the Opposition parties in supplementary proposals, felt worth recommending.

I found a couple of the recommendations of particular interest. A few of their recommendations went beyond government to other bodies, which technically speaking are outside the Committee and the government’s jurisdiction. In Recommendation 5 and 6 the Committee recommended that the CRTC include feature films as a separate category within PNI and that it review its PNI policy to specifically support feature film. As the CRTC is an arm’s length body this recommendation is like the Canadian government making a recommendation to the U.S. State Department on foreign policy. Further, there is a policy development process at the CRTC that is a great deal more rigorous than a Parliamentary Committee review. We might not like the current result of the process but the government cannot step in and make specific changes (there is a policy direction process but that’s more general).

Recommendation 10 is a recommendation asking the CBC to enhance its support of Canadian feature films, including on digital platforms but without a recommendation to increase the CBC’s budget to enable it to do so (which is in the government’s jurisdiction). The NDP expressed in their supplement the belief that the CBC should have sufficient resources to fulfill its mandate without a specific recommendation about what was needed to do that.

There were a couple of very specific recommendations related to the tax credits which could make a huge difference to feature film producers. For years the CMPA has been lobbying to eliminate the ‘grind’, where tax credits are reduced by the amount of assistance received from other levels of government (e.g. provincial tax credits). The Committee did not go so far as to recommend its elimination but that the problem should be studied. The Liberals in their supplement also supported the recommendation from witnesses that 75 – 85% of tax credit payments should be moved up to reduce the interim financing costs. This would be a great measure that would not cost the government anything but would create significant budget savings. I would only add that it should not be limited to feature film tax credits.

The final recommendation that interests me comes from both the NDP and Liberal supplements and was ignored by the main recommendations. Both parties recommended that OTT services should provide data to Heritage (or Heritage and the CRTC in the case of the Liberals) on consumer habits, Canadian films available, revenues and costs in order to assist policy development.  So this is a recommendation that the government MAKE Netflix and Google do what the CRTC was unable to make them do during the CRTC hearing. Nice thought but given that they deny that the CRTC has jurisdiction, I doubt that they would agree that the Canadian government has jurisdiction. I think it’s a lovely idea and yes it is data that the policy makers absolutely need to have for accurate policy development but it isn’t terribly realistic.

Investing in Culture is Good Business

This morning I read an interesting article in The Atlantic “Does Art Help the Economy”  (H/T to Sasha Boersma) which talks about how the UK Culture Secretary used economic arguments to prevent cuts to her department’s budget.  Their political situation so mirrors our own that I feel that it’s worth sharing and commenting on.

The UK culture department had already survived a 30% cut in spending in 2010 but they were expecting more cuts due to the recession.  The 5% cut for this year was seen as a reprieve.  Culture Secretary Maria Miller had been making the argument that funding arts should be seen as venture capital that invests in the British brand that could be leveraged to deliver economic growth:  “Culture should be seen as the standard bearer for [Britain’s] efforts to engage in cultural diplomacy, to develop soft power, and to compete, as a nation, in both trade and investment.”

Those in the Canadian cultural industries who lobby the federal government for funding, policies and programs have had to learn the economic arguments for culture since the Conservatives became the government.  The argument that culture was intrinsically an important part of citizenship resonated with Liberal governments but wasn’t enough with Conservatives.  Slowly we all started compiling statistics and analysis (Note the most recent study released July 10, 2013 by the CMPA and Motion Picture Association – Canada on the economic contribution of film and television in Canada) and making economic arguments to show why culture should not be considered an unnecessary frill in recessionary times but an actual economic generator.

From my perspective, it’s been a tough sell and I don’t know whether it’s just that the Conservatives aren’t buying the argument or whether we’re not doing a good enough job in selling it.  I find The Atlantic argument interesting because it also points to a division within the cultural community in Britain that I believe we also have here.  In the UK there were advocates who fought against the economic argument because “directing our investment in culture for its commercial potential” will result in “worse art” and a “worse commercial outcome”.  I’m not sure what Dame Liz Forgan of the Arts Council of England was referring to but the Canadian equivalent would be the really bad movies that were produced as a result of very aggressive tax shelters in the 70s and 80s.  I have my name in the credits of a few of those so I know what I’m talking about.  But I do not believe that any of our current economic-focused programs such as the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit have produced bad art.  Quite the contrary.  Unlike in the tax shelter days, no one produces film or television programs just for the financing so the creative has to be good enough to generate other production financing and find an audience.

As we often do in Canada, we need to take a hybrid approach.  Gone are the days when we can say that culture needs to be funded only because it presents a social benefit to Canadians.  It is important to Canadians that we have access to our own high quality cultural product, but when we only make that argument too often culture is seen as a charitable activity and is the first thing cut when times are tough.   Investment in culture is not a frill or a charity.  It is an investment in jobs, in the Canadian brand, in international trade and economic growth.  However, we can’t lose sight of the Canadian values part of the argument because that is how you avoid “worse art”.

I hope that new Minister of Heritage Shelly Glover reads The Atlantic article.  Either way, it’s up to those who lobby in Ottawa to craft those hybrid arguments and keep trying to convince the powers that be that investing in Canadian culture is a smart investment for the country.