Source : Canadian Press
by John McKay
Canada's private TV networks are using tax-funded subsidies to help finance a program-buying spree in Hollywood, says a new report by Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
But a CTV executive says the lobbyists are just "CBC loyalists" who regret that the public broadcaster no longer has the funding to do everything.
Friends says its research shows that private conventional broadcasters like CTV and Global have cut spending on Canadian programming since 1994 while increasing spending on foreign programs by more than 50 per cent.
"In the aggregate, the spending on Canadian programming has been just slowly and steadily declining," says spokesman Ian Morrison. "We think that in the next year, the private conventional TV people will be spending more on Hollywood than on Canadian."
But Morrison stresses that annual public funding to promote and support Canadian programming has more than doubled over the past decade, producing a profitable private sector but achieving only mixed results in showcasing Canada on our TV sets.
He says the organization is simply drawing attention to information that's in the CRTC and Canadian Television Fund databases.
"We're just putting it together so that you see change over time and a pattern starts to emerge. A little bit like the frog that doesn't notice the temperature rising until it's been cooked."
But Trina McQueen, president of CTV, Inc., says there is a glaring omission in the Friends report — in its description of Canadian content.
"(It) takes no account whatsoever of the largest amount of money that is spent on Canadian programming, and that is the money spent on news, current affairs and sports."
McQueen says CTV's overall investment in domestic programming has been growing significantly, and so has the audience. She argues, too, that the report fails to include the contribution of specialty and pay-TV channels, most of which are owned by the private broadcasters.
"We think that we've invested and we think that we've been successful. It seems to us that what's important is Canadian programming that audiences really want to watch."
The http://friendscb.ca Friends of Canadian Broadcasting report is entitled Follow the Money and was submitted in September to the Commons Committee on Canadian Heritage for study during its review of the Broadcasting Act. But the group decided to make the report public Tuesday.
"We hope members of the committee will take a hard and critical look at the performance of Canada's private broadcasters and ask tough questions about the effectiveness of existing government programs to promote Canada," Morrison says.
The report also says that over the past decade, while CBC has become almost entirely Canadian in content, private TV remains largely American and local and regional programs have almost disappeared.
"The private conventional networks continue to be the black sheep of the Canadian broadcasting system, offering Canadians few opportunities to see their own stories," Morrison adds.
Meanwhile, a http://www.statcan.ca Statistics Canada report also released Tuesday says that last fall Canadians watched 21.5 hours of TV a week, virtually unchanged from 1999. It says they also spent close to 40 per cent of their viewing time on Canadian programs.
But Morrison notes the numbers are likely skewed because they combine anglophone and francophone audience patterns and that home-grown viewing is probably much lower in English Canada and much higher in Quebec.
"So in a sense the Stats Can figure, though true, is misleading because very few Canadians out there are representative of the francophones and anglophones."
The report also confirms widely held views that pay and specialty services continue to grow at the expense of conventional channels. By the fall of 2000, it says, the audience share for conventional Canadian and foreign outlets had dropped to 65 per cent, compared with more than 99 per cent back in 1982.
© Canadian Press
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