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MCTV

Nov 14, 2001

City Hall, Sault Ste. Marie

Remarks by Ian Morrison
Spokesperson
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting 

Thanks for the invitation to come to Sault Ste. Marie and to speak here at City Hall tonight.

You are not alone.

About ten years ago the CBC – trying to cut costs – shut down their Windsor station, but people in Windsor wouldn't accept that decision – despite the obvious impact of budget cuts on the CBC's plans.

Last year, in cities across Canada, the CBC once again touched nerves when they announced plans to cancel suppertime news shows – in Charlottetown, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Windsor, and many other cities. But people wouldn't accept that decision either.

As I stand here today – when you are facing a closure of your station, you should understand that the possibility is still there. The chance to win this battle is real.

A little background:

FRIENDS' history – a citizen-supported organization that fights for Canadian content on radio and television. 15 years later – we've got supporters across the country – 55,000 households are contributors. One hundred and thirty of those families live right here in Sault Ste. Marie, and many of them are here tonight.

People care – Canadians do care about what they see and hear on radio and television.

Over the years, FRIENDS has been fortunate to get help from a great many individual Canadians – a lot of seniors, some business leaders – some famous Canadians. Here's a sample to give you a sense of how this issue cuts across every regional and political line: Sylvia Tyson, Bill Davis, Peter Lougheed, Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, Knowlton Nash, Colin James, Steven Page, to name a few.

What have we learned over these fifteen years?

We've learned that most of the issues have some connection to Ottawa – either the laws and regulations from Parliament or monitoring by the CRTC. That gives individuals and communities some reason for hope. Politicians can be held responsible for the way the system works.

Broadcasting is a regulated industry. What does that mean? Think for a moment about what broadcasters get from Ottawa:

When the CTV brass announced they needed to shut down the MCTV operation, they said, of course, that they were only doing this in response to fiscal constraints; that their station simply wasn't profitable.

If this made you ready to head for the exits: "after all, how can you force a company to keep losing money", stay on for a few moments, and listen to a few facts.

You might be surprised to learn that the entire Canadian broadcasting system is built around losses on Canadian content.

Here's what Michael McCabe said recently – he's the president of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the broadcasting lobby group. CTV is his biggest member. They pay more than one million dollars in dues to Michael's lobby each year.

Mike McCabe said in 1999:

"Broadcasters, for the most part, don't make money on their Canadian programming. We lose some 40¢ for every dollar we spend."

Where broadcasters make money is importing American shows and wrapping Canadian ads around them. You see those shows on your TV sets every day. They use the profits from those imported shows to cross-subsidize their money-losing Canadian programs.

So why should we be surprised that CTV claims to be losing money on its supper-hour show in Sault Ste. Marie. They lose money on all kinds of Canadian shows. That's their business model.

So why pick on Sault Ste. Marie?

In return for providing essential services such as local supper-hour shows in smaller communities across the land, private broadcasters get a lot of support from Ottawa. Consider:

They operate in a regulated industry. You can't just open up a station in the Sault without a CRTC licence. This is protection from foreign competition for the benefit of the broadcasters.

Have you heard of simultaneous substitution? When you watch ER on an American network through Shaw Cable, Ottawa requires Shaw to switch things around so that you see CTV's ER feed, with CTV's ads. That means that CTV gets to charge more for those ads because it's gathering a larger audience. All courtesy of Ottawa.

Consider the Canadian Television Fund. Each year this fund generates about $200 million from Canadian taxpayers and from cable companies re-directing part of your cable fees. Guess where that money ends up? It helps CTV and other Canadian broadcasters by reducing the cost of their Canadian shows.

If you visit the broadcasting lobby's web site and review their own research you'll find some interesting statistics. For example – their own research says that for every dollar spent on Canadian content on a show broadcast by a private broadcaster… half that money comes from the public and less than 20% comes from the broadcaster.

And finally, advertising and tax laws are designed to benefit the Canadian broadcasters in a way that is particularly important here in the Sault. If a local business places an ad on a nearby Michigan TV station, they can't deduct the cost of that ad as a business expense when they file their corporate income tax return. That's a big incentive to advertise on Canadian stations.

All this is money in the bank for Canadian private broadcasters such as CTV. In fact the value of all these concessions from Ottawa has been estimated to exceed the entire profits of the private broadcasters. That means that without Ottawa's help – help from you and me – they'd be out of business tomorrow.

Like others who were shocked by CTV's recent announcement, I went to the CRTC's web site and looked up some of the statements that CTV's owners have recently made to the CRTC.

Here's what BCE President & CEO Jean Monty told the CRTC on September 18th, 2000 when he applied for permission to take over CTV:

"We would like to think that a local TV station in one of the markets of CTV will improve its programming as it proceeds and participates with us to the point where we build our brand at that local community."

That brand is "Bell".

And here are three things that Bell GlobeMedia's President & CEO Ivan Fecan – he reports to Monty – told the CRTC on April 18th this year when he led CTV's application to renew its group licences:

"We believe in serving our communities."

"Global has never been in Timmins, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Yorkton, Prince Albert. We have, we believe, good solutions for providing local coverage in those markets and we are proud of those solutions."

"It is really important for us to be there and to be part of that community in every single way. So that, for us, I have to say, is a no-brainer."

When the CRTC responded to CTV's plans to leave town in Sault Ste. Marie and elsewhere in Northern Ontario, the Commission concluded that it:

"… expects CTV to fulfil the spirit, as well as the letter, of its commitments to provide local programming to the public in the communities it serves."

That's a pretty strong nudge from the regulator.

Members of Parliament understand that local TV matters. FRIENDS will be there in Ottawa to demand that parliamentarians weigh in on the side of local television.

But all of you here have to pull together to make sure that the anger you have already mobilized does not fade away. Instead, if we are to win this fight, that anger must build and sustain itself.

You are not alone. All across Canada, viewers want their local programs. FRIENDS has commissioned two studies to verify this fact. In one of them, "What's on TV" we found that in Winnipeg, the audience for local programming far exceeds the supply. In another study, "Leaving Town", we found that CBC's audience for supper hour local programming is larger than CBC's average audience.

So, I have a few messages for you tonight.

The first is that what you are struggling to accomplish is not asking any favours of CTV. Instead, it's demanding that you get services similar to those that are available in other Canadian communities. You're not asking favours, you're insisting on your rights. If you don't do that, no one else can do it for you.

Second, what you are doing is important not just here in Sault Ste. Marie. It's important all across Canada. If these guys can get away with cutting essential services in your city, they'll try it somewhere else next.

Third, you have to keep up the pressure. People like Carmen Provenzano need to know that you'll remember how well he performs on this issue when the next election rolls around. I can assure you that if Carmen and his Northern Ontario colleagues all pull together, they can turn this around. FRIENDS has already offered them our full support.

I do have to tell you that it does bother me a bit that the Chair of the Northern Ontario Caucus of the federal Liberal Caucus, Senator Marie Poulin, also sits on the Board of Directors of Bell GlobeMedia.

So, here are a few steps for you to consider:

One: understand that economics are on your side. You're not looking for handouts – you're demanding that a profitable broadcaster live up to the promises they made. They're the ones cashing the handouts, not the people of Sault Ste. Marie.

Two: all hands on deck – this is not a partisan issue – it's a community issue. In other cities where fights like this have been won, the newspaper and the Chamber of Commerce, and local advertisers have all rolled up their sleeves. Windsor is the best example I know.

Three: be loud, be vocal, and know your targets. Your targets are BCE, Bell GlobeMedia and Ottawa, not the CRTC.

Finally: reach out to people in North Bay and Timmins and other communities adversely affected by CTV's irresponsible decision. It really is a case where 1 + 1 = 3.