No silver bullet for broadcasters, says regulator
There's no simple solution for the problems that ail the Canadian broadcasting industry, the head of Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications told politicians Wednesday.
Konrad von Finckenstein was grilled by MPs from all parties as they feel the heat from citizens worried about their local television stations.
"It seems like we have a hodge-podge of little measures that will get us over the initial hump . . . but local television is slowly disappearing and I fear it will disappear faster that what you are anticipating," N.L. Liberal MP Scott Simms told von Finckenstein during the committee hearing.
Von Finckenstein said while the CRTC will do what it can to help in the short-term, now is the time to think about long-term policy.
"Here we have an opportunity and an obligation to rethink our traditional assumptions and to move forward with a long-term vision for the Canadian television industry," von Finckenstein told the House of Commons heritage committee. "This is not something the commission will be able to do alone. It is a process that will require everyone to step up to the table with bold and creative ideas."
The comments came on the same day that the CBC announced it would be cutting 800 jobs across the country.
Von Finckenstein said his agency is willing to temporarily lower Canadian content and local programming requirements for private broadcasters.
In addition, the regulatory body has cleared the way for broadcasters to charge cable and satellite companies for time-shifted local television.
But von Finckenstein seemed less enthused when he was pressed by MPs about private broadcasters' main grievance with the CRTC, the "fee for carriage."
Both Canwest and CTVglobemedia have expressed their desire to charge cable and satellite companies for transmitting their network programs, as is done with specialty channels.
The two broadcasters have undergone layoffs and Canwest is facing bankruptcy unless it can come up with a new lending deal with its creditors.
"Fee for carriage is not the answer," von Finckenstein said Wednesday but added it was still on the table for discussion.
The fee for carriage would give broadcasters' an estimated $300 million in revenues a year. Von Finckenstein said it's not a guarantee that the cash would help local broadcasters.
But some MPs disagreed.
"As much as you say fee for carriage is not the solution, the status quo is not the solution either," Conservative MP Patrick Brown said, whose riding risks losing a local A-Channel station.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe also said he supports the idea.
Many politicians are worried about losing their local channels, which are responsible for much of their public profile.
Christopher Waddell, associate director of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, told CTV Newsnet that broadcasters are faced with both long and short-term problems.
"All broadcasters are facing two issues. In the short-term, the recession and the advertising drop off," he said. "And the other thing broadcasters are dealing with, that all media is dealing with, is the changes technologically," he said. "The old audiences don't exist in the same way."
Waddell said that the CRTC is arguing that now is the time to look at the entire broadcasting model, not just the problems caused by the recession.
"(But) this may put on the table a lot of things broadcasters don't want on the table," he added.