Broadcast Act failing: Shaw to CRTC

Outspoken CEO Jim Shaw was a no-show yesterday, but his execs delivered a strong case for changing existing rules.

The Broadcasting Act is too protectionist and doesn’t promote Canadian culture, Shaw Communications execs told the CRTC yesterday as hearings on the future of satellite and cable continued.

‘It’s a bad policy and it doesn’t work. If you look at the strong Canadian cultural contributions to the world, they aren’t protected,’ Shaw Communications SVP Ken Stein told commission chair Konrad von Finckenstein.

He pointed to Margaret Atwood and Canada’s pop music industry as examples of how culture can thrive without government regulations, adding that he reads far more about Canadian music in Rolling Stone than he does about Canadian television in Variety.

Stein made the comments during his company’s presentation on the issue of genre protection. Shaw Communications wants the current rules removed entirely so it can offer popular US channels such as HBO and ESPN to Canadian consumers. Advocates of genre protection say it promotes homegrown culture by limiting the distribution in Canada of foreign channels. It also protects domestic specialty channels by limiting the number of licenses per programming genre.

‘We believe a competitive system will achieve more diversity and will achieve the objectives of the Broadcasting Act,’ said Stein, adding that there are parallels between the transportation sector and cultural industries. ‘Everyone was afraid about what would happen when they privatized Via Rail, and it’s working.’

But von Finckenstein responded that comparing transportation and culture doesn’t make sense. He also said it’s doubtful that market forces alone could achieve the goals of the Broadcasting Act. ‘If we adopt the Shaw approach,’ he asked, ‘won’t programmers say, ‘What’s the minimum I can do in terms of Canadian content?”

Guilds and unions as well as cable and satellite companies Rogers and Bell are united in their support for genre protection.

Shaw execs also reiterated their objection to the fee-for-carriage proposal put forward by networks including CTV, Global and CBC. The broadcasters maintain it’s unfair that cable and satellite providers can carry their signal free of charge. They want to charge 50 cents a month per channel per subscriber for their feeds, and say they will use the new money to fund Canadian programming.

But Shaw warns that the proposal could be disastrous because American networks may want to charge similar fees. ‘Fee-for-carriage must be resoundingly rejected once and for all,’ Shaw president Peter Bissonette told the CRTC.

Last week, Jim Shaw sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper blasting the CRTC for allowing the fee debate at the BDU hearings. The Calgary-based CEO didn’t show up for Wednesday morning’s hearings, which prompted comments from von Finckenstein: ‘Given his vociferous views on these hearings, I thought he would have done us the courtesy of appearing in person. Since we have been subject to his criticism, I would have appreciated the opportunity to deal with him one on one.’

From Playback Daily