The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has been in the news lately over its announcement to loosen the rules requiring Canadian television productions to have pre-dominantly Canadian talent. Despite the CRTC’s claim that allowing productions to have more foreign artists will open the door to new talent and have more International and Canadian co-productions, Canadian artists like the members of the Canadian Guild of Professional Screenwriters are criticizing the move as having long term negative financial and cultural repercussions for Canada and its artists.
To most of us, the CRTC is that annoying organization that issues fines and cuts Canadians off of those great Superbowl Ads. It’s the government body that keeps Canadians stuck with sometimes inferior quality TV shows due to Canadian Content requirements established by law that force networks to reserve a certain amount of airtime to Canadian productions, be they ads or shows.
But the CRTC is also the body that helped keep great shows like Royal Canadian Air Farce, Kids in the Hall, DaVinci’s Inquest, and Nikita on the air for as long as they were.
Why does the CRTC do this?
They are required by law.
The CRTC is the government body responsible for enforcing, among other things, the federal Broadcasting Act and Canada’s anti-spam laws.
The Broadcasting Act sets out the broadcasting rules and policy for all of Canada, specifically with regards to television, radio, and any other means of broadcasting programs and ads. According to the Act, Canada’s broadcasting policy includes that the Canadian broadcasting system be effectively owned by Canadians, that said system operate primarily in English and French, and defining the system as a public service for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing Canada’s national identity and cultural sovereignty.
The Broadcasting Act also says that the Canadian broadcasting system should “serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada” by providing programming that reflects Canadian opinions, attitudes, ideas, and values.
According to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission Act, The CRTC consists of a maximum of thirteen members named by the government for a term of five years with a possibility of re-appointment. Members have to work on the committee full time and cannot become a member of the CRTC if they are not Canadian citizens or ordinary residents of Canada.
They also cannot be named to the CRTC if they have a conflict of interest because they are involved in a telecommunications firm directly or indirectly as an owner, shareholder, director, officer, or partner OR if they have any financial interest in a telecommunications company or are involved in the sale or manufacture of telecommunications apparatus. The law does provide for an exception to the latter rule if the telecommunications stuff being sold is an incidental aspect of a retail or wholesale business which a potential member is involved in. Where a potential Commission member has a forbidden financial stake they can still be named to the CRTC provided they get rid of said stake within three months.
The current chairman of the CRTC is former Montreal lawyer Jean-Pierre Blais whose term ends in 2017.
In order for the CRTC to enforce Canada’s broadcasting policy, it has been granted various powers by the Broadcasting Act.
The main powers are control over who gets a broadcasting license and the ability to make regulations regarding everything from ensuring that Canadian programs and ads get a certain amount of airtime to setting what constitutes a Canadian program.
It’s their discretion over what constitutes a Canadian program that is now coming under fire. Canadian programs and co-productions are eligible for federal government money which by extension comes from Canadian taxpayers.
A production that does not qualify as Canadian as per the definition set out by the CRTC is not eligible for federal funds.
The current eligibility requirements for a production to count as Canadian are high, resulting in more Canadian screenwriters, actors, and directors hired for Canadian television shows. The CRTC’s proposal is to lower those requirements, opening the door to more non-Canadian talent at the expense of Canadian artists.
The obvious counter argument is that it should be the best person for the job, but if the law says that the goal of the Canadian broadcasting system is to work for the benefit of the Canadian people and present their point of view, government funds should go to productions that employ a lot of Canadians.
To do otherwise would result in the CRTC violating the very law that empowers it.