Friday, July 06, 2007

Will CRTC Deregulation Affect CAB's Kids Code?

I will be away until July 11th, so there will be no new blog entries on Gamine Expedition until late next week. In the meantime, some food for thought. In May, Canada's new conservative CRTC Chairman Konrad Von Finckenstein announced his plans to deregulate television advertising in Canada and make some pretty drastic changes to the way "conventional television broadcasters" operate. Here are the details from the CRTC news release:
Notably, the Commission has decided to:

* remove restrictions on advertising time limits after gradually increasing the amount of advertising allowed;
* establish August 31, 2011, as the date by which television licensees will only broadcast digital signals;
* require English- and French-language broadcasters to caption for the hearing impaired 100 per cent of their programs over the 18-hour broadcast day, with the exception of advertising and promotions; and
* deny a subscriber fee for the carriage of local conventional television stations on cable and satellite as its necessity has not been demonstrated.

“These changes reflect our approach of developing lighter and more targeted regulation to achieve the objectives of the Broadcasting Act,” said Konrad von Finckenstein, Q.C., Chairman of the CRTC. “Broadcasters will have the flexibility to air more advertising, and Canadians viewers will ultimately decide what is acceptable.”

As of this (2007), the ad limits will increase to 14 minutes per hour during prime time (7 p.m. to 11 p.m). The following year, this will increase to 15 minutes (all day). After that, the sky's the limit, I suppose.

The story initially "broke" in a Playback magazine interview with Von Finckenstein, wherein he was quoted saying he is aiming for a "lighter approach to regulation" that places less of a burden on government and corporations, and that "We must give fuller play to the energy and creativity of market forces..." While the interview also describes the process the CRTC must undergo to revise departmental policy, the CRTC website currently states these changes as fact.

Prof. Paul Boin, professor of Media Studies at the University of Windsor, was quick to respond via Globe and Mail Op-Ed piece, and now through a national campaign/grassroots organization aimed at preventing the CRTC from handing over Canadian airwaves to market forces. Check it out here: Canadians for Democratic Media. Boin wrote a lengthy and very insightful piece about why deregulation is bad for Canada, which included the following excerpts:
By attempting to get our CRTC "out of the business" of regulating advertising time, not only has Von Finkenstein gone against 75 years of broadcasting precedent and well-developed and proven public policy, but it seems as though he hasn't even read our existing Broadcasting Act. Section 5.1 of our act states that the "Commission shall regulate and supervise all aspects of the Canadian broadcasting system." Section 10.1 of our act states that the CRTC shall "make regulations…respecting the character of advertising and the amount of broadcasting time that may be devoted to advertising… respecting the proportion of time that may be devoted to the broadcasting of programs, including advertisements or announcements."

Now, each time a new techno-gadget plays or podcasts some media content we hear the whine of our wealthy broadcasters stating how they are at a regulatory disadvantage when compared to their newer media counterparts. To these whines I respond, "then run all the cheap American programming and advertising you want via your corporate websites, and give us back your publicly owned broadcast frequencies and designated spots on the cable and satellite dial." Canada's private networks have forgotten that the public owns the channels their content is distributed on, and we only allow them to use these channels if they meet their conditions of license. If they, and the CRTC, are no longer interested in meeting these basic conditions (e.g., Canadian content quotas, limited advertising) then return these channels to the public who will then re-allocate them to any number of conscientious media providers who will be more than proud to meet the goals of the broadcasting act – that "the Canadian broadcasting system shall be effectively owned and controlled by Canadians," supply a "public service," while "providing a wide range of programming that reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity…" - while earning a healthy profit.

In a follow-up article, Playback covered the backlash against Von Finckenstein's announcement, demonstrating the growing lack of support for the CRTC (organizations from ACTRA to the CAB have expressed their disappointment with the new decisions):
Both the CBC and the Directors Guild of Canada say the CRTC is encouraging a freefall of spending on Canadian drama because it didn't firm up support for Canadian content in its new television policy, which, instead, will eliminate limits on ad time by 2009.
The NDP's heritage critic Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay) believes the CRTC isn't acting in the interest of Canadian viewers. "We've already got enough commercials on television. What's in it for the Canadian viewer if they aren't watching Canadian shows," he says. "Airwaves are public. These broadcasters make money because they are operating in a protected environment. Where's the corresponding obligation to invest in Canadian television?"

As always, my mind is on kids' advertising and how massively saturated children's television already is with ads and marketing schemes: from 30-minute commercials to the frequent instances of networks breaking the rules on what can and can't be advertised to kids. The current regulatory system isn't strict enough, and now our conservative government is going to make it nearly impossible to improve things. A big part of having regulation is to protect citizens from imbalances in power--between individuals and corporations, or between media producers/providers and vulnerable groups. Younger children have enough difficulty as it is telling the difference between content and ads--how will they assert their "consumer agency" and set limits on ads during kids' programming with even less support from media policy than they already have. Once again, I suppose the huge responsibility of reigning in the marketplace is being tossed onto the shoulders of parents and families. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself (fingers crossed). No mention has been made in any of the literature I've come across if children's television will be exempt or equally effected by this. I've been waiting to find out for sure whether or not the CAB's CRTC-enforced Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children would be impacted before I chimed in, but perhaps while I'm away one of my readers can fill me in. Either way, this is a disturbing development for Canadians, and I encourage you to write to your MP, file a formal CRTC complaint, and otherwise get involved in reversing this and pending decisions to deregulate our public airwaves.

Update: Although I mentioned the children's television issue extensively in my formal CRTC complaint, the form-letter response I got gave me zero answers about whether the kids' code will be affected...leading me to suspect even more now that it will be.

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