A Vancouver community-media producer is urging consumers to withhold part of their fees to Shaw Communications Inc. Sid Chow Tan, coproducer of EarthSeen and Saltwater City Television, told the Georgia Straight that this might help persuade the Calgary-based cable giant to resume its contributions to the Canadian Television Fund.
“That’s the same kind of tactic they’re doing,” Tan said. “See how they like that.”
Shaw and Vidéotron Ltée has each announced that it will no longer contribute to the $2.5-billion fund, which was created in 1996 to spur Canadian television productions. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission requires Vidéotron and Shaw to contribute a total of more than $6 million per month to the CTF, according to the Globe and Mail. Vidéo tron is controlled by Quebecor Inc., which owns 50 percent of the commuter paper 24 hours.
Tan suggested that members of the public should respond by withholding two percent of their cable bill. He said that Shaw is already required to contribute two percent of its cable levy into community television anyway, but he then alleged that this sector is also being shortchanged. The cable company’s CEO, Jim Shaw, was unavailable for comment by deadline.
Jeff Brinton, a spokesperson for the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, told the Straight that for every dollar invested by the Canadian Television Fund, $3.70 is generated in economic activity. “The CTF is an incredibly essential component of the Canadian broadcasting system,” Brinton said, adding that it is threatened by the cable companies’ action.
NDP MP Charlie Angus told the Straight that Bev Oda, the Conservative Minister of Canadian Heritage, precipitated a “crisis” by not forcing the cable companies to adhere to their licensing commitments. “We don’t need a minister to act as a lobbyist for Shaw and Vidéotron,” Angus said. “We need the minister to uphold a basic level of fairness.”
Angus, the critic for Canadian Heritage, noted that when Oda was a CRTC commissioner in 1993, she wrote a dissenting opinion that opposed mandatory contributions from cable companies to Canadian productions. Angus pointed out that the CRTC permitted deregulation of cable fees during the 1990s. In return for enjoying larger profits, these companies were supposed to give something back to the industry, he added.
“These guys have a pampered, protected market,” Angus claimed, describing the cable companies’ decision to withhold payments as an “outrageous spectacle”.
According to the Canadian Television Fund Web site (www.canadiantelevisionfund.ca/), there is $167.2 million available for English-language broadcasting in the fiscal year 2006/2007. More than a dozen B.C. companies qualified for funding. The largest grants went to Bitten Productions Inc. ($3.6 million shared with an Ontario company), Robson Arms Productions Inc. ($1.8 million), and Da Vinci City Films Inc. ($1.75 million).