A team of researchers affiliated with Media@McGill will be attending the CRTC 'Diversity of Voices' hearings in Ottawa between Sept. 17th and 21st, 2007. The CRTC will, at these hearings, be considering interventions related to the important issues around concentration of ownership in the Canadian media industries. Please visit this blog frequently over the course of the week to read our daily reports.
Day 2 (Tuesday Sept. 18,2007)
By: Geneviève A. Bonin
Watching the CRTC Diversity of Voices proceedings live via the Internet yesterday, I asked myself why anyone would go to Ottawa to witness the events first hand. To my surprise, I found that, aside from networking, there are important reasons for attending such an event in person. Let me explain.
The day began with Luc Lavoie, Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs, representing Quebecor Inc. He was very much in line with the positions of the other large conglomerates in putting down the proposed quota-type regulations put forward in the CBC/Radio-Canada brief yesterday. He believes that the CRTC should relax regulations and let the market prevail. He went on to explain how Canada would benefit by having a few strong groups able to compete with the Rupert Murdochs (News Corporation) of the world on an international scale. He also emphasized the advantages of having more pooled resources, such as the capacity to deploy correspondents to places such as Afghanistan (the example par excellence of the proceedings).
His presentation was followed by Astral Media which maintained a similar opinion. A slight difference in emphasis proposed that the CRTC adopt a case by case approach to regulation, dealing with issues as they arise, rather than putting forth regulations for potential problems such as the diversity of voices in a highly consolidated environment. Astral also opposed the CBC proposal, arguing that it includes arbitrary figures which have no bearing on the real situation faced by broadcasters. In their opinion, if rules are to be made by the Commission, they should be the same for all aspects of broadcasting (radio, cable, television, etc.).
Addressing these positions, the Commission probed to find out what type of regulation would be appropriate, since it feels the market won’t be able to protect the consumer nor the industry as a whole. Unfortunately, not many ideas were suggested. The Bell Video Group, however, was commended by the Chairman for its efforts in putting forth some ideas related to a framework and guidelines.
The Commission also tried to determine if there were particular differences between the Quebec market and the rest of Canada. According to the major players there isn’t that much difference. In the main, however, the Commission seemed surprised that no one had conducted any studies or assessed what the impact of greater consolidation could mean for the diversity of voices, given that this was the day’s topic. It also seemed astonished that so many people were open to case by case regulatory decisions, when the standard response from broadcasters is usually not to interfere and favor streamlining.
Once Quebecor and Astral finished commenting, the numerous television camera crews and the slew of journalists who, initially, could barely fit at the designated “media table”, suddenly disappeared. This would not have been readily apparent by watching the standard CPAC format through online streaming or on television. Pelmorex Communications Inc.’s Senior Vice President Regulatory and Strategic Affairs, Paul Temple, stated it accurately: “changing on to plurality and perhaps a bit tongue in cheek, it’s interesting that the media attention seems to be proportional to one’s ownership of print and television….”. In effect, Quebecor and Astral media got interviews, photos and airtime, but once their presentations were complete, few remained to note the other discussions taking place with smaller corporations and organizations.
Nonetheless, what they had to say was quite revealing of the other side of the coin, and their presentations generated several avenues for exploration in preparation for the “Review of the regulatory frameworks for broadcasting distribution undertakings and discretionary programming services” set for January 28, 2008.
Some of the main issues for specialty channels involve carriage possibilities. It seems that although some channels have the recognition of the public as valued endeavors, they have very little leverage when it comes to negotiating with broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDUs) in choosing how they are packaged to the audience, the amount of advertising to which they are entitled and ultimately the revenue they can achieve. In light of these issues, Martha Fusca, President and CEO of Stornoway Communications, questioned if the public would be made aware of such difficulties or if the discussions would remain contained within the conference room walls: rightfully so, considering that aside from CPAC, journalists covering the event in its entirety were quite scarce, not to say virtually (no pun intended) absent.
Tomorrow, I’ll highlight perspectives from unions, journalists and professionals. Hopefully, they will be more capable or more forthcoming with solutions rather than opting for a blind faith in the market or ex post facto hard-line regulations and perhaps the theme of these proceedings, the “diversity of voices” might yet be addressed.