Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Want More Choices When You Watch TV? Special Interests Are Out to Make Sure You Don't Get It

A couple of weeks ago, I got an invitation to go to a discussion group to talk about a new initiative by the CRTC to offer more choices to consumers, particularly TV viewers and users of other screen media.  The invitation sounded like a good opportunity for me to go and rant about what I think are the CRTC's ridiculous regulatory policies that restrict the choices of Canadian TV viewers and make all of us pay for content that we don't want.  Little did I know that the gathering was actually a love-in for local documentary filmmakers, who are part of a larger special interest group that seeks to limit the choices that Canadians have when they watch TV so that they can coerce all of us to pay for whatever it is that they're producing.

For those of you who don't know, the CRTC, which stands Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission, is the federal government body that regulates all media in Canada, including what we watch on TV, hear on the radio, or download on the internet.  But the first C in CRTC might as well stand for communist rather than Canadian.  This arm of government tells our cable and satellite companies what channels they can offer, what channels they must offer and even where on the dial the channels must be.  If that's not bad enough, they can even dictate to the channels what content must be shown, forcing them to broadcast a certain amount of Canadian content regardless of whether or not the Canadian TV viewer wants it.  And to top it all off, the CRTC makes cable and satellite companies contribute funds to pay for Canadian programming.  This cost is eventually passed on to us on our insanely high cable and satellite bills.  Yes, your cable and satellite bills are higher because you're paying for both channels and content that you don't want, but that the CRTC and their Canadian content (Can-con) thumping cheerleaders insist you spend your hard-earned tax dollars on. 

For expressing these views, I was asked to leave the meeting, which I did.  At least the moderator asked me to leave politely, unlike her colleagues who acted as if they wanted to lynch me - or maybe just try to grab some more of my tax dollars.  These people are angry because for the first time, the CRTC is saying that it actually cares about what Canadian consumers think.  How dare the CRTC even contemplate listening to consumers for a change, because it could mean that for the first time, Canadians won't have to pay for TV packages full of channels and content that they don't want.  The death of the status-quo in which the Can-con lobbyists, represented by groups like the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, can no longer make Canadians pay to subsidize their industry is unthinkable to the people who were sitting in that room with me.  Perhaps they're thinking, "Oh no!  I might have to try and sell my product on the free market like other small-time entrepreneurs instead of counting on a regulatory body to make sure that Canadian tax payers subsidize me and my work, and keep the competition away."  Indeed, the Can-con people and the arts community in general are notorious for asking for government hand-outs.  Many of them cry poverty because their work isn't earning them a decent living.  And yes, it's true that there are a lot of "starving artists" out there.  But why should fellow tax payers have to pay for their inability to make a living with their work? 

I run a small business myself, as do many Canadians including people I know personally.  If my business failed, would the government be there to bail me out?  I wouldn't count on it, and I certainly wouldn't count on the government coming to me and saying, "your business is a failure, but don't worry, because we're going to make your fellow tax payers pay for a certain amount of whatever you're selling, regardless of how good or bad it is.  We're also going to make sure that we keep your potential competitors from the U.S. and elsewhere out so that Canadians will have no choice but to do business with you, even though they will pay more and get less."  This sounds completely ridiculous, but it's exactly what the so-called starving artists and Can-con cheerleaders want to hear from all levels of government.  And boy do they throw a tantrum when they don't get what they want.

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