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Monday, April 18, 2011

Revenge Of The Thick Black Line

A couple years back I took a bit of time and did a series of posts analyzing a set of minutes from an In Camera session of the 2009 License Renewal Hearings.

You can check out all 3 parts here, here and here. I read the whole thing, front to back. I wanted to know what was said when the folks who control most of the media in my country thought that no one could hear them.

What I discovered was an interesting, almost casual tone to the proceedings -- facts and figures played fast and loose, softball questions answered off the cuff with little to no actual data on hand (but they can have their people send it over).

Even when the 'gloves came off' and the 'hard questions' were being asked, I never got the sense that there was any weight behind it. Heck, I could practically envision this all happening in the back room of a nice bar; a bunch of folks chatting, and sometimes getting shirty, about why we can't possibly have more Canadian content on our TV screens.

It's good to see that some things never change.

If you're up for some enlightening reading about the current CRTC process -- the License Renewal Process -- I'd like to point you toward a couple of Mr. Henshaw's posts here and here.

What I find most frustrating about this process, about the CRTC sitting there asking the tough questions, is that, again, there's never any weight behind what's being asked for. Essentially, exchanges end up boiling down into this sort of pattern:

CRTC: Why can't you do this?
BROADCASTER: Because we can't.
CRTC: But why--
BROADCASTER: We can't.
CRTC: Okay.

Yes, sure there are a lot more words, sometimes folks zig where they should've zagged, but this seems like a common theme no matter how many different arguments I read.

That said, and to his credit, the new Vice-Chairman of Broadcasting on the Commission, Tom Pentefountas, seems to be holding folks' feet to the fire a tad longer than most -- and does seem to actually care about what we are (or are not) making in this country... but again... where's the sting?

No one's going to get spanked for bad behaviour... and, worse off, they know it.

Everyone knows it.

And it's sad because we Canadians have this fantastic tool that should be doing amazing things for us. The CRTC, in theory (and, uh, mandate... but whatever), is supposed to exist to protect Canadian consumer's interests from Corporate overreach (et al).

They're supposed to be in the ring swinging for the little guy.

And it's a shame that those ideals so often seem to get... waylaid... when put up against competing interests (with far larger stakes in the game).

Maybe it's just me but it often seems like the only weapon our CRTC has in its arsenal is public outrage; that the best they can hope to do is ask the questions that'll catch some exec sticking their foot in their mouth on the public record... and then hope that we'll care enough to get pissed off enough that they can go and do something about it.

(That said, I also think that the commission is a little too friendly with the people they're supposed to be regulating... but, you know, that's just my opinion...)

Listen, I don't always agree with the CRTC -- I don't always like their decisions, especially when it comes to Broadcasting in Canada (and what acceptable levels of Can Con are) -- but I also think they don't have enough tools to do their job properly.

Where are the punitive fines? Where is the stripping of protections? Where is the aura of fear that's going to ensure that folks play by the rules (if they want to play in our sandbox -- aka Canada)?

Hell, where is the punishment of any kind?

CRTC, you are our regulators. Discuss, if you must, fine.

But Regulate.

To tell them how it's going to be. Period. End of story.

And if you don't have the tools to do that properly -- tell us. Say, publicly, that we're not arming you properly... tell us what you need... and then we can fight to give it to you.

'Cause it's easy to call someone out for doing a shitty job if they're trying to lay tile with a shovel or peel potatoes with a pickaxe.

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt there.

So tell us what you need -- tell us what's missing.

And let us empower you to kick some ass on our behalf.

Cheers,
Brandon

PS: Since you're all about handing out the In Camera sessions, CRTC, how about handing some around to some other organizations with some skin in the game? Maybe ACTRA or the WGC's got something they'd like to get off their chest without fear of reprisal from the Broadcaster overlords. Just sayin'.

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