WGC Responds to Broadcasters' Open Letter

WGC Responds to Broadcasters’ Open Letter on Cabinet Petition

Toronto – August 3, 2017 — In a joint full-page ad and open letter in the Hill Times yesterday, the three large, English-language private broadcast groups—Bell Media, Corus Entertainment, and Rogers Media—attempted to muddy the waters with respect to petitions to the federal cabinet made by the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC) and other members of the Canadian creative community. The merits of those petitions, however, remain as strong as ever.
Firstly, in their open letter the broadcasters employ the now-familiar tactic of pivoting to global Canadian programming expenditure (CPE) numbers, notwithstanding the fact that the petitions clearly emphasize the potential impacts on “programs of national interest” (PNI), such as drama and documentary. The WGC pointed out the flaw in this argument here, and again when former CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais used it here. The WGC petition is about PNI, and pointing to CPE in the face of PNI concerns is a dodge, pure and simple.
Secondly, the broadcasters step on their own feet when they claim that being “forced to produce specific types of Canadian content” is “both disappointing and puzzling.”  This statement appears to reject the CRTC’s entire PNI policy, which does that very thing, has done so since 2011, and was maintained in this year’s licence renewal decisions—decisions that the broadcasters suggest in their open letter must be allowed to stand. The WGC objects to the minimum levels of PNI spending being slashed for Bell and Corus, from their own historical spending to the lowest-common-denominator of 5% of revenues. If the PNI policy itself is “disappointing and puzzling,” the broadcasters could have said that at the CRTC (which they didn’t), and presumably should be launching their own cabinet petition now (which they aren’t). This is a classic attempt to have things both ways. Moreover, the broadcasters suggest that they don’t need regulatory minimums because it’s in their own interests to spend on PNI. If that’s the case, why argue for their reduction?  If there is nothing to suggest their PNI spending levels will change going forward, why take out a full-page ad to fight against maintaining them?
Finally, the broadcasters employ the tiring rhetoric of the “protectionist past” pitted against the digital future. This conveniently ignores the advantages and protections that they have long enjoyed, and continue to enjoy under the Broadcasting Act, while they lament the obligations that come with them. Once again, they seek to have it both ways.
Reduced programming commitments to Canadian drama and documentary is only a “giant leap forward” if your vision of the future is less Canadian programming. Considering that the business strategies of these broadcasters has for decades been to resell foreign, predominantly U.S. programming into Canada, what they propose now looks more like a giant lurch backwards. 
Contact: Neal McDougall, Director of Policy, Writers Guild of Canada 
416-979-7907, extension 5220, n.mcdougall@wgc.ca 
The Writers Guild of Canada represents 2,200 professional English-language screenwriters across Canada, the creators of distinctly Canadian entertainment enjoyed on all screens.

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