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Heritage minister orders CRTC to review decision lowering Canadian content

'This is a real victory for the thousands of Canadians who stepped up and spoke out,' says ACTRA head

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has asked Canada's broadcast regulator to review its decision earlier this year allowing some Canadian broadcasters to cut spending on the creation of Canadian content.

 

In May, as part of the five-year licence renewals of broadcasters Bell, Corus and Rogers, the CRTC set the new minimum for how much the trio had to spend creating "programs of national interest" to five per cent of a broadcaster's revenue.

 

The broadcasters were spending from nine to 10 per cent of revenues creating programs of national interest.

 

"We are asking the CRTC to reconsider these decisions in order to ensure that we achieve the right balance of investment in content and in the ability to compete," Joly said in a statement issued Monday.

 

"In referring back these decisions, the government wishes to affirm its support for great Canadian dramas, comedies, animation, films, documentaries — and other programs of national interest — that reflect our country and its diversity."

 

The decision to mandate less spending on Canadian content was immediately blasted at the time by unions representing actors, writers, directors and producers in the industry.

 

The broadcasters, however, argued they needed the change to remain competitive with streaming services such as Netflix, which are exempt from Canadian content requirements.

 

Last week the Directors Guild of Canada wrote to the cabinet urging it to order the CRTC to revisit its May decision, which the guild argued would cut more than $900 million in Canadian film and television production over the next five years.

 

"The CRTC's English-language rulings will strip as much as $911 million in broadcaster investment from independently produced scripted programming over the next five years and sap $1.15 billion from our GDP," the guild said in its letter.

 

Foreign competitors

The broadcasters argued in a full-page ad in the Hill Times earlier this month that being forced to produce content and schedule it to air at specific times is "disappointing and puzzling."

"As broadcasters, we are in the business of creating and selling programs that people want to watch," the statement said.

 

"Never has it been more important to invest in content that allows us to compete and differentiate ourselves from an increasing array of unregulated foreign-based digital services that are now operating in Canada."

 

Content producers applaud move

In her statement Monday, Joly said the government recognizes the changing reality of the media landscape and that the next few years "will be critical to establishing the conditions for Canadians to be able to compete with the best in the world."

The move was welcomed by Canada's writers, producers, actors and directors.

 

The Writers Guild of Canada issued a statement Monday saying it was "extremely pleased" with Joly's decision to send the CRTC back to reconsider its ruling.

The Directors Guild of Canada president Tim Southam said Joly's decision was a winner, and the union representing actors encouraged the CRTC to overturn its previous decision.

 

"This is a real victory for the thousands of Canadians who stepped up and spoke out to defend Canadian storytelling. However, there is still work to be done," said Stephen Waddell, the executive director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists.