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CBC seeks more funds from feds to restore local news, boost Canadian content
TORONTO (CP) – The CBC has outlined a multimillion-dollar plan to improve its Canadian programming, including a strategy to restore regional radio and TV content, notably local supper-hour newscasts.
Such programming was slashed in 2000 due to a series of cuts in the broadcaster’s public funding. The strategy was presented Thursday to the Canadian heritage committee by Richard Stursberg, the new vice-president of the CBC’s English-language TV network, and his counterparts for French-language TV and English and French radio. It had already been submitted to Heritage Minister Lisa Frulla last December.
CBC president Robert Rabinovitch also outlined the plan in remarks to staff on Friday.
“Faced with massive government reductions in our funding during the 1990s, CBC/Radio-Canada was forced to make very difficult programming decisions,” Rabinovitch said. “But we are committed to rebuilding our local and regional service and this plan details how we would do that, and what it would cost.”
Under a three-year regional/local program restoration strategy, special operating funds would be required: $34.4 million in the first year, $61.2 million in the second, ramping up to $82.8 million by the third year.
In addition, the CBC wants the government to make permanent a $60-million annual pay-out that has been added to the broadcaster’s fixed budget of nearly $900 million in each of the past three years. And there’s an ongoing plea that the CBC get back its once-protected 50 per cent allotment of the Canadian Television Fund, the public-private source of program financing.
There are also plans to double the amount of current Canadian drama series and specials, mount a weekly cultural affairs program and bring back late night and weekend local news. Stursberg says the CBC is the only network willing to devote prime-time hours to Canadian drama.
Stursberg indicated there would be some streamlining or even elimination of existing shows to free resources to get back into regional programming, where cuts have lost the network hundreds of thousands of viewers. Even CBC’s national supper-hour newscast, Canada Now, has been rumoured to be under re-evaluation.
“This represents a good reversal in previous CBC policy, and that’s great,” said Arnold Amber, the Canadian Media Guild’s CBC branch president after the committee hearing. “It was also good to see the support coming from the members of the committee for this ambitious plan.”
Meanwhile, ACTRA, the Canadian actors’ union, is warning again that Canadian TV drama continues to decline. Citing a new statistical report issued by the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, the union said there was a seven per cent decline in government-certified Canadian content during the 2002-2003 season.
“Canadian drama has been on a steady decline since the CRTC’s 1999 television policy let private broadcasters off the hook,” said Stephen Waddell, ACTRA’s national executive director, referring to the broadcast regulator’s decision to relax the definition of required Canadian content.
“Canadians are losing their jobs and their culture.”
But the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, which represents the bulk of the country’s private broadcasters, offered a different picture, citing the same statistical report, entitled Profile 2005, that was released Thursday in Ottawa.
“Canada’s private broadcasters continue to be independent production’s strongest partner with year-over-year growth of investment in independent production of 13 per cent in the 2003 broadcast year,” CAB president Glenn O’Farrell said in a statement.
O’Farrell added that the difficulties faced in getting domestic production off the ground are due largely to the increased value of the dollar, a general decrease in production throughout North America and increased competition from various U.S. states to lure TV production.
The producers association report admits the industry is in a slump at present, citing the dollar and increased foreign competition. But it also looked positively at recent tax credit hikes announced in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.
“It’s a tough, cut-throat business and Canadian producers have got to fight for their turf,” said Guy Mayson, president and CEO of the producers association. “We’re moving in the right direction with the recently improved provincial tax credits, but we need to do more with the federal tax credits. And ultimately we need a business strategy for building stronger independent companies.”
Laszlo Barna, a Toronto producer responsible for such shows as Da Vinci’s Inquest, called for a streamlining of the key cultural industries, including the CBC, the National Film Board, Telefilm Canada, the CRTC and the Canadian Television Fund.
“The producer’s cash flow also needs to flow,” Barna added. “Right now it’s restricted by outdated administrative rules.”