Does Canada want Government Radio?
YES, says this writer: Government control of broadcasting is the only means by which we can prevent United States domination of the Canadian air
JAMES A. COWAN
THERE is no prospect of anything but radio subordination to the United States unless Canadian stations are nationally
owned, controlled and operated.”
There is the crux of the entire radio controversy. The words are those of Charles A. Bowman, of the Aird Commission, but the conviction expressed is that of all its members. It was responsible for the creation of the commission, to a very important degree. It is not necessary to scent mysteries or trail-hidden reasons. There is the case in somewhat less than a nutshell.
The issue, as the commissioners sum it up, is not whether radio in Canada is to be publicly or privately owned. It is a much bigger one.
“The Canadian people have to decide,” says Mr. Bowman, “whether Canada is to have an independent Canadian broadcasting system worthy of Canada or to become dependent on United States’ sources for radio service, very much as this country has become dependent upon the United States for motion pictures.” Yet in the able synopsis of the arguments which are being advanced against the report, not as much as a solitary sentence is given to
A Common Sense Point of View
the consideration of this question— by far the most vital factor in the situation.
When those who attack and denounce make a sincere effort to cope with this state of affairs, either by proposing some other solution or offering evidence that Canada can hold her own under the present system, it will be quite soon enough to be funny and sarcastic, to draw witty comparisons between government control of radio and government control of hot dogs, or call members of parliament “undertakers,” as one Toronto radio station manager has done in his efforts to discredit the proposals.
TT IS the contention of the members -*■ of the Aird Commission that the question of w hether radio’s influence in Cañada is to be Canadian or nonCanadian justifies n study of the matter from a broader viewpoint than that of any one listener’s tastes, any one radio dealer’s business outlook, or the amount of money or publicity any individual or concern may make out of the industry as at present constituted.
Volumes of evidence presented to the commission pointed to steady increase in American influence until it has reached the point of domination. Representatives
of radio stations wrere heard, of all branches of the radio industry, of radio advertisers and of radio listeners.
The cumulative effect on three representative citizens, of all these interests had to say, was to convince them absolutely that the present system would inevitably be beaten, but that a unified, nationalized system might succeed.
Yet this, the heart of the whole matter, is overlooked entirely when the opposition is lined up for examination.
Thi3 article is not offered as a justification of the recommendations. It, too, is written by a radio listener, but not an average one. That term has yet to be defined, and the probability that such an individual actually exists in the flash is highly remote. It is written with
the idea that no listener, no matter howr devoted, is necessarily equipped to sit in judgment on such a complex and far-reaching problem as radio, particularly when a purely personal viewpoint depends so much on geographical location. It is written because it seems logical to suppose that, when three well-known Canadians are afforded every facility and spend nearly a year in investigating something, the conclusions they have reached deserve full and fair-minded consideration, no
matter w'hat one’s preconceived opinions may be.
The Aird Commission went methodically and efficiently about its work. It was led by one of the most distinguished of living Canadians. The fact that he was willing to devote so much personal attention to the problem is in itself significant. The commission worked from December, 1928, to September, 1929, and travelled between 30,000 and 35,000 miles. It made a report which was clearly based on the most thorough examination of radio conditions ever carried out in this country.
An Unworthy Insinuation
TN THE case against the report which appears in this issue of Marl jean’s, the most serious phase of the attack is that which questions the good faith of the commission and its members not because of the argument offered but because of its implication. The statement is made that some “mysterious guiding power has given secret instructions to these gentlemen to Rpare no effort in the promotion of the state ownership idea.”
To insinuate, among other things, that some politician or politicians could instruct Sir John Aird on his attitude toward an important national question regardless of his own convictions. and then induce him to take time for
nearly a year from his owm interests as head of one of the country’s greatest financial institutions, in order to draw up a report along lines which had already been dictated to him, is an absurdity of a very imaginative variety. But since the allegation has been made, it do«» at least provide an opportunity to reveal the exact method by which the report was prepared and the circumstances surrounding it, neither of which is generally known.
“No influence, either by the Federal Cabinet collectively or by individual ministers, or by any official, nas at any time been brought to bear to affect the recommendations in the report,” Mr. Bowman states. “The commissioners did not even endeavor to influence one another during the enquiry.
“After hearing the evidence
and gathering information, including twenty-five public sessions across Canada, each commissioner drafted an outline of what seemed to be the desirable way to meet the situation in the national interests of Canada and the interests of Canadian listeners. We agreed to do this before meeting again to consider the final report.
“For my part,” he continues, “until this subsequent meeting, I had no more idea what Sir John Aird would had. We had come, separately,
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Does Canada Want Government
JAMES A. COWAN
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to unanimous conclusions on the general course to be followed in view of the situation that is confronting Canada on this problem of Canadian control of the Canadian radio realm. It only remained for us to come to an agreement on questions of detail in order to present a unanimous report to the government.
“While the commission met executives of the nine provincial cabinets, at no time during the investigation did it have even one conference with the Federal ministers.”
The report and its recommendations are, therefore, three distinct sets of opinions, formed separately but agreeing in essentials, by the three men who have had the greatest recent opportunity for concentrated study of this problem.
The arguments put forward here in opposition are not new. Sir John Aird, for instance, has heard them all. He heard them before the report was made and they were considered when it was drawn up. Practically all are answered in the report itself. This Sir John points out without comment.
He undertook at the official request of the government of his country to carry on an investigation, doing it in the hope that it would be of service to Canadians as a whole. Having carried out the task whole-heartedly to the full extent of his judgment and ability, he has presented the results to Parliament and the Canadian people for their decision. There, as far as he is concerned, the matter finally rests.
Where circumstances arising since the issuing of the report have made additional statements desirable, this duty has usually devolved upon Mr. Bowman.
The “Politics” Bogey
CINCE, in the objections presented in ^ the article opposite, the most vital factor of American control is completely neglected, the remainder of the arguments can be dealt with very briefly. The material which follows is drawn almost entirely from the report or from statements made by Mr. Bowman.
The charge of political control is made, of course. In fact, fear of political control, along with obeisance to American methods, runs like a theme song through the entire presentation until, if one is to accept the arguments put forward, it is necessary to accept as proved that any act of any Canadian government is prompted primarily by political motives— which is not borne out by Canadian history. No concrete evidence is given to support the contention that political control of radio is the aim of the proposed changes. There is simply the pointblank statement without any clue to the authority for this announcement beyond the quoted opinion of one well-known Canadian who also operates a radio station.
Opposed to this are Mr. Bowman’s emphatic utterances and the obvious fact that political tampering has been thoroughly considered in framing the recommendations. What the report suggests, most distinctly, is a “national company” which should be “vested with the full power and authority of any private enterprise, its status and duties corresponding to those of a public utility.”
In the Canadian National Railways there is the nearest counterpart to the general system proposed. Arguments brought forward aga'nst the Aird report, peculiarly enough, practically duplicate the reasons advanced against the development of the National lines which, it
will be remembered, were to be honeycombed and crippled by political intrigue.
Why, then, drag out of oblivion the defunct Intercolonial or recall the National Transcontinental as current examples of public ownership? Why forget the Ontario Hydro-Electric Commission, for instance, or the governmentowned radio stations in Manitoba, since the present radio system is considered satisfactory and they are part of it?
The report is further attacked: because the system it proposes would allow each province a say in the matter; because it might take away from the provinces their right to this say; because “there is no abuse complained of . . . which it is not, at this moment, within the power of the (Federal) government to correct under authority of the Radiotelegraph Act,” obviously without consulting the provinces. Somewhere, in the assembling of these contradictory arguments, logic has been thrown for a severe loss.
What the report does suggest is provincial jurisdiction over programmes broadcast within each section of the Dominion, leaving the exact method to be determined. But this method, the opponents of the report settle at once and condemn in advance while, nevertheless, insisting that something of the sort should be done.
Making our Flesh Creep
rTvHE fact that eight witnesses appeared -*■ before the Commission in Toronto and seven in Montreal, while Vancouver provided seventeen sets of testimony, along with other examples and supplemented by elaborate statistics, is in all seriousness offered as something sinister. The technique of the mystery thriller creeps in, but the suspense cannot be maintained. There is no mention of anyone who sought to give testimony but was barred, no list of interests which should have been heard but were not. Invitations were issued to all and sundry.
“Everyone who wished to speak,” says a member of the commission, “was heard. Surely it is not intimated that we should have consulted the viewpoint of every listener. That would have taken generations.”
The impression is given that the~e witnesses were individuals making “personal statements.” It is not considered worth noting that more than seventy-five per cent of these came as spokesmen for associations, organizations and commercial interests of many sorts; that it is impossible to read the Report without knowing this and that the names of the groups or concerns represented are given in every case. Nor is it mentioned, in this tabulation of evidence, that actual attendance was unnecessary; written statements were received as well as direct testimony. Montreal’s opinions, for instance, were considered not on the basis of what the seven witnesses had to say, but on twenty statements, thirteen of which were written.
If the figures quoted are intended to show what total evidence the commission received from the sections of the Dominion mentioned, they are incorrect in every single instance, and half a minute’s study of Appendix II to the report will reveal this to anyone interested.
Statement after statement received, definitely proved that two things were exceedingly important factors in the situation. Excessive advertising over the air is considered a nuisance by thousands of Canadians. The commission has an enormous volume of evidence to support
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this statement. Federal authorities have
more. The bulk of programmes heard by an enormous number of Canadian listeners, and their favorite entertainment, emanate from American studios. This belief, too, is built on voluminous testimony.
These two vital points are either brushed aside in the arguments presented against the report or denied outright; the reasons given being, first, that one radio listener in Montreal is not worrying about advertising and holds the idealistic theory that the worthless will I automatically eliminate itself simply because it is worthless, and second, that this same listener hears a majority of Canadian programmes.
That, as Mr. Bowman points out, the ! National Broadcasting Company of New York is endeavoring to restrict the freedom of advertisers and to set up control of programmes from its stations, along the lines of the sponsored programme recommended in the Canadian report, should I be convincing proof to those who hold up the United States system as an example ! to all, that the matter needs attention.
A Montreal Objection
C^\NE of the reasons given for prefer'^-'ence to Canadian programmes is “the uneven character of reception from United States stations.” That is just the point. Radio reception is notoriously poor in Montreal and a problem that has puzzled many radio engineers. Canadian phonograph companies had this demonstrated to them in a peculiar way. When radio affected the sales of records, Montreal was not hit to nearly the same degree as the majority of other Canadian centres. Investigation revealed that this : was due to the comparatively poor I quality of reception there over a long j period. Nature has provided stations in that area with an unusual defense against American opposition.
This defense does not exist in most other sections of the Dominion.
The arguments offered against the report are based to a large extent on the experiences of a listener who hears broadcast programmes under circumstances peculiar to his own locality. The only individual quoted by name in the entire article is Hon. P. R. Du Tremblay, whose radio station not only operates in this same territory, but also caters to an audience in which the French-speaking listeners far outnumber the English. He has the added advantage of a different language and there, obviously, the problem of American influence can never be anything as acute.
The force of the objections voiced here against the Aird report is greatly weakened because the conditions on which much of the argument is based do not apply to Canada as a whole.
Quibbling about two dollars difference in the cost of a year’s entertainment and asserting that the commission’s estimates of operating costs, calculated after expert consultation, rechecked and drawn up from information secured from reliable commercial sources, are wrong because certain people grow hysterical or violent
when they are mentioned, are minor matters in the light of the general situation. But the fact that the most powerful Canadian station today is 5,000 watts, while the United States possesses several of 50,000 watts, might be noted. Also that the Commissioners’ inv"''t-“r‘*tions convinced them that if Canada ’'"^-we an adequate independent system, nearly all the present physical equipment of existing stations will have to be junked.
There are several points which Mr. Bowman stresses in explaining the situation. Private enterprise in the arrangement of entertainment would not be eliminated. Provision is made for the sale of time to advertisers, and these advertisers would have better broadcasting facilities than they can now secure. There can be just as much diversity of entertainment over nationally owned Canadian stations as over the National Broadcasting Company’s American chain.
The system suggested is not an attempt to follow the British method but an essentially different one. Confiscation of existing stations is nowhere proposed. Compensation is recommended in every case. The present private system can claim no superior virtue in the promotion of radio sales, but an improved transmitting service should stimulate them. Experiences of the radio trade in countries where the license fee is much higher than in the Dominion contradict the argument that an increase would embarrass business. In Britain, with a ten-shilling fee and a national system, the percentage of radio licenses in proportion to population is 6.27 as compared with 2.4 per cent in Canada.
Canada’s present system is economically unsound. There is not revenue to support sixty-two stations and enable them to compete against United States opposition with much richer sources of income. In any case, radio is a natural monopoly. Free competition would mean chaos, since only a limited number of wave-lengths can be used for broadcasting. Private interests already using these are automatically protected against unlimited competition and further protected by restrictions in the issuing of licenses. Where, under private ownership, should the line be drawn? What interests are to be allowed the air and what interests barred? Opening up the field to the limit of competition which Nature allows would produce an outburst from existing stations as bitter as the present objection to a nationally owned system.
But the question whether Canada is to have Canadian radio programmes is the real one. Everything else is subsidiary.
“Already the drift under private enterprise is toward dependence on the United States,” says Mr. Bowman. “Larger Canadian stations are making contracts to tie themselves up with United States broadcasting interests, acknowledging, in effect, that they cannot compete. The first step has been taken. Unless the independence of Canadian radio broadcasting is assured by Canadian action along the lines recommended by the Royal Commission, there is every likelihood of Canada being absorbed into the American radio field.”