Ottawa’s policy of punishing have-not viewers is absurd
Ottawa’s policy of punishing have-not viewers is absurd
VIEWERS IN outlying areas, please do not adjust your sets. We are experiencing difficulties with the reasoning of the Canadian Radio-Television Commission. Critics are working on the problem. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
The tough-minded CRTC, hitherto the last best hope for an imaginative and intelligent broadcasting policy, has just boarded a logical train of thought that is heading down a one-way track to absurdity. The commission began its trip with an admirable premise: the Canadian broadcasting industry’s survival depends on a rapid improvement in the quality and variety of its services. But the route it has decided to follow in order to implement this policy is initially unfair and ultimately impractical.
The CRTC's reasoning started to go wrong when it ruled that community-antenna operators in northern areas will not be allowed to pipe in the American networks via a microwave link. Thus, 45 percent of Canadian viewers will continue to be denied the full range of TV programs the rest of the country takes for granted. Since this amounts to geographic discrimination, CRTC chairman Pierre Juneau took the next logical step. He warned that the commission will probably limit programs from the U.S. carried by existing cable systems “as soon as it becomes practically possible.”
In other words, the longterm plan is that no CATV company will be permitted to
pollute pure Canadian screens with excessive U.S. television. With the home market so protected, our broadcasters will have the economic foundation on which to build better programs.
As with all high-tariff policies, this decision was bound to be unpopular with consumers who prefer the imported product over the inferior domestic version. But other things being equal, no true nationalist could quarrel with the principle involved (see page 3). The trouble is, other things are not equal. The logical fallacy here is to assume that all TV reception is provided by cable. The fact is the richest Canadian markets — Montreal, southern Ontario, Vancouver — will still receive U.S. broadcasts by the old-fashioned method — through the ether.
So the only logical conclusion to the CRTC’s reasoning would be to turn the 49th parallel into an electronic Iron Curtain. Elaborate jamming devices would be erected by the federal government as strategic points along the border (on a barge in the middle of Lake Ontario, for instance) to ensure that the picture that leaves the U.S. as an integrated Walter Cronkite arrives in Canada as a fragmented Picasso.
If you think that sounds fantastic, consider another possible CRTC decision. The commission seems likely to grant the CBC and the Ontario government permission to launch an educational-TV station in Toronto on a UHF channel that could jam the U.S. NET broadcasts from
Buffalo. There are five other UHF channels available in Toronto that could not possibly interfere with reception of the popular NET programs.
Juneau has since made it clear that it could be 10 years before restrictions are imposed on existing CATV operations. In that time the whole pattern of broadcasting could change. One suggestion being considered is that expanded cable networks could take over the transmission side of the CBC’s operations, leaving the corporation free to concentrate on production. Meanwhile, the CRTC is prepared to look at other ways of beaming at least some of the most popular U.S. shows to northern viewers.
But the fact remains that the protectionist policy is basically unworkable. TV programs, unlike cars or grain, are not subject to the laws of international economics. We either have free trade or we have, in effect, discriminatory censorship. If Canadian TV production can’t compete on the open market, then surely it’s the products that have to be improved and not the condition of the market.
I suspect that in its heart of hearts the CRTC knows this. A policy thatjounishes a minority of viewers, in order to give an inefficient industry breathing space can’t last for long. Very soon the commission must start exercising its mandate in the only area that counts. It must compel the domestic networks to produce better programs, programs that will make the majority of U.S. shows look as shoddy as they really are.
There are signs the CBC is finally getting the message. The corporation has not only bought The Forsyte Saga (for a prime-time slot late in the spring), but without prompting has also picked up another BBC production, Civilization. This 13-part documentary, hosted by Sir ! Kenneth Clark, is a witty
Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed
(London): The Stones, especially Mick Jagger, radiate all the qualities we’ve always loved them for — they’re raunchy, hot, vulgar, sexual, heavy and, in the end, as irresistibly nasty as the Beatles are persuasively nice.
Arif Mlardin: Glass Onion
(Atlantic): Imagine! A recording of classic rock tunes that’s entirely instrumental, without a single vocal, and still sounds exciting and involving. Arif Mardin is an old-fashioned big-band arranger with a fine contemporary touch and he shows in this record that he knows how to write for all the instruments from strings to funky guitars.
The Groupies (Barth): Groupies are girls who lend their bodies to rock-n-roll stars. In this astounding documentary recital, a gaggle of American groupies explains why.
Area Code 615 (Polydor): This is what happens when all the best sidemen who hang out in Nashville and back people like Bob Dylan get together on their own. What happens? They fill a record with clean, joyous, beautifully picked countrywestern-soul music. □
— Jack Batten
and enlightening survey of the history of Western man. It is also brilliant television. Now if the CBC would also carry Sesame Street, NET’s superb preschool program, I would take back everything I’ve said about the network’s purchasing department.
But good programming is only half the problem. Why aren’t there made-in-Canada productions of the calibre of The Forsyte Sagal Why not, for instance, a serial production of the Jalna books? When that starts happening, we’ll know that the CRTC is back on the right rails. □ I
CONTEST NO. 48
For 1 dipp’d into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be .. .
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue.
Till the war drum throbbed no longer and the battle flags were furled In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the world.
Not a bad prediction of World War II and, although a trifle optimistic, of the United Nations — considering that Tennyson’s Locksley Hall lines were written in 1842. Can 20th-century prophets do any better? The usual prizes are offered for 10-line poems in the Locksley Hall meter forecasting what Canada will be like 100 years from now. Address entries to Contest No. 48, Maclean’s, 481 University Avenue, Toronto 101. Deadline: Feb. 20.
RESULTS OF CONTEST NO. 46
Readers were invited to anagrammatize certain well-known proper names so that the anagrams described or commented on the original. Although many contestants misunderstood the nature of anagrams (all the letters of the original must be incorporated) there was a large crop of excellent entries and, as might be expected, dozens of duplications. W. A. C. Bennett was repeatedly turned into either “We tenant B.C.” or “B. C. went neat.” Robert Stanfield suffered almost as often with “Bland tories fret.” Five dollars is awarded to each of these entries:
□ Clap le mal CBC? Ne’er! (Mrs. B. Beringer, Thunder Bay, Ont.)
□ Battled for reins. (AnneMarie Merlin, Deep River, Ont.)
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