Scrap the CRTC

Anyone remember the “Stop the TV Tax” and “Local Television Matter” ads that flooded the airwaves and papers a few months back? While these displays have now mercifully abated, they perfectly demonstrate the inanity of Canada’s regulatory system.

I won’t broach the “fee-for-carriage” dispute between broadcasters and cable companies. I’d prefer to draw attention to the absurd nature of the debate.

While the Canadian broadcasters backing the “Local TV” campaign implore visitors of their website to “take action” by sending a message to their Member of Parliament, guests of stopthetvtax.ca are asked to “send a tax-o-gram to the CRTC.”

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is the punching bag for both of these groups because it is ultimately the arbiter on the matter, subject to seldom-exercised federal oversight.

This debate isn’t centred around what’s best for consumers, but rather who can convince this supercilious regulator that their interests more fully serve those of the country.

The CRTC exists for the purpose of regulating and supervising Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications systems. Cultural nationalists argue that in order for us to “tell ourselves our own stories,” we need the CRTC.

But the CRTC-imposed Canadian Content requirements do little to foster cultural awareness. With many programs produced in Canada merely to take advantage of a historically lower dollar and tax incentives, the cultural argument seems archaic.

In a world where Stargate SG-1 is considered not only fundamentally Canadian but an enforceable tenet of Canadian identity, I know we have lost our way.

There are plenty of wonderful Canadian writers, producers and musicians who deserve to have their work shown, and there’s nothing stopping ordinary Canadians from enjoying that work. However, the heavy hand of the CRTC accomplishes little.

While clever and innovative Canadian products like the Rick Mercer vehicle Made in Canada wallow in television purgatory, networks have been obliged to pump out drivel like The Trouble with Tracy, and ghettoize Canadian content into off-peak “beaver hours.”

And thanks to the ludicrous practice of “genre protection,” we have one history channel (that shows CSI), one channel about Aboriginal issues (that shows Tommy Lee Jones movies) and one country music channel (that shows sitcoms).

CanCon requirements are ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.

But the real danger of the CRTC lies in their emerging regulation of “new media.” With no federal laws protecting the neutrality of the Internet, recent discussions into the regulation of the web are alarming.

Net neutrality allows everyone to compete on equal grounds, and this is the cornerstone of a free and robust national discourse.

If we hope to continue “telling ourselves our own stories,” we must first close the book on Internet content regulation and dismantle the CRTC.

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