If you’ve been watching The Rick Mercer Report, or This Hour Has 22 Minutes, or Sophie, or The Guard, or any other Canadian-made programming this week, you’ve probably noticed an ad for the Canadian Television Fund. If you’re not in the TV game, you might have been a little puzzled by the pitch.
“What’s that promoting–CBC shows?” my son asked. No, and especially no if you ask Jim Shaw or P.K. Peladeau, I thought. The ad is basically designed to raise awareness for the fact that, over the past 15 years, the TV Fund has helped many different domestic shows–from Trailer Park Boys to Degrassi to The Border–get up and running and stay on the air.
Like the little green, wing-shaped, Maple seed logo suggests, it is seed money. You pay into it, through your cable bill, and the cable companies throw it into a pot which gets distributed to savvy Canadian TV producers who know how to ask for it. It is about 10,000 times more complicated than that but that’s it in a Maple seed.
My question is this: Who is paying for these ads? It is money that came out of the Fund? Is the air time bought with Fund money? If this is so, did some show not get the money it needed because the Fund had to use it to convince Canadian television viewers it was a vital part of the production industry? If somebody out there knows, feel free to bring me into the loop.
I know why the ads are on the air, and why now. The Fund is under attack. Just last week in Ottawa, cable bosses, especially from Shaw and Videotron, told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that the Fund is broken, obsolete, distributed to the wrong people, all of the above. They resent having to part with up to 5% of their gross broadcasting revenue, which is directed by the government toward the fund. Some have suggested the money goes to arty projects nobody watches, or worse, it goes to the CBC. They want a direct say in where it goes, or they want it split into two pots, one for shows aimed at mass audiences, one for arty crapolla. Or they say they want to give the money back to cable and satellite subscribers. Wow, look at that–Hell just froze over!
A bus load of Canadian actors, writers and producers and even executives from Canadian TV networks stood up with one voice and said the Fund works fine the way it is, we need it, if it wasn’t for the Fund, we’d be screwed, not just for our jobs, but out of our very culture.
The big cable business interests are pretty good at getting the attention of the Harper government. The actors, writers and producers? Not so much.
The issue is very complex and emotional. It is worse than that–it is political. In Canada that means it will be dragged out until television itself has become completely replaced by microchips embedded directly into our skulls.
Others have been all over this story in the last few weeks. (Some even longer–read this year-old take by Antonia Zerbisias at The Star.) Saw John Doyle after his penance in Ottawa covering the CRTC Fund future hearing and he looked like he’d been at the wrong end of a soccer riot.
All I know is that the Fund is a tax. It is a sneaky tax, hidden in our cable bills. It is a tax, mind you, I’d willingly pay, for without it, Canadian private networks would simulcast mud wrestling before they’d air a minute of Corner Gas. They’d simulcast lie detector tests…wait, they already do that.
What I don’t like is my tax money going to an ad campaign to justify this use of my tax money. Don’t try and make me feel good about this thing you do with my nickels and dimes–as Nike says, just do it. Plant the seeds and let the Maple buds speak for themselves.