Norflicks Productions Ltd. - CRTC Hearing Re Diversity of Voices

Norflicks, in its 21 years of existence, has produced or co-produced 276 programs for Canadian television release. Of these, 223 were produced for 2 broadcast entities, CHUMCity and Alliance/Atlantis that are about to be purchased by CTV and Global, who in the same period, have purchased nothing from Norflicks.  One can’t help but wonder if, in approving these takeovers, this Commission was aware of the effect that decision could have on Independent Producers.

 We do not believe that Commission members fully appreciate the impact of their decisions on those of us who assume creative responsibility for the programs Canadians see.  

We do, however, welcome this opportunity to address the issue of meaningful diversity.  

The following statement concerning diversity was issued in a CRTC Public Notice in June of 2006:  

“Diversity refers to the inclusion of groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in broadcasting: ethno-cultural minorities, aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities.”  

And the statement continues:    

“To ensure that all broadcasters contribute to a system that accurately reflects Canada’s multi-cultural and multi-racial nature and recognizes equal rights, the CRTC has taken a multi-faceted approach regarding the presence and portrayal of the above-noted groups on the air and their participation in the industry…”    

This kind of diversity which has been enshrined as part of Canadian Broadcast policy, reiterated recently by the Commission’s Chairman, who in turn was echoing the statements of previous Chairmen, is a good policy – we support it – but it is not a policy that addresses the issue of diversity. It is, in fact, affirmative action.  

Broadcasting in all its facets is the most effective instrument we have for the creation and dissemination of our common culture. It has become democracy in action.  

Therefore diversity in broadcasting must not begin and end with employment equity or a better ethnic balance as reflected on air, or with themes that humanize our treatment of the disadvantaged. Diversity in broadcasting is the guardian of liberty – a ticket enabling all to join, or at least be represented, in the great debate that freedom and democratic society seeks to provide. Indeed, nothing day by day better reflects a nation’s culture or its cultural aspirations than what it broadcasts.  

Democracy is not a matter of group rights but of individual rights as our Charter makes clear – and it goes beyond the right to speak. Communication in broadcasting is a cultivated skill – an art – a calling – as well as an invitation to democratic participation.  

This kind of diversity, which I would describe as fostering and accommodating individual creativity, has been largely ignored, not to say trashed, by this Commission since its inception.  

Diversity was not served by concentrating almost all decision making for English television in Toronto .  

Diversity was not served by awarding licenses for Specialty channels mainly to established broadcasters and cable operators.  

Diversity was not served by permitting those who received licenses from areas outside of Toronto to move to that city once their license was approved.  

Diversity is not served by approving mergers and takeovers that reduce the number of broadcasters Canadians have at their disposal, nation-wide, from 6 to 4.  

Diversity is not served by a system of subsidies that centralizes the commissioning process so that the same programming and creative values prevail everywhere.  

Diversity is not served by taking control of subsidies away from Producers who are many and giving it to Broadcasters who are few.

Diversity was not served by building a wall between the French and English broadcast communities.  

Diversity is not served by making the work of creative artists subject to the whims of bureaucrats employed by private or public corporations, or funding agencies.  

Diversity means that people with something to say, or show, and the talent to express it, are not controlled but encouraged. It means that our most talented artists and performers are not forced to go abroad in search of more congenial and supportive surroundings.  

Diversity is not served by regulations and rules so numerous and so complex that they force producers to employ professional help simply to fill out the required forms.  

Diversity is not served by importing everything the US makes, some of it at as little as 2% of its production cost, then compensating for that decision with complex subsidies and regulations.  

Diversity means supporting, wherever possible, new initiatives and new players at the management and corporate level.  

It is misleading that a 2006 statistical review issued by this Commission was entitled “Building on Success”.  Success by what measure, one wonders?  

No developed country attracts as low a percentage of its home audience to the entertainment and drama programs it produces. No developed country offers its audience so few domestically produced dramas compared to those it imports.  No developed country sells as few of its domestically commissioned and produced shows to foreign markets.

Diversity is an issue primarily because artistic talent, the only indispensable ingredient in successful programming - is little valued throughout the system.  

Talent is always in short supply, and for that reason the entertainment professions if left on their own rarely discriminate on grounds of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. It follows that diversity in our business only has to be nurtured when it has become an end in itself, supplanting the search for talent as it has in Canadian broadcasting. This has been allowed to happen because ninety five percent of the time Canadians watching drama or variety are watching imported American programs which are, of course, talent driven. No one, including this Commission, has indicated the least concern about the diversity or lack of diversity in US programming imported into Canada .  

Canadian entertainment programming exists because it is a condition of license, not because our private broadcasters want to program it or produce it.   It was not always thus.  

I left the CBC in 1972 after 11 years and with Pat Ferns founded the first Canadian Production company devoted exclusively to television; Nielsen Ferns International. Later I was chairman of Primedia Productions and for the last twenty years have been President of Norflicks Productions Ltd.  

The most profitable and perhaps productive period of this long run was the first four years from 1972 to 1976 when there were no subsidies, no tax credit, no Telefilm, no CTF, no tax shelter and no pass through payments from cable subscribers.  In the first four years of NFI and its associated Montreal company, Intervideo, we produced almost 100 hours of programs in both French and English.  Included in this was the only Canadian drama series ever produced in both official languages, The Newcomers/Les Arrivants.           

During this period we co-produced series and programs with the BBC, Time Life Films, RKO and the New York Times, and with France, Japan and Germany, and attracted sponsors such as Noranda, Imperial Oil and General Motors; each of whom paid a significant percentage of the program’s costs.  

The Canadian audiences for our programs compared very favourably with US imported shows in similar genres.

The first two series we did for the CBC cost 3.5 Million, a lot of money in those days, but the CBC paid us in total 120 Thousand, or less than 3% of the cost of the programs. The remainder was paid for by the BBC, Time Life Films, Noranda and Imperial Oil, all of whom were more respectful of our independence than today’s agency bureaucrats and broadcasters.  

How was all this possible? Because Canadian filmmakers and TV producers were then respected worldwide. I walked straight out of the CBC and sold my first series to Time Life Films and the BBC, not because they knew me – they didn’t – but because they knew and respected Canadian television.  

The present sad state of Canadian television is a sharp contrast to its spectacular beginnings.  

In the 50’s and 60’s management of the CBC believed that television production should be in the hands of those who made the programs, in other words, the talent; producers working with writers, directors, performers and crew each respecting the other’s vital contribution.  I’ve watched and occasionally protested as the diversity implicit in the arts, which is inseparable from the primacy of individual talent rather than corporate or managerial oversight and control, has been consistently eroded and undermined by public policy.  

Money is not the problem. The total amount of subsidies to Canadian broadcasters varies, but it exceeds two billion dollars annually, slightly more than half of it going to private broadcasters and cable companies, all of them very profitable private corporations.  

It is not the purpose of this submission to follow the money, but we would be remiss if we did not note that if one does the math and adds up all the money available to Canadian production and compares that figure with the money actually spent on Canadian programming, a huge discrepancy emerges.  

The villains in all this are a centralized government bureaucracy, a concentrated and centralized commercial broadcasting structure that owes its solvency to US programming, and a regulatory agency that has been inattentive to the effect its decisions have had at the program level.

In closing, we would like to point out one last depressing result of the system we have devised, which is that American programs, in the minds of our broadcasters, have set a style and a standard we should emulate – by which they mean copy – never mind that copies are never as good as the original, never mind that Canada is a very different society from the United States. Canadian Idol, a clone of the US show, is #1 among Canadian produced programs and most of what we are urged to produce are, like it, pale, under-budgeted imitations of US shows.  

Diversity has no meaning if it lacks authenticity, if, rather than reflecting life, it reflects only other TV shows, in particular, foreign ones.  The most distinctive aspect of Canada is its marriage of two cultures – French and English, but where can the work of French Canadian performers, writers and directors be seen on English Canadian television? Nowhere.  

For almost two and a half centuries Canadian politics has been about keeping the French in and the Americans out. Our broadcasters, and sadly our Government policies and regulatory bodies such as this one, have reversed this process - keeping the French out and the Americans in. The result is that we English speaking Canadians cannot find ourselves on Canadian television. It’s embarrassing, but it’s more than that. Culture defines a society and the diversity we have lost sight of despite our determination to recognize the diversities that co-exist within Canada , is Canadian diversity, Canadian identity, bequeathed to us by our past, our geography, and our uniquely Canadian experience. That diversity, very present and leading a national renaissance at the CBC in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, is now almost totally absent from our TV screens.  

Despite this pessimistic appraisal of where we are, the situation is not hopeless. This Commission must lead the way in rationalising the present system. The emphasis on distribution must be replaced by an emphasis on production. The commissioning process at the CBC must be regionalized. Above all, we must devise a system that is talent driven. We must stop subsidizing commercial broadcasters. We should get the CBC out of advertising entirely – and out of sports. We should make our 24 hour News channels into co-operatives, marrying the resources of commercial and public broadcasters. And we should try to find a way to place sensible limits on the amount of American programming imported - we’re not talking about roll-backs – but a relatively painless reduction in the number of Specialty Channels.  

Finally, the Commission must restrict ownership concentration and try to cultivate DIVERSITY in OWNERSHIP.