CRTC chair eyes monthly CTF dues

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OTTAWA -- Canada's newly installed TV watchdog on Thursday said he is prepared to legislate that mandatory dues to the Canadian Television Fund be paid monthly, rather than yearly, in order to fix ongoing problems with the fund -- but added that he preferred holding out a carrot to rebel cablecasters.

Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, told the standing committee on Canadian Heritage on Parliament Hill that he told the heads of Shaw Communications and Quebecor Inc. "to work with me not against me" on resolving outstanding issues surrounding the running of the CTF.

Canadian cable giants Shaw Communications Inc. and Quebecor Media Inc. created a crisis in Canada's production sector last month when they halted monthly payments to the CTF, the main source of equity investment for domestic TV producers.

Shaw Communications president and CEO Jim Shaw only agreed to resume paying the CTF dues on Tuesday, the day after he appeared before the all-party parliamentary committee, and the morning after he met with von Finckenstein.

CTF contributions from content distributors are required by law on a yearly basis, but it has been customary for cablecasters to contribute the mandated payments monthly.

Also Tuesday, von Finckenstein announced that a task force was being formed to sort out organizational concerns that Shaw, Quebecor and other content carriers have over the running of Canada's largest industry fund.

"Shaw and Quebecor have raised a number of serious issues that need to be resolved and that, as of today, these issues have not been addressed by the CTF's board of directors," the CRTC chair said in his opening remarks to the parliamentary committee.

Under questioning, von Finckenstein told the committee he had no "preconceived notions" about what the solutions might be.

But the new CRTC chair said he was prepared to take on a problem he inherited.

"I didn't choose (this issue)," von Finckenstein said. "But I'm prepared to address (the concerns) quickly," he added, noting the matter shouldn't be allowed to gather dust.

The four-member task force will hold meetings in camera with interested parties up to April 27, and then release its report for public review and comment.

As von Finckenstein appeared Thursday on Parliament Hill, across the street Canadian producers were holding their annual Prime Time convention, with the current uncertainty surrounding the CTF top of mind.

Guy Mayson, CEO of the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn., representing major independent producers, hit out at recent critics of the industry fund, whether among cablecasters or the national media.

"Please, let's stop the negative rant about the funding bodies. We still want to see Canadian stories that we can recognize and which value Canadian television," Mayson told convention delegates.
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