Hearings tackle Canadian TV Fund concerns

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OTTAWA -- Canadian indie producers on Monday accused rebel cable operators of manufacturing a crisis around the Canadian Television Fund to wiggle out of financial obligations.

"In all honesty, the fund is not 'broken' and we caution you not to be swayed by misleading comments about the performance and objectives of the fund," Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. president and CEO Guy Mayson told the country's TV regulator on the first day of hearings into the CTF, the $265-million industry fund for Canadian homegrown programming.

The CFTPA and representatives for Canadian writers, directors, actors and other content creators offered a united front Monday against Jim Shaw, CEO of cable giant Shaw Communications, who has led a public campaign against the CTF, accusing the industry fund of not producing homegrown primetime shows that Canadian watch in big enough numbers.

Shaw, who is personally boycotting this week's Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hearings into the future of the CTF, has been joined in his vocal criticism of the CTF by Quebec cableccaster Groupe Videotron.

Both Shaw and Groupe Videotron threatened to withhold financial contributions to the CTF before the CRTC ordered them to continue making them as part of regulatory obligations.

Appearing before the CRTC hearings on Monday, producers and managers of CTF argued that Canadian programming funded by the industry fund has garnered critical and ratings success at home and abroad.

"Within this competitive environment ... CTF-funded programs like 'The Rick Mercer Report' and 'Little Mosque on the Prairie' have regularly attained audiences of over one million on conventional networks," CTF president Valerie Creighton told CRTC commissioners.

The CRTC hearings were preceded by a task force report that recommended the CTF be broken into two streams, with the $145 million contributed by cable TV distributors going to commercial productions that would have lower Canadian content standards.

The task force also recommended that the remaining $120 million from the federal government go toward more culturally-driven TV shows.

The creative community, however, is drastically opposed to the division.

"There's no need for two funds. Where is the business case that says programming (with less Canadian content) is more successful than that with more Canadian content?" Writers Guild of Canada executive director Maureen Parker asked at the CRTC hearings. "How do you distinguish between culture and commercial? Culture can be commercial."

Representatives from Shaw Communications and Quebecor are due up at the CRTC hearings on Thursday.

ACTRA, Canada's actors union, criticized Shaw CEO Jim Shaw for not appearing.

"Jim Shaw started this whole thing, but now he wants to watch the proceedings sitting by his lake with his cigar," ACTRA national president Richard Hardacre told reporters in Ottawa on Monday.

The CRTC hearings are scheduled to run through Friday.
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