Canadian parliament decide on TV fund


OTTAWA -- The federal government, not the CRTC, will decide the fate of the embattled Canadian Television Fund, according to Canadian Heritage Minister Josee Verner.

Verner, on Wednesday night, told a conference of independent producers in Ottawa that she has formally asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to "report and make recommendations" on the CTF, at which point Ottawa will make the final ruling.

The CRTC, Canada's TV regulator, oversees the CTF, the main source of public subsidies for independent producers that make TV shows for domestic primetime schedules and international markets.

The regulator last month held hearings prior to a revamp of the CTF after two Canadian cablers, Shaw Communications and Groupe Videotron, spurred a crisis by threatening to withhold mandatory contributions to the industry production fund.

In the latest twist, Verner said that Ottawa will take the file away from the CRTC, which is an arms-length regulator, in accordance with section 15 of the Broadcasting Act.

CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein did not address the future of the CTF when he delivered a keynote address Thursday morning to the the Canadian Film and Television Production Association's Prime Time conference in Ottawa. But sources at the CRTC said the future of the CTF has become political, prompting Ottawa to step into the breach to resolve the crisis.

On Thursday, CTF chairman Doug Barrett welcomed the intervention by the federal government, which contributes about $120 million a year to the industry fund.

Another $160 million in annual CTF financing for TV production comes from domestic cable companies and satellite TV services as a condition of license.

"There's clarity now. There's a process," Barrett said while attending the CFTPA's Prime Time gathering.

The CTF's Barrett himself came under attack Thursday for an alleged conflict of interest between his post as chairman of the CTF and his role as president and CEO of PS Production Services Ltd., an equipment supplier for a host of domestic film and TV productions.

Paul Bronfman, chairman of rival production equipment supplier Comweb Group, said many producers that receive CTF financing feel compelled to secure their production equipment from PS Production Services, which disadvantages ComWeb.

Bronfman, who also is a major Canadian studio operator, said PS Production Services last year supplied equipment to 25 projects that received about $60 million in CTF funding, compared with Comweb, which provided equipment to only seven CTF supported productions, with budgets totaling $16 million dollars.

"The fact that the chair of the CTF is also the president and CEO of PS Productions suggests to us that there is either a real or perceived conflict of interest at the board level," Bronfman charged while he attended the Prime Time conference.

The CTF's Barrett offered no comment when asked about his dual role at the fund and at PS Production Services. Barrett added he is to step down as CTF chair in June after four years in the post.

The CFTPA's Prime Time conference continues through Friday.