Is Canadian TV Crap???

June 27, 2010

                When it comes to Canadian content on television most people simply roll their and eyes and groan.  When asked most people would be hard pressed to name more than handful of Canadian shows and even more hard pressed to say they actually liked them.  Beyond news programming all that easily comes to mind are the few large hits like Degrassi, Corner Gas, The Tudors, to name a few.  However much more easily recognized names are by in large imported American juggernauts like the CSIs, Family Guy, or the Daily Show. 

                With a CRTC mandate that no less than 50% of programming  in primetime hours be dedicated to Canadian produced shows there seems plenty of opportunity for Canadian content to find itself an audience.  Why then are Canadian shows consistently seeming to fail in the minds of the public? The answer is simple most Canadian shows are, to put it bluntly, crap.  Alberta Culture minister Lindsay Blackett said much the same at the Banff World Television Festival early last week, though in slightly more colourful words (see CBC News).  Minister Blackett was quickly set upon from all sides over both his language and the timing of the comments by industry members.  Though he apologized for the timing and language of his comments he refused to retract the content of his statement, and seeming most Canadians would agree with him.

                To be sure Canada has produced its fair share of excellent television and film productions; when it comes to news and sportscasts production values are top notch.  Yet it appears that for the most part when it comes to high quality dramatic productions the examples are few and far between.  What tends to get produced most often suffers from horribly low production values and it tells.  There exists a chronic association in viewers minds that these low production values equates to low quality film and television. 

                The industry points to chronic underfunding as the main culprit for why so few new Canadian shows and films hit the air that are capable of turning into genuine hits.  Yet if it’s a funding problem why are the production companies and networks constantly looking towards government to fill these funding shortfalls.  The very American shows that Canadian productions are up against receive no such similar government backing (though it’s true they benefit just as much from local government tax incentives).  The real question about funding should be laid at the feat of the networks who, rather than go through the expense of developing and marketing their own productions, choose to import ready made American content that already appears on competing American networks that are widely available in most Canadian markets.

                Global TV and CTV are both very adept at this practice all it takes is one look at their scheduled programming to see just how much of their primetime hours are devoted to imported content (Global’s listings here, CTV’s listings here).  Global Sundays feature a glut of Fox animated comedies with the rest of the week fairing little better.  CTV has a bit more robust amount of Canadian programming spurred by the unexpected success of Corner Gas granting many of the principle actors in new series.  However, aside from these new additions to their programming by and large CTV abides by the same importing practices as Global. 

                If Canadian productions are so underfunded it would seem that we have no one to blame but the networks who fear that without imported programming that they would never be able to compete against the American networks.  Their fear creates a circular problem.  Importing shows is expensive but still cheaper than producing new material of their own.  Hence funding for home grown programming is diverted to license imports.  This creates a situation in which less funds are now available to go into the developing home grown shows; giving the vast majority of shows that so called low quality Canadian look.  The end result is that the vast majority of Canadian content on T.V. has to resort to government funding in order to even reach the production stage. 

                Unfortunately  governments shouldn’t be in the business of doing business on any level and most especially in an industry that is legendary for its glut and excess.  It’s very true that Canadian productions know far more about making do with less than their American counter parts but the difference remains that American productions do so on their own initiative.   So how do we get more quality Canadian content on T.V.? The answer is simple, Canadian networks simply have to be willing to take the risk of giving the proper amount of funding that will give new shows a chance.  Moreover they need to have the faith that these new shows or films will be able to find an audience.  There is also one more alternative that would spur on the development of Canadian industry and that would be for the CRTC to tighten up their mandates for Canadian content during prime time hours: though this would be the least desirable of solutions.

                Until networks and producers are willing to pony up the cash required to create a quality product the cycle will continue and perhaps get worse.  One fact has become very apparent the industry in Canada will never be sustainable so long as it is relying on government funding just to exist.  Unless private investment begins to approach even a fraction of the level seen in the U.S. we are all likely to continue to see sub-par Canadian productions continue to fall prey to their more glamorous American counterparts.

                Whether you agree or not with Minister Blacketts comments you must concede this one point;  at least he’s started a conversation that’s been long overdue.  There are real questions to answer about the Canadian film and television industries and its time that we start getting some answers.  Should government be involved in guaranteeing stable funding for the film and television industries?  Do we need further regulation of programming on the various networks?  Would any such regulations be capable of changing overall viewing habits of the average Canadian?  Hopefully with the conversation begun we may find the answers and with them see  people’s opinions of the quality of Canadian television and film rise with them.

 Your Fro with the know,

Tim

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            Fidel Castro is up to his old tricks and has once again made himself the center of attention.  The old patriarch of Cuba has attempted to assert his relevance on the world stage by dressing down the actions of Israel in an address distributed over Cuban state run media in an obvious attempt to influence the U.N. Human Rights Council’s pending inquiry.  Castro has been quoted as saying “The hatred felt by the state of Israel against the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send the 1 ½ million men, women and children of that country to the crematoria where millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis” and even more inflamingly “It would seem that the Fuehrer’s swastika is today Israel’s banner” (See TVNZ World News).

            By what rights does old Fidel have to make such statements?  His own record on humanitarianism is far from clean.  Fidel Castro has systematically persecuted Gays and Lesbians within his own borders for as long as he has been in power.  Moreover he has not hesitated to make politically motivated arrests of dissidents who have been disillusioned by the failure of communist principles in Cuba and abroad.  The best part of it all is his comments make absolutely no sense in terms of logic.

            Israel may be in the process of some illegal actions in collectively punishing the Palestinians with their blockade of Gaza but even if such is the case what other nation in the world would supply aid to their mortal enemies who have sworn to their destruction?  Yes, conditions in Gaza have grown horrendous; with the lack of every day staples that much of the world has come to take for granted.  Yes, Palestinians are suffering.  Unfortunately it is the Palestinians who have brought such suffering on themselves. 

            The Palestinians elected Hamas, a ‘political’ organization recognized as holding terrorist ideals by all of the western world, in what amounts to a legitimating of their ideals and demonstrating a collective agreement with their policies of violence and hate.  By accepting Hamas as a legal authority over themselves the Palestinians have also become complicit in their governments ideology of hate.  Therefore collective punishment may not be at all unjustified in this case, however much a violation of international law it may be.

            Yet Fidel Castro insists that the Israelis would like nothing better than to commit genocide on the Palestinian people.  Could he even have thought this statement through at all?  Israel has a high-tech and high-powered modern army, while Hamas relies upon a relatively poorly equipped security force that could not hope to go toe to toe with Israel if they decided to come to Gaza guns a blazing.  If the Israelis truly wished to enter into a program of genocidal annihilation all it would take would be a barrage of mortars, artillery, and airstrikes and they would be able to wipe much of Gaza from the face of the earth.  If they chose to do such a thing there is nothing the international community could do to stop them.  By the time anyone would be able to interfere with such a horrendous action the genocide would already be complete.  It seems likely that the Calvary would come riding in to save what they could but primarily their role would end up being a punitive one and they would arrive far too late to change the outcome.

            A case in point is the Rwandan genocide.  With UN peacekeepers already on the ground and in place they still could not prevent the horrors that occurred in Rwanda from happening.  Look to the Sudan, there the genocide against the non Muslim population still continues.  If Israel wanted to follow that path there seems no reason why they already have not; there would be nothing we could do until it was too late if they did.

            So Fidel why now? Why release such damming and illogical statements during these contentious times that, as Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor says, would see revolutionary icon Che Guevara “spinning in his grave” (see again TVNZ World News).  The answer seems obvious; Castro wishes to show that he is still relevant as a world figure despite stepping down as Cuba’s president after suffering health problems in 2006-7.  Or another possibility for a man of his advanced age he is that he is merely becoming senile.  Most likely it is a bit of both. 

            Fidel should be ashamed of himself for making such foolish comments.  Unfortunately for a man of such astounding arrogance shame is unlikely to be a part of his experience.  Fidel Castro should apologize for his comments but we all know that no such apology will be coming forthwith.  On the bright side though, as a man in his late 80’s known for his love of cigars who has also already battled one round of cancer it’s unlikely that the international community will have to put up with his ignorance for much longer.  The downside however is that it’s become quite clear that, as the mouthpiece representing the real nature of Cuba’s position towards Israel, he will be leaving behind him a legacy of intolerance and hate no better than the one he accuses Israel of secretly harbouring.

Your fro with the know,

Tim

Well it has been a few weeks since the intial uproar surrounding Canadian MP’s refusals to open the books to the auditor general of Canada’s.  Sheila Fraser recently proposed a performance audit of MP expense accounts in light of the controversy arising at home in Nova Scotia and across the pond in England.  Unsurprisingly Canadians seem to have quickly forgotten all about the discouraging behaviour demonstrated by the MP’s nearly unanimous refusal to allow the audit to go forward.  Seemingly this is just another case of the people’s general apathy towards our venerable political institutions.  What had begun as surprised outrage has devolved into quizzical anger and now, finally, abject cynicism.

Why, as a concerned public, are we so ready to let this go?  As Roy Green, of the Roy Green Show fame, congenially put it if the Canada revenue agency disputes your income tax the onus is on you to demonstrate the accuracy of your tax return and you do so at your own cost.  Seemingly this is a case of being guilty till you’ve proved your own innocence.  For the MP’s to say no to an audit of public funds to which they are entrusted is tantamount to saying that the government has no right to challenge you on your tax return.  We can all guess as to how well that line of argument would go over with the tax-man…

More importantly than that though is the fact that the MP’s somehow view their expense accounts as private and not subject to any scrutiny.  Yet even in the private sector such accounts of executives are highly audited and ultimately will be subjected to the scrutiny of shareholders.  Well, the voting public are the shareholders of the Canadian government and the MP’s must remember that they are accountable to us. 

Recent scandals in the Nova Scotia Legislature and the British Parliament highlight the need for such accountability.  In Nova Scotia MlA’s where discovered to have made large numbers of inappropriate expenditures on personal and household expenses with former MlA Richard Hurlburt being caught claiming $8,000 for a generator that was installed into his house (see CBC news).  In Great Brittan members of the legislature where caught with such expenses as $3,000 flat screen t.v.’s for their homes and $3,000 expenses on such fanciful services as cleaning the family moat (see Los Angeles Times).

It appears that perhaps such expenses may be justified for their personal necessity (a dirty moat is sure to anger the neighbours…) but should not such expenses be funded exclusively from the same source that everyone else is expected to, our salaries. Members of parliament in Canada already receive generous compensation for the work that they do that also includes one of the strongest and most secure pension plans in the country with each MP making at least $157,731 a year in salary, regardless of attendance or performance, and after six years in parliament a guaranteed $27,213 or $45,355 if the member manages to sit for 10 years (See Yahoo Finance / Canadian Business Online).  Given these numbers it would seem that an MP has no reason to be supplementing their personal lifestyles with a taxpayer funded expense account.

When we put all this in perspective it demonstrates the need for oversight on MP spending practices, or at the very least a review.  If MP’s have done nothing illegitimate than they should have nothing to fear about opening the books, however their stiff necked and defensive response to Sheila Fraser’s request for a simple performance audit (an audit originally intended to review the rules and regulations surrounding the use of MP expense accounts rather than the content of the accounts themselves) is highly suspicious. 

Granted the expense account scandals seen recently throughout various houses of government at all levels it behoves us as tax payers to stay on top of this issue.  Rather than let our cynicism succeed in allowing our apathy to get the better of us we need to demand a true accounting of MP expenses.  Until parliament opens up its books to the auditor general my advice is to treat them like just like we would be in the face of a Canada Revenue Agency audit:  Guilty until Proven Innocent.

Your Fro in the Know

Tim

Well it’s been a while since my last posting, but that’s because I’ve been off on vacation.  Never fear I’m back now and ready to once again bring some interesting food for thought on contemporary issues.

Today’s  topic of discussion is the recent fallout over the Israeli navy’s bungling of an attempted inspection of a foreign “aid” flotilla that was on its way to the Gaza strip.  An astute reader will note that I placed in quotation marks and the reason is that I hesitate to even call the flotilla’s purpose as that of aid.  As readily available footage shows the story Israel is telling the world is nothing but the truth.  Immediately upon boarding the ships Israeli soldiers are attacked showing the “peaceful” protesters to clearly be anything but.  Plenty of links to the video can be found on You Tube such as this one which demonstrates what the peaceful protesters were actually like.

Now I am well aware of the vagaries of international law on Israel’s right to enforce such a blockade as the one in place on Gaza in the international waters in which the incident took place and have no wish to debate these finer points of international law.  Rather, I would like to focus on the media response and the mass condemnation of the Israelis by media and governments worldwide.  Obviously the optics of this situation is rather grim for Israel.  Regardless of whether or not the soldiers where provoked it’s tough to imagine that Israel could have thought that its actions would play out well on the world stage. 

From a media relations viewpoint the Israeli security forces probably never should have been there in the first place, but from the perspective of security it seems that they navy had little choice but to act.  The flotilla was organized with the specific purpose of running the Israeli blockade and had made no bones about it.   The incident was driven to its ugly conclusion by confrontational internationals whose real motivation for being there seems to be to provoke confrontation. Let’s keep in mind that all but one ship complied with the Israeli navy’s demands to allow them to inspect the ships.

The problem as I see it is just how fast the calls for condemnation of Israel came out.  Before Israel could even begin to defend itself stellar humanitarian nations such as Turkey where already out for blood.  If that isn’t a case of the pot calling the kettle black I don’t know what is… But setting that aside for now it is amazing that people, and media people especially, have done so little investigative legwork of their own on this issue. One look at the videos available shows that condemning Israel’s use of force in this case is simple naivety.  As Steve Janke wrote over on his excellent blog Angry in the Great White North “After watching that video, I have to ask why so few of the violent protesters were hurt and killed.  These are soldiers, not civilian police officers, yet in most cities, coming at a police officer swinging a metal pipe earns you a fatal body shot.  So why would these soldiers have shown more restraint than civilian police officers?”  Couldn’t have said it better myself so I won’t.

Signing off:

Your Fro with the Know.

Tim