TORONTO — Canada’s broadcast regulator has renewed the licenses of two private networks in a decision that promises to shape the future of cross-ownership regulation in this country.
The broadcast licenses of CanWest Global Communications and CTV have been renewed for seven years, but cross-ownership concerns following both companies’ TV/newspaper mergers during the last year have figured heavily in the conditions attached.
Expressing concern about “the possible loss of diversity of voices,” the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has ruled that CTV and CanWest Global must keep the management of their broadcast and print newsrooms separate. An independent monitoring committee must be in place to address consumer complaints, and the networks must spend $1 million a year each on the committee and the policy.
However, it falls short of demanding that the newsrooms remain entirely separate, which is a condition of license for Quebecor, a cabler, TV and newspaper company.
“The broadcasters have put a lot of promises on the table,” notes Ian Morrison, spokesman for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, “and the CRTC has scooped them all up and made them conditions of license.”
Morrison was cautiously positive about the CRTC’s decision, noting the regulator has no jurisdiction over print and is operating “with one hand tied behind its back.” He added: “The CRTC can be praised for bringing the issue of cross-media ownership forward. It’ll be more difficult for CanWest and CTV to silently change things.”
The code follows one proposed jointly by the two networks during their license renewal hearings in April at the behest of the CRTC. At that time, the two networks requested the code be voluntary.
Part of biz plans
The amalgamation of TV and print resources is key to the business plan of both networks. “I think (the CRTC) erred too much on the side of letting the big station groups off the hook,” Morrison noted. In the “key issue” of news gathering, he noted, there’s nothing to prevent the stations from making cross-media use of reporters. “That is contrary to the Broadcasting Act’s goal of having diversity of programming,” he said.
Other conditions include continuation of “Canadian content” provisions. The nets must air at least eight hours a week of Canadian “priority programming” in primetime, including regional and local programming, with 75% of it from independent producers (less than 30% owned by CTV or Global).
CTV called the decision “comprehensive and fair.” Global said it was generally pleased with the decision, which allows it to take a “business as usual” approach.