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Dramatic plea from Canuck unions

CCAU calls for spending increases

BANFF — Canada’s media unions are calling on the media regulator to force English-language commercial broadcasters to double their spending on homegrown drama to 7% of gross advertising revenue by 2008.

The Coalition of Canadian Audio-Visual Unions noted in a report released Monday during the fest that drama expenditure had dropped from a high of C$73 million ($58 million) in 1998 to just $42.7 million last year. This year’s spending levels are expected to be little different even though ad revs are rising.

“Something has to be done to stop this downward slide,” said Peter Murdoch, the CCAU’s co-chair.

They also want at least two hours of new original Canadian drama commissioned per week, and more coin for script and concept development.

The group contends that spending on drama has fallen off since expenditure regulations were relaxed in 1999. They say that incentives introduced late last year to get broadcasters to up their Canuck drama quota are “flawed” and have not helped.

“History has shown us that private broadcasters won’t produce Canadian drama unless they’re forced to,” said Steve Waddell, the national executive director of actors’ union ACTRA. “It’s time that the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) put private broadcasters back on the hook.”

Although there are more one-hour dramas coming down this pipe this year than last, the group claims that the increase is just a reshuffle representing a shift away from made-fors and half-hour dramas.

They complain that the pie is not increasing and the home-grown drama produced is under-promoted and sidelined to shoulder off-peak viewing times in favor of U.S. simulcast, and so has a tough time garnering a solid following.

The situation in French Canada is much better. Programming there is robust and draws huge auds.

The report and recommendations are a lobbying point intended to influence Canada’s broadcast regulator.

“This is a declaration of intent,” Waddell said. The broadcasters’ licenses are up for renewal in the next two years, when the CRTC can tinker with their license requirements.

The broadcasters were not consulted on the report or the recommendations.

Also at the festival on Monday, Alliance Atlantis Communications picked up the 2005 achievement award, Panasonic took the technical award, and Michael Geddes took the Lions Gate/Maple Pictures innovative producer award.

The keynote address was made by Sen. and Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, author and commander of the U.N. special mission to Rwanda in 1994. His harrowing experiences are the subject of the Sundance award-winning doc “Shake Hands With the Devil.”

He called on the media to keep genocide front and center to prevent a repetition and noted that there is a genocide in Darfur, Sudan, but the world is focused on the Michael Jackson trial.

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