Jean-Pierre Blais says Canada’s democracy is under threat as broadcasters cut back local TV news
CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais says ‘corporate executives cannot bury their heads in the sand and pretend that change isn’t happening. They must rise up and meet the challenge of a new content era head on.’ (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)
Canada’s broadcast regulator mounted a vocal defence of television journalism Wednesday, while slamming the executives who run the stations as wealthy yacht-owning complainers who are out of touch with changing audiences.
CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said he is tired of broadcast executives coming before his committee to tell him the “cupboards are bare,” and that they can no longer afford to fund local news without government subsidies.
“Local television news is failing us. But it need not. The system sits at a position of strength,” Blais said in a luncheon speech at the Canadian Club in Toronto. “In 2014, TV stations spent more than $470 million on local programming and news … the industry is rich in resources.
“I listened as Canadians spoke with intelligence and passion [about local TV news], while corporate executives who own luxury yachts and private helicopters came looking for subsidies,” Blais said.
The CRTC has held a number of hearings on the future of local TV in recent months, and regulators are studying whether changes are necessary to preserve local news coverage.
Many stations have found their traditional financial model under threat amid a changing landscape for advertising and consumer viewing habits.
A recent report warned nearly half of the country’s local TV stations could be off the air by 2020 without a boost in revenues to pay for local programming.
The industry has been hobbled by the loss of the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF), which was established during the 2008 market downturn to help struggling local stations. The fund was paid for through a levy on cable and satellite subscribers.
The fund paid out about $100 million annually to private broadcasters and CBC stations, but the CRTC phased it out in 2012.
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