Friday, March 20, 2009

Whatever will the Canwest plan be

For the second time in a week, a correction has been made on a media interview given by Heritage Minister James Moore. The first, his denial that he had irresponsibly stated 600-1200 job cuts at CBC were a certainty to Sun Media. The latest, a correction to the distinct impression given by Moore, as reported by CP on Wednesday night, of an intent on the part of the federal government to provide assistance to CanWest. Yesterday, Moore's office was dialling back those statements:
Heritage Minister James Moore said the federal government recognizes the threat to broadcasters, but a spokeswoman for the Minister's office confirmed Thursday that Mr. Moore has yet to make any specific commitments.

"There has been no funding commitment to any private broadcaster. A lot of this is speculation," said Mr. Moore's spokeswoman, Stephanie Rea.

A news report this week suggested that the federal government is planning some form of "bailout" for Canwest Global Communications Corp., owner of Global TV and the National Post. Ms. Rea said that Mr. Moore has never named individual companies the government is targeting for assistance.
Perhaps they're sensing the political backlash that would come if they help Canwest to the exclusion of others, particularly the CBC. Or perhaps the other private broadcasters are putting the pressure on. Or maybe Moore's just getting the file yanked out of his hands, the PMO sensing risk given the political damage this set of decisions could cause. It'll be interesting to see if we hear less from Moore (did you like that...heh).

So what might one of the solutions be? It may be that under the guise of an "industry-wide" solution, involving permitting broadcasters to charge cable and satellite companies for carrying their signals, for example, that help to Canwest occurs. That signal carrying charge was denied by the CRTC in the fall but as the Financial Post report from last night indicates, it may be back before the commission:
Canwest and its chief competitor, CTVglobemedia Inc., will once again be looking for "fee-for-carriage" -- charging cable and satellite companies a fee to carry their signals. While the CRTC has been reluctant to make the policy change in the past, specialty channels that already rely on the fees have been largely insulated from the sudden drop in advertising revenue brought on by the economic downturn.
It's not clear why the CBC is not mentioned in the above passage. The CBC sought the fee-for-carriage money in the fall as well and were disappointed when it didn't go through. If the CRTC did change its mind and now permit a carrying fee, given the decline in ad revenues, then it should be available to all of the broadcasters, including the CBC. If the CBC were not included, it would raise questions about motivations.

It's also not clear that this fee alone would solve Canwest's problems, in any event, which are much larger. Whatever the government proposes will bear watching to see how it treats Canwest versus other broadcasters, private and public.

(And by the way, it was good to see the clear expressions about the importance of a public broadcaster as a national cultural institution on the At Issue panel last night.)

(h/t again to simpleposie)