As an author, I’d be indignant if someone profited by reading my books over the air without getting my permission or compensating me for my work.
Yet that’s what happens every day in Canada when you turn on your TV set and pick up a cable signal of your favorite CBC, CTV or Global programs.
There’s a big battle going on in Canadian broadcasting over what the networks call “carriage fees.”
Hard pressed by falling advertising revenues, the networks are asking the CRTC (Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission) to require cable companies to compensate them for including their signals in the programming package they sell their customers.
I’ve always wondered why the cable companies were not required to do this in the first place. The U.S. has long had a rule that cable companies pay over-the-air TV stations for carrying their signals.
The networks may have welcomed the added exposure they got as Canadian homes switched from antennas to cable in the past forty years. Now that decision has come back to haunt them.
The specialty channels, like Bravo and the Weather Network, have been treated differently. From Day One, they’ve received a few cents for every cable customer.
Cable companies like Rogers and Shaw claim they’d have to charge customers $6 more a month to give the networks carriage fees. The networks would like the cable guys to cough up the fee from their profits.
As an example of how troubled Canadian broadcasting has become, CTV announced it would have to close three small city stations in Windsor and Wingham, Ontario and Brandon, Manitoba. When no buyer stepped up, CTV boss Ivan Fecan said he’d let them go for a dollar. Shaw Cable immediately offered that princely sum, and it looks as if they’ll get them.
At the same time, Shaw took out newspaper ads blasting the networks for asking for a bail-out.
I wonder if the folks running Shaw and Rogers have ever heard of intellectual property rights. Getting rich by selling somebody else’s property doesn’t seem right to me.
REPORTING ON THE RUN
There is a famous newspaper cliche, first popularized by Ben Hecht’s play The Front Page, that goes “Get me Rewrite.”
It was supposedly shouted by legmen who phoned from police court to pass on details of a trial. Their facts would then be written up by Rewrite and slapped on the front page of the next edition.
Today, a lot of news is transmitted from the scene to the presses — pictures as well as words — via wireless computing and digital photography.
In a landmark court ruling this week, Justice Douglas Cunningham has given reporters covering the trial of Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien permission to live-blog and send instant news stories from their handheld devices inside the courtroom. The story’s here.
Reporters used to have to take a break and rush from the courtroom to phone in their stuff, just like in the days of The Front Page.
However, the judge turned down the CBC when it requested permission to put TV cameras in the courtroom.
The Mayor, by the way, is charged with influence peddling.
A REVIEW OF MY NEW BOOK
If you’d like to read a review of my new book, Scott Joplin and the Age of Ragtime, go to my book site and click on News and Reviews (on the right).
My thanks to Nancy Mereska for her kind review.