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Best Single Overview of Canadian Media Industry Ever Provided

Canada's Cultural Industries: Broadcasting,
Publishing, Records and Film

Paul Audley, Canadian Institute for Economic Policy
James Lorimer & Company, 346 pages, $12.95

Reviewed by Michael Connolly

 

For anyone who has plodded through endless pages of studies and reports to get an understanding of the culture and media industries in Canada, Paul Audley's book will be a welcome relief. Canada's Cultural Industries is the first work to give a complete overview of the multi-billion dollar industry which includes periodicals, books, records, film, television, radio, and newspapers. Drawing on the information contained in all the major studies in this field, Audley presents the strongest case ever made for eliminating foreign control of Canadian culture.

This isn't by any means a radical manifesto. Audley unemotionally synthesizes the analyses and facts presented by government and industry studies, and makes sense of them. He proves with numerous tables of statistics what is hampering the development of our cultural industries, and he suggests ways to ensure the growth and prosperity of Canadian expression.

Two basic threats to Canadian culture are pointed out: American penetration and the control of the industry by monopoly.

The free flow of information between nations, advocated so forcefully by our southern neighbor, simply permits the free flow of its culture to swamp the cultures of others. Take periodical publishing. Forty-six per cent of consumer magazine circulation in Canada is accounted for by imported foreign magazines. Of the Canadian-produced magazines which make up the other 54 percent of circulation, about half is attributed to Time, Reader's Digest and TV Guide. More than 60 per cent of the books sold in this country are printed in the United States.

Almost 92 per cent of books published in Canada and then exported are written by foreign authors. Ninety per cent of records and tapes sold here are manufactured from masters produced outside Canada. A 1976 study showed that 93 per cent of all revenues from the rental of films to theatres in Canada was paid to the seven major Hollywood studios. Audley points out that 88.4 percent of TV entertainment viewing is of foreign programs.

Most of the distribution systems for periodicals, books, records, and films are controlled by American interests.

All this is bad enough. But Canadian government policies actually subsidize American penetration. Imported magazines are exempt from the federal excise tax and get special postage rates when mailed in Canada. U.S. publishers benefit to the tune of about $45 million a year. "The provision of tens of millions of dollars in subsidy to foreign magazines, in a period when many Canadian companies in the cultural industries are experiencing severe financial difficulties, is unacceptable," Audley writes.

American record companies sell their master tapes to subsidiaries in Canada or to Canadian companies where they are used for the manufacture of records for the Canadian market. The master tapes come into Canada valued as though they were blank tapes, paying a customs duty of only $4. This is unfair competition for Canadian producers who must spend $10,000 to $100,000 producing an original master.

The six largest companies increased their share of record and tape sales from 59.2 per cent in 1977 to 77.3 per cent in 1980. Yet it is the smaller Canadian companies, accounting for just one per cent of the total industry's revenue, which played the truly creative role. These companies initiated most of the new Canadian recordings.

Monopoly — the other albatross around the neck of our cultural industries — is especially evident in the newspaper sphere where 75 per cent of the 117 daily newspapers are under group or chain ownership, accounting for 77 per cent of total daily circulation in 1981, up from 56 per cent in 1970. Southam and Thomson papers account for 48 per cent of national circulation. The lack of effective government anti-monopoly legislation ensures a profitability for the newspaper industry described by the Kent Commission as "more . . . than the steel industry, or the manufacturing sector as a whole, or the retailing and service industries." How this concentration affects news coverage has long been a major concern. More than half of the people surveyed by the Kent Commission felt that newspapers tended to represent one group's interests more than others.

Ownership is becoming more concentrated in television as well. In 1975, 56 per cent of all television stations were group-owned, up from 38 per cent in 1965.

Private ownership of the cultural industries has tended to dictate development almost solely along economic lines with little regard for Canadian culture. It is cheaper to buy American programs than to produce home-grown talent. In just two years, private-sector television's spending for foreign programs increased 47.4 percent, from $30.2 million in 1977 to $55.2 million in 1979. The effect, Audley claims, was to slow expenditure on Canadian programs during the same period.

CTV is criticized for its miserable record in Canadian content. Audley says: ". . . CTV does not really exist. Instead, it is a creature of its member stations, whose priorities appear to include giving the network no more revenue than is absolutely necessary to provide certain essential categories of programs required to meet CRTC regulatory requirements at the lowest possible cost." He suggests the CRTC "consider divestiture by the member stations in CTV."

Audley considers the CBC to be the most important institution in Canadian culture. He points out: "Despite the fact that its gross revenues were 11 per cent lower than those of private-sector television broadcasters, CBC invested 59 per cent more in Canadian broadcasting." He calls for long-term, increased funding for the underfinanced public corporation.

Audley believes that the cultural industries, especially the private sector, are unlikely to solve their problems on their own. He drives home the need for legislative action: to provide incentives for Canadian content, to reduce American penetration and control, and to prevent further concentration of ownership. He puts forward many proposals which would achieve these goals and provide millions of extra dollars to Canadian-owned industry. Audley advocates a cultural policy which puts national expression ahead of immediate economic goals. He claims, however, that Canadian content can be profitable and attractive to Canadians and cites several examples to prove it.

Reading Audley's analysis of the situation and his proposals for change gives one a sense of urgency. He has laid out clearly what needs to be done. His study may be the single most important book on Canadian culture.

 

Published in SOURCES Summer 83

 



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