Saturday, May 10, 2008

Oh CanCon! Should it stand on guard for Canadian Internet content?

This week, in my class, the topic of the America’s domination over global culture was debated. While it's often American movies, tv, & music that is most often discussed, there are clearly implications for the Internet. With only one of the top twenty websites visited by Canadians actually being Canadian (source: Alexa), perhaps it's time to consider regulations or incentives for Canadian online content?

Here's some background on the situation.

I think it's safe to say that American entertainment companies use some predatory practices (foreign dumping, block-booking, vertical integration) not to mention their irresistible cultural products. To protect a semblance of national culture, various countries have responded by enacting legislation requiring a certain amount of domestic content to be aired. In Canada, this legislation is Canadian Content Rules, known as CanCon.

CanCon remains controversial, yet as the authors of Mondo Canuck state "Despite opposition to CanCon, which persists even today, the fact remains that initially the system was like a shot of pure adrenaline to a national recoding industry which had barely registered a pulse". Certainly, many Canadian recording stars owe their success in a large measure to CanCon, and Canadian music listeners have certainly benefited from it.

CanCon has sparked controversies, such as its checklist approach that determines what is deemed "Canadian". A famous example of this was Bryan Adam's hit "Everything I Do," which wasn't considered Canadian as it was co-written by a Brit and recorded in London (see 1992 CBC interview with Adams on this controversy).

The film industry does not have to follow CanCon, although some argue it should. There are however, various grants and tax benefits that have over the years encouraged Canadian cinema. As a result of very generous tax benefits in 1979, Canada produced 50% more movies than Hollywood on per capita basis, according to the authors of Mondo Canuck. Out of this, came some of the worst films ever made here and some of the best (Atlantic City - artistically, and financially Porky's and Meatballs).

But checklists of what counts as Canadians can impede our sense of national pride in our cultural products, such as the recent controversy over the film "Juno", which while filmed in Canada, by a Canadian with two Canadian leads, would not have been considered Canadian for the Genie awards, as it was bankrolled by Americans.

To further indicate the problems with defining Canadian content, a classmate, Sherry, responded: "We are so permeated with American media, how do we determine and measure what Canadian content really is?" Truly, some content made in Canada by Canadians hasn't seemed particularly Canadian (e.g. Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda).

It seems an impossible task to define Canadian content, but I do think it is important for fostering Canadian artists and taking pride in their work. So I'd define what's Canadian as if it was made by a Canadian, it's Canadian.

So into this the CRTC, has recently been reconsidering its decade-old policy to not regulate Canada's Internet (read Toronto Star's March 22 article Can we police Canadian content on the Internet? ) with a full report due this month and public hearings to follow. This has come up now as the CRTC found there was "minimal investment in producing ancillary or new online broadcasting content".

I have seen good Canadian online content, but I certainly wouldn't say the industry is as healthy as Canadian music, literature or film. So what's the solution? Regulate the amount of Canadian content or offer incentives or subsidies?

I eagerly await the outcome of the CRTC's public hearings. In the meantime, please share what you think should be done. Regulate? Subsidize? Nothing?

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