Canada government orders broadcast regulator to reconsider TV license terms

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian government on Monday ordered the country’s broadcast regulator to reconsider the terms for renewals of television broadcast licenses that it implemented earlier this year, saying they did not do enough to support the funding of independent, domestic content.

The move affects English-language content funded by the media arm of Rogers Communications Inc, as well as French-language content from Quebecor Inc and content in both languages paid for by the media arms of BCE Inc and Corus Entertainment .

Canada’s domestic producers of content have long been supported by mandatory financial contributions from broadcasters, as well as rules enforcing a minimum level of Canadian content that must be aired on the country’s television channels.

Under the terms of the license extensions the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) issued in May, broadcasters were required to spend 30 percent of their revenue on Canadian programming, and 5 percent on programs of “national interest”, with at least three-quarters of that spending going to independent productions.

The Canadian Media Producers Association commissioned research that estimated the decisions would reduce broadcaster spending on independent content of national interest over the course of the five-year license period by C$141 million ($110.8 million).

Bell, Corus and Rogers earlier this month penned an open letter disputing that claim, and saying that decisions “to move away from the protectionist measures that made sense in a pre-digital era” would in fact lead to C$155 million more in combined investment, for a total of C$5.6 billion.

Mélanie Joly, the federal minister for Canadian heritage, said the government had heard “loud and clear” the voices of some 89 petitioners, including major production groups and the provincial government of Quebec.

“We believe that the right balance has not been struck” in the CRTC decisions, she said in a phone interview.

Joly said she plans to present a broader policy vision for Canada’s cultural industries by the end of September.

Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Dan Grebler and Diane Craft