Is Netflix really a foreign colonizer? CBC president Catherine Tait might not be wrong

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Catherine Tait, the uber-boss of the CBC, has compared Netflix’s television domination to the kind of colonialism exhibited by the British and French empires.

So far, no correlation has been made to Amazon Prime Video being headed by Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan running programming at Hulu, although I imagine those shops would be heavy on drama, light on comedy.

Next, we’ll hear that Tait wants to build the Great Cultural Wall of Canada barring the Americans from flooding the market with their cheap reruns of Three’s Company.

Donald Trump, still trying to build his wall or fence, or semi-permeable Styrofoam barrier, would be impressed.

The reality for Canada, though, is that the barbarians are already at the gate.

You don’t need to be an anthropologist to see what the most recent numbers reveal every week: American culture dominates our viewing habits.

The No. 1 show for several years running in Canada has the CBS nerd sitcom The Big Bang Theory. ABC’s The Good Doctor and CBS’s Young Sheldon were in second and third place. No Canadian show made the top 10 except for Lisa LaFlamme holding the fort by gamely talking about Trans Mountain pipelines on the CTV National News.

But bully for Tait for not showing the white flag.

“I was thinking about the British Empire and how, if you were there and you were the viceroy of India you would feel that you were doing only good for the people of India,” Tait said on a media panel in Ottawa Friday. “If you were in French Africa, you would think ‘I’m educating them. I’m bringing their resources to the world and I am helping them.’”

Tait made her comments while Netflix director of public affairs Stéphane Cardin reportedly shook his head in disbelief — although he might have just been trying to figure out his most recent bonus cheque since the company’s revenues grew by 35 per cent in 2018 to $16 billion (U.S.).

Not bad for a shop that started out sending you DVDs in the mail. Remember DVDs?

Or it could be because Cardin’s heard it all before. Despite the indignation from those in the industry who disagree with her, Tait’s comments aren’t new.

“They are the perfect representation of American cultural imperialism,” Christophe Tardieu, director of France’s National Cinema Centre, the organization that pays for most of the Cannes Film Festival, told the New York Times way back in 2017.

Netflix, of course, isn’t just disrupting legacy broadcasters; it is upending the movie industry as well, taking A list stars and plopping them on the same screen that you use to watch Jeopardy! Which, next to eating Cheez Whiz on Saltines, is as sacrilegious as it gets for the French.

Still, Tait has a point. Canadian broadcasters have a legitimate axe to grind with Netflix.

Netflix is not required to contribute to the Canadian Media Fund, through which cable companies and broadcasters help to finance original Canadian productions.

Secondly, streaming companies don’t have to collect GST or HST sales taxes if they don’t have brick and mortar operations in the country. Meanwhile, their competitors have to collect that tax as well as contribute 5 per cent of their gross revenue to the Canadian Media Fund.

Netflix has said it shouldn’t pay into the fund because that would force “foreign online services to subsidize Canadian broadcasters.”

Ottawa decided not to implement taxes after Netflix said it would spend at least $500 million over five years on programming, a number which the company says it will exceed.

But the reality is, the playing field is grossly distorted. Australia, the European Union and Japan have already moved to eliminate the competitive disadvantage. Quebec started requiring Netflix to collect taxes this year. So Tait isn’t far off the mark.

“So all I can say is, let us be mindful of how it is we, as Canadians, respond to global companies coming into our country,” she says.

Still, as a broadcaster and producer, Tait has to tread a fine line. She has to figure out how to work with the steaming giant while not being swallowed by them.

Partnering with Netflix has its advantages. Just ask the cast of CBC’s Kim’s Convenience, who are now global superstars, or the makers of Citytv’s newly popular Bad Blood, which the streamer recently acquired. Netflix has become the gateway to the world for quality Canadian television.

Yet success on Netflix is a double-edged sword. Tait said “it was very painful” for her to read a Vanity Fair article thanking Netflix for Schitt’s Creek, even though it was a show that originated on the CBC.

But nothing is more revealing than the whole Bird Box controversy. A unanimous motion in the House of Commons asked Netflix to remove all images of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy from its fiction catalogue. The streamer used stock footage of the 2013 derailment and explosion in the Sandra Bullock thriller Bird Box and the TV series Travelers.

Netflix apologized but has so far refused to pull the images from Bird Box. However, the producers of Travelers said they would yank the images from the show.

Perhaps the fact that Travelers is proudly co-produced by Canadians and originated on a Canadian channel made the difference. They had skin in the game. They were sensitive to the concerns in their own backyard.

That’s what Tait was trying, in a ham-fisted way, to say after all. That caravan of producers crawling north from Hollywood with a wad of cash? They don’t always have your best interests at heart, Canada.

Or put another way: “Looking at the ecosystem, everybody’s swimming in the same swimming pool,” she once said. “But some of the people aren’t cleaning it up.”

Tony Wong is the Star’s television critic based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @tonydwong

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Quand Catherine Dorion de QS fait de la radio

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De tout temps, la classe politique a eu besoin des journalistes comme intermédiaires afin de pouvoir s’adresser à la population.

À une certaine époque, les partis politiques détenaient même des journaux dans leurs familles politiques respectives. C’est ainsi qu’au tout début du XXe siècle, le journal Le Canada (1903-1954) a appartenu à la famille politique libérale. Il fut publié durant plus de 50 ans.

Le Montréal-Matin (1930-1978) était la propriété de l’Union nationale, et même de son chef, qui détenait un bloc d’actions important de l’entreprise.

Plus récemment, il faut rappeler que le journal Le Jour (1974-1976) dirigé par Yves Michaud avait été créé afin de favoriser l’option du Parti québécois.

Les plus âgés se rappelleront également que René Lévesque a détenu une chronique régulière au Journal de Montréal de 1966 à 1974, puis dans le quotidien Le Jour jusqu’en 1976, année de la prise du pouvoir par le Parti québécois.

La participation de la députée de Québec solidaire Catherine Dorion à l’émission de Sylvain Bouchard du FM 93 à Québec n’est pas un phénomène isolé dans l’histoire des médias au Québec. Propager le « bon » message, c’est ce qui guide la classe politique de toutes les tendances.

À la fin des années 1970, nous sommes entrés dans une nouvelle ère, celle de la neutralité des médias, sauf pour les pages éditoriales dans le cas des journaux. Les journalistes ont aussi été bousculés par l’arrivée massive des conseillers en communication qui accompagnent pas à pas les députés de toutes les formations politiques.

Contact direct avec le public

Or, la classe politique a toujours cherché à contacter directement le public en contournant le filtre des journalistes, qui agissent comme intermédiaires entre le monde politique et la population. Cette relation parfois difficile entre les médias et la classe politique encourage cette dernière à outrepasser les journalistes. À la fin de son premier mandat, Robert Bourassa avait même conçu des messages en cassettes audio et vidéo destinées aux médias pour annoncer le déclenchement des élections de 1976.

Plus récemment, d’autres politiciens en exercice ont voulu s’adresser directement à la population. Le maire Denis Coderre l’a fait à TVA, à son émission J’ai une question Monsieur le Maire.

Au même moment, nous avons assisté à la création de « clubs des ex », qui se multiplient encore aujourd’hui sur toutes les chaînes télé. Plusieurs médias privés ont aussi mis la table pour que les anciens politiciens puissent se recycler dans le milieu de l’information. Parmi les plus célèbres, Mario Dumont et Jean Lapierre ont pu développer une deuxième carrière après leur vie politique. Bernard Drainville a aussi profité d’une telle proposition.

Depuis l’arrivée incontournable des réseaux sociaux, la classe politique n’a plus autant besoin des journalistes pour faire passer son message. Pierre Karl Péladeau avait mené son entrée en politique sur sa page Facebook. Aujourd’hui, les réseaux sociaux sont au centre de la stratégie de communication de tous les membres de la classe politique. Parler directement au public, c’est le message…

À certains égards, on peut presque se passer des journalistes, si on le souhaite. Les journalistes ne sont plus seuls à chasser la nouvelle. C’est ainsi qu’en juin 2015 Lisette Lapointe a annoncé la mort de son conjoint Jacques Parizeau sur son compte Twitter et sa page Facebook. Elle n’a pas contacté un journaliste.

N’étant plus seuls à chasser la nouvelle, les journalistes doivent réfléchir au rôle qu’ils et elles doivent jouer dorénavant, notamment dans la couverture de la politique.

Partout dans le monde occidental les réseaux sociaux sont au service de la communication directe, de l’information… et de la désinformation.

C’est Cogeco qui a fait cette proposition à Catherine Dorion, la personnalité de l’heure de Québec solidaire. C’est un choix d’entreprise fait pour relancer son média dans la course aux cotes d’écoute à Québec. On verra si ça fonctionne.

Cela s’inscrit aussi dans l’esprit de polarisation qui semble guider la communication d’aujourd’hui. En cette ère où les réseaux sociaux contribuent à polariser les débats, l’univers des médias ne veut pas être relégué à la voie d’évitement. On cherche de nouvelles recettes.

L’affrontement hebdomadaire entre la députée de gauche Catherine Dorion et l’animateur très à droite Sylvain Bouchard du FM 93 s’inscrit dans cette tendance.

La relation historique, parfois houleuse, entre la classe politique et les médias se poursuit. À suivre, donc…

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40 organizations ask Catherine McKenna to keep ‘stringent’ pollution standards for automakers

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A group of 40 organizations and businesses have written a letter to federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna asking her to keep « stringent » pollution emission standards for automakers and move toward a zero-emission vehicle strategy. 

« We urge you to uphold the more stringent GHG emissions standards in Canada through 2025 for light duty vehicles, » reads the letter, sent to media outlets on Wednesday.

« This will reduce household costs, increase jobs in the auto sector, improve air quality, and bring Canada closer to meeting its climate change goals, » the group said.  

Among the 40 business and organizations who signed the letter is a General Motors dealership in Guelph, Ont. — Barry Cullen Chevrolet Cadillac, the only car dealership on the list of businesses. 

In a press release, Mark Cullen, the dealership’s general manager, urged McKenna to not be « swayed by a U.S. attempt to slash pollution standards in cars and trucks. » 

« Auto parts manufacturers in the U.S. have pointed out that having stronger standards actually creates jobs, as well as ensuring a competitive advantage in an international market moving to cleaner, more efficient vehicles, » Cullen said. 

Another organization who signed the letter is Emerge Guelph, a non profit organization helping residents make their homes energy-efficient. 

« Currently the regulation is strong because it reduces pollution with every model year up till 2025, » said Evan Ferrari, the executive director of the organization. 

« It seems silly, but maintaining the status quo is all we’re asking, » he said. « We’re not asking for anything extra on the emissions standard. »  

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says she has started a discussion paper to kickstart a review of the Canada-U.S. vehicle emissions standards. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada reviewing auto emission rules 

In August, the federal government announced it will be reviewing auto emission rules as the U.S. moves to roll back requirements. 

Canada and the U.S. have been aligned on vehicle emissions for more than two decades. Unless Canada scraps the existing regulations and writes its own, it automatically follows the American plan.

That plan, agreed to in 2012 by then-prime minister Stephen Harper and then-president Barack Obama, was to compel automakers to make vehicles more fuel efficient each model year between 2017 and 2025.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced he’s going to freeze the standards as of 2021.

Ferrari said not only should Canada maintain the current standards, it should also move toward a zero-emission vehicle strategy. 

« The intention is that governments all over the world are … putting in standards that mandate manufacturers to increase the percentage of zero-emission vehicles, either electric or hydrogen or some other technology, » he said. 

CBC News has requested an interview with McKenna, but has not yet received a response. 

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