Editorial

FOWLER’S WISE WORDS: High TV standards must come first

April 27 1957
Editorial

FOWLER’S WISE WORDS: High TV standards must come first

April 27 1957

FOWLER’S WISE WORDS: High TV standards must come first

Editorial

The report of the Fowler Commission on broadcasting, like those of the Aird and Massey commissions before it, says many wise and useful things. It reaffirms some basic lines of thought: The air belongs to the people as a whole. So long as there is a physical limit on the number of broadcasting channels there must be a strong measure of control over their use so that the public interest shall come ahead of any private interest. And, as a corollary, if Canada is to grow as a nation Canadian broadcasting must have a reasonable Canadian content in ideas, news and entertainment.

The Fowler report, too, has some new inflections to suit the changing needs of changing times. If its suggestions come into force they need not weaken the traditional —and for all its many failures—the invaluable role in our recent history of the publicly owned CBC. At the same time they oiler a means to remove the persistent if largely taise accusation that Canadian radio policy discriminates against legitimate private enterprise.

It is recommended that a separate board be set up to govern both the CBC and the private stations. If adopted, this proposal won’t, in itself, make the slightest alteration in the pattern or quality of Canadian broadcasting. It will, however, remedy the complaint of private broadcasters that in coming under the control of the CBC they have had to submit to the rulings of a competitor.

More interesting to the private broadcasters is the recommendation that private stations be licensed in half a dozen major cities where CBC stations now have a monopoly. This may mean a good deal or it may mean nothing at all. For the commission has said, in effect, that before anybody gets a private license he ought to be ready to pay at least as much attention to his programing as to his profits.

This hasn’t always been done. A number of private radio and television stations have shown a commendable sense of responsibility in managing the franchises that have been bestowed on them as a gift from the people at large. A larger number have not. The official organization of the private broadcasters, the Canadian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters, has, in the words of the commission, “issued much misleading and one-sided information ... to enroll the Canadian instinct for freedom behind hidden mercenary motives.” It has put its stake in “devious propaganda wrapped in colorful verbiage.” Some, though happily not all, of the CARTB’s members have followed the association's seedy and irresponsible example. In returns given to the commission, one hundred stations admitted to an average cost for talent per year of only $18,000. A dozen private television stations showed exactly the same average. Yet Canadian private radio stations showed an average profit in 1955 of more than twenty percent of their sales volume and two showed profits of more than fifty percent. In the newer and more difficult field of television a group of nine stations showed an average profit of fourteen percent and the most fortunate made forty-eight percent on its sales.

In the circumstances it’s not strange that the Fowler Commission urges specific rules to ensure that new TV channels be granted only on hard-and-fast conditions. “There is no need to rush to occupy them or to accept, in their use, anything less than a high standard of performance,” the commission says. “If such a standard cannot now be met, for economic or other reasons, it would be better to wait until it can be.”

If parliament will heed those careful words and keep in mind the mixed record of the past, public and private broadcasting can continue to develop side by side and we’ll all be better off.