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RESERVATIONS AND OBSERVATIONS BY MR. ARTHUR SURVEYER ON RADIO BROADCASTING, TELEVISION AND THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD
1. The Canadian Broadcasting and Telecasting Control Board should, as its name implies, play the same role in connection with the activities of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and of the private telecasters as those outlined in the preceding chapter in connection with broadcasting. The difficulties in operating video stations and networks and in producing suitable programmes for television will be greater than those involved in radio broadcasting. This is an additional reason for liberating the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from its regulatory functions, leaving it free to concentrate on the economical operation of the national broadcasting and telecasting system.
2. The situation in television is changing every day. Colour telecasting seems to be out for an indefinite period as a result of the decision of a Federal Court in Chicago, forbidding the Columbia Broadcasting System to go on the air with commercial telecasts until April 1st, for the purpose of giving the parties the time to appeal to the United States Supreme Court. It is probable that by the time the Supreme Court hands down a decision, all the materials normally used in TV manufacture, either for colour or for black-and-white telecasting, will be going into military equipment. In the meantime all Companies are working to improve their colour telecasting systems, so that it is impossible to predict what will happen when the decision of the Supreme Court will be made public.
3. Programme production costs, already very high, will go higher which will tend to limit the number of live programmes in favour of films or of kinescope recordings. At the hearings of the Committee of the House, on Broadcasting, held last summer, the Chairman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation gave an estimate of the probable cost of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's television operations, based on telecasting for only a few hours a day from Montreal and from Toronto. The estimates given were the following:
At the present time, there are about 25,000 receiving television sets in Canada, and it is estimated that a population of 2,500,000 people could receive American programmes. This is disquieting because the commercialism of the American television programmes is even more blatant than that of the radio programmes, and the intellectual level is definitely lower.
4. The amount of unimaginative and tasteless entertainment already offered by television seems to justify the dour prediction of Charles A. Siepmann who says that television will probably "conform rapidly to a few . . . stereotyped conventions. It will be ingenious and inventive but artistically poor. Except on rare occasions, and for some time to come, its true scope as a medium of expression will not be fully realized."1 Mr. Seldes, who quotes Siepmann, adds his own views on what television should attempt to do:
5. The tendency of television to exploit and exaggerate the appetite for looking at sports is considered as an indication that the general level of its programmes will not rise above the sports-lovers' limitations. Seldes gives as evidence the fact that the saloon audience shouted "turn on the fights" when the first grand opera was transmitted from the Metropolitan. He wonders if television intends to build up a mass-minority audience at the sport level, satisfying only one ruling passion and leaving untouched all other interests and curiosities that human beings, including sports-lovers, enjoy. 3 True, the people who sit in the grandstands are responsible citizens at other times, but the danger lies in the fact that a mass medium creates its audience by its average and "the audience that television will create if it excites and feeds only one group of appetites will be lower in the scale of human values simply because so many natural human wants will go unsatisfied and so many capacities will atrophy from disuse."4
6. Seldes' greatest fears are the influence of the comics and the fact that high school students now spend about as many hours watching television as they spend in school:
These comments from American experts indicate the difficulties ahead of the Canadian TV programming group and the danger in imitating or importing American programmes. There is no doubt that if Canada wants to avoid some of the pitfalls of television it will have to break new ground and this will be both arduous and costly.
7. Television may contribute to the lowering of the intellectual level of the community but on the other hand its possibilities for improving the mind and the taste of the nation are tremendous. An important experiment called TV University of the Air is now being carried out in Philadelphia by Station WFIL, with help of the colleges in the vicinity. The educators for years have largely limited themselves to criticizing what radio and television had done or had not done; they are now offered the opportunity of proving that they can use the medium for educational purposes. Twenty colleges and universities have joined. Educators, not television experts, are in charge of the planning and of the content of the programmes. The first course is entitled Chemistry of Living. Other courses of the first series will include Government Around the World; Let's Speak Spanish, a popular series in Nuclear Physics; two related courses in The Child and the Family, and Understanding our Teen-Age Children; a philosophy series in The Art of Thinking; a background course in economics and home budgeting and a group of lectures on Success through Self-Improvement.
8. A similar venture is a weekly Du Mont television production: The Johns Hopkins' Science Review. The director of this programme has one simple rule for the learned men of science who are his stars. The professors are told: "If you can't show it, don't talk about it longer than a minute". One of the greatest problems, says the producer and commentator Mr. Poole, is dreaming up gimmicks that will enable the camera to show scientific phenomena. The scientists will stand for no faking. Their chief fear is not the camera but their own colleagues. This Johns Hopkins' programme was beamed in 1946 from station WAAM in Baltimore. Behind the programme is the University's conviction that colleges and universities have an educational duty beyond their classrooms, and that TV offers an ideal way to give information to the public. There is the further belief that the public has a curiosity and at the same time a vague fear about science but that it would like to know what is being produced from the money spent on research. The programme seeks to show "how research eventually benefits you". It has been hailed by
teachers as the type of educational programme on television of which they would like to see more.
9. Conditions in New York are different from those in Philadelphia and in Baltimore. The Joint Committee on Educational Television recently appeared before the F.C.C. to request allocation of television channels for education. The Counsel for the Committee pointed out that a recent survey of the programmes televised during one week by New York's seven Television Stations revealed that while crime, western and thriller shows occupied 19% of the time, only one educational programme actually produced by educationists was televised during that period. Religious programmes totalled less than l% of the week's shows, so that commercial television occupied the major portion of the available time on New York stations.
10. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has refused up to now to grant licences for television to the private stations, save on condition that two normally rival stations would associate. This is a surprising condition and I do not see why the private stations should not be permitted to venture money in telecasting if they have the courage to do so. Very recently, the Province of Quebec has decided to grant to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation permission to build a transmitting television tower on the mountain of Montreal, providing it does not exercise a monopoly. The decision had been, at first, interpreted as permitting the private stations to utilize the mountain site for telecasting purposes just as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. But it has been pointed out that the private stations cannot take advantage of this privilege until the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recommends the granting of video licences to private stations in Montreal. A recent study completed in the United States, by the Association of National Advertisers, estimates that in large centres, "each radio home that installs TV has lost 83% of its evening potential for the radio advertiser". The report contends "that TV practically wipes out AM night-time listening in radio homes". This reveals why the private stations are so anxious to obtain television licences immediately. They fear that if the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation begins telecasting before they are allowed to televise, it will take away from their stations most of the night radio audience, thus causing them to lose some of their most valuable advertisers. The situation is the same in Toronto as in Montreal, and in any other city where the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation might get the jump on its competitors by beginning to telecast months before the granting of TV licences to the private stations.
11. The money to provide for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's venture in telecasting will have to come at first from Parliamentary grants. Later, when telecasting has been going on for some time and satisfactory programmes are provided, it may be advisable to charge a licence fee.
The Board of Governors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation have suggested ten dollars a year per TV receiver, but that will cover only part of the expenditures unless coverage by television is extended to a larger area and unless the number of TV receivers increases tremendously. It is to be expected that in the near future receivers will be made to take either radio or television, so that some adjustment in the amount of the fees would have to be made.
12. My colleagues recommend: "That the whole subject of television broadcasting in Canada be reconsidered by an independent investigating body not later than three years after the commencement of regular Canadian television broadcasting". The question of television broadcasting is so important that it deserves a thorough study before the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation begins telecasting. If the Canadian Broadcasting Act were to be amended according to my suggestions, the new Control Board could collaborate immediately with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's executives for the purpose of drawing up a sound television programme suitable to Canadian conditions.
THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD
1. My colleagues refer, in paragraph 18 of Chapter XIX, to the broad powers which have been conferred on the Government Film Commissioner by the Film Act of 1950. They point out that the provisions of this Act "may in practice put effective control into the hands of the Commissioner and may leave to the Board little real power or responsibility". This apprehension is certainly justified because democratic institutions can function properly only if there is a well devised system of weights and counterweights. The present arrangements fail to provide the counterweights. The natural tendency of all heads of governmental agencies is to try to expand the scope of their department. Doubtless the members of the National Film Board, by reason of their interest in the production of films, will come forward with suggestions for a greater variety of films, thus contributing to the expansion of the Board's activities. I recommend, therefore, that, as in the case of the Board of Governors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, two or three members should be appointed to the Film Board as moderators, with the duty of examining objectively all plans for expansion, thus protecting the rate-payers against the enthusiasm of the more artistic members of the Board.
2. The J. D. Woods and Gordon report contains some pertinent suggestions, particularly on the question of the costing methods adopted by the Board. It refers to the advisability of showing clearly all expenditures. This is in agreement with the recommendation made, a year ago, to Parliament, by the Auditor-General, Mr. Watson Sellar, to the effect that all reports submitted by governmental departments or agencies should show clearly for each fiscal year total revenue and expenditure, in order to give to Parliament and to the people of Canada an exact idea of the cost of operating and of maintaining each particular department or agency.
3. The Woods and Gordon report does not contain any comments concerning the efficiency or inefficiency of the operations of the National Film Board. Probably they considered that the Board is so handicapped, by having its operations directed from a straggling main building and scattered over nine other buildings, that it would not be fair to criticize its operations. Personally, I believe that even after the Board has been moved into a suitable building, its real costs will exceed those of the private producers.
4. My colleagues recommend that the National Film Board should "continue its policy of commissioning films from private producers when this is in the public interest". But I would like to make sure that the private producers will get a reasonable share of the work of the National Film Board. The report of the Public Printing and Stationery Department for the fiscal year, ended March 31st, 1949, gives the sales of the year for the printing branch as follows:
This shows that out of a total amount of work of $5,065,834.05, exclusive of paper, about 60 per cent was entrusted to outside firms. I recommend, therefore, that the National Film Board should be required to give, each year, to outside film producers or to outside photographers, work to the value of half its yearly sales or of half the value of its annual production of films or of photographs.
* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.