Holy Lord, Canadian TV is going all to Hell.
News that the Tories are trying to sneak through a morals clause in a tax bill has put a chill into Canada's creative community. In a nutshell, the Harper government has added a clause to Bill C-10, which is heading into a third reading before the senate, that would give government bureaucrats the power to exclude tax breaks for films and TV shows they deem as offensive or not in the public interest.
Basically, once this bill is passed as amended, if somebody at the Heritage Ministry finds your project offensive or even, well, a little funky, bye bye tax credit. It's sorta like how they used to do things in the Soviet Union. Trailer Park Boys nyet. Anne of Green Gables da. Welcome to CCCP 1, comrade.
Today, Bill Curry and Gayle MacDonald at the Globe and Mail broke the story even further, pointing the finger at Bible thumper Charles McVety, president of the Canadian Family Action Coalition, for bending the ear of senior Tory ministers Stockwell Day and Rob Nicholson about the need for a moral brake on the film and TV purse strings. Here's his quote: "We're thankful that someone's finally listening," he told The Globe. "It's fitting with conservative values, and I think that's why Canadians voted for a Conservative government."
Reached for comment by TV Feeds My Family, Christian leader Jesus Christ had this to add: "Why didn't McVety come to me? I'm always listening," he said. The Lord Almighty also threw in a quick plug for Oprah's Big Give (premiering Sunday, 9 p.m., CTV/ABC), which he called "uplifting, if a little unfocused."
Read the full Globe piece about McVety and the Christian lobby here; there's also a general report by Bruce DeMara in today's Toronto Star ("Tax credit changes are ominous for local film industry").
The news even reached the U.S., with The Hollywood Reporter warning that there are new strings attached to Canadian tax credits. Foreign producers shooting in Canada, they fear, may be subject to this morality strip search. That Devil guy on shot-in-Vancouver Reaper? Denied a Visa. End of series.
What does this all mean? City-TV has to change Hell's Kitchen to Heck's Kitchen? Little Mosque on the Prairie is now known as Hymn Singh? Those Bell TV beavers can now only be shown from the waist up?
Would that this was all a joke. This is the government sticking a big fat cork in the Air Farce chicken cannon next time it's aimed at Brian Mulroney.
Nonsense, says Heritage Canada. A spokesperson there told The Globe that any tax credit claw backs would be limited to matters "such as gratuitous violence, significant sexual content that lacks an educational purpose, or denigration of an identifiable group"--such as Conservatives.
Fundamentalist pressure on the culture community isn't just limited to Canada. Ever since Janet Jackson waved her tata on that Super Bowl, "family" lobbyists have attacked network television with renewed Christian zeal. The Republican government in the States have responded by leveling record fines at broadcasters over anything deemed remotely obscene. Lobbyists are smart: if you want to shut something down, go for the money.
It happened to NBC when they dared to launch a TV show about a less than saintly man of the cloth. The Book of Daniel was crucified before it ever aired. The lobby was so effective no advertiser would touch it. I remember sitting in a room with other critics and trying to count the commercials. There was one--the rest were all NBC promotional spots.
That's in a true free market system. In small market Canada, there's no production without some sort of government subsidy, be it grants or tax cuts. So the smart lobbyists go after the government purse strings.
But this isn't just about the cork in the chicken cannon, although civil liberties are at stake. There's so many issue here it is almost impossible to know where to begin. Just as the Canadian TV business is struggling back to its knees in the ratings--after years of cut backs in dramatic production and in the face of a constant tide wave of American fare--along comes a new headache for producers trying to obtain funding. If you haven't been disheartened by network neglect and politics, by the challenges of the up and down Canadian dollar, by threats of labor unrest, now you have to pass the morality sniff test. Good God.
Blogger Denis McGrath went so far as to headline this as "The death of hope" yesterday over at Dead Things ON Sticks. Don't know if I'd go that far. Lobby groups are always going to work their cause before ministers in Ottawa, especially if they're singing from the same hymn book. Hope returns if Canadians care enough to stand up for freedoms, and there is evidence today that that is happening.
You do it by fighting fire with fire. You lobby back. There's already a Facebook group, for example, called "Keep your censoring hands off Canadian film and TV! No to Bill c-10!" You can join up here.
From his pulpit, McGrath has been urging readers of his blog to call, email or fax your local MP and let them know this isn't cool with you.
I've already been on with Mike Stafford on AM 640 this morning on this hot topic. This is manna from heaven for radio talk shows, and most are going to hold McVety up to ridicule, not glory. You can catch the good reverend today on CHCH's Live @ 5:30, where, as luck would have it, he was previously booked to talk about a sex trade show at the Hamilton Convention Centre. I'm guessing the sex show will be sold out.
Can a grass roots push back work? Last I checked, ducking controversy was kind of a priority for minority governments, especially those intent on widening their base among voters who already think they are control freaks and censorship cops. I'm guessing this little amendment gets yanked before the evening newscasts. Still, take nothing for granted; keep up the heat. Otherwise, bye bye Trailer Park Boys, hello Camp Kumbaya.