YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK, PT. 2: How many people remember the Cinar, the Quebec children’s TV powerhouse that nearly dissolved when it was hit with allegations of embezzlement of government subsidies, including some $122 million put into Bahamian bank accounts, in addition to collecting royalties meant for Canadian writers that were actually paid to U.S. writers, and even the sister of one of the company founders, who wasn’t a writer at all. The whole dismal story flared up for around a year or so at the turn of the millennium, then drifted away, dissolving into the ether when the criminal case was dropped by the RCMP and turned into internal investigation by Telefilm, the government agency who, while the principal victims of Cinar’s fraud, also had the most to lose if the peculiar customs of public TV and film funding became known.
The story of Cinar has been echoing in my memory as I’ve been reading a series of blog postings and press releases over the past few weeks dealing with the funding of Canadian television. The Director’s Guild of Canada has been issuing a series of releases lately trying to draw attention to ongoing Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hearings, and other business being conducted by Telefilm and the Canadian Television Fund. Only one release – detailed last week in this column – was written with a sort of outraged flair; the rest have been much drier missives, concerned with things like broadcast distribution undertakings (BDUs for short, and featuring earnest but uninspiring statements like this one, by DGC national executive director and CEO Brian Anthony:
“Ownership restrictions are of fundamental importance to the vitality of our sector, but additional measures are required to ensure a vibrant Canadian film and television industry,” Anthony said in a release last week. “Production in film, television and the new media are under-resourced, and we need to encourage much greater investment in the sector to expand our share of the domestic and foreign markets.”
Your eyes understandably glaze over if you read even a little of this sort of stuff, but not when you read the blog postings and comments published by Newmarket screenwriter Jim Henshaw on his blog, The Legion of Decency, over the last few weeks. Based on his own experience, and that of others, he marvels at the lack of financial transparency practiced by Canadian broadcasters and producers using government money to produce Canadian content, and the apparent indifference of bodies like the CRTC and Telefilm to the fishy statements they get after investing our money. In a post published last week, Henshaw wishes that “Telefilm Canada would simply allow the artists they were incorporated to support and the tax-paying community that supplies film funding to verify that our government has the same numbers we do ... Until that happens, Telefilm retains its position along with an out of touch regulator and our mysteriously enriched production entities as the axis of weasel that keeps Canadian artists from realizing their full potential.”
To be continued ...