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john doyle

You know what's wrong with this country? I'll tell you what's wrong with this country: Oppressive regulation against people making money for doing nothing.

That must seem a freakin' obvious article of faith to some people. Especially those in the commercial broadcasting racket. Excuse my rant and sarcasm, but there are some things with which I will not put up. And neither should you. Such as, paying money for nothing.

I draw your attention to a report in this great newspaper the other day on the matter of the Bell Media-owned Book Television channel. The owners have approached the CRTC asking for permission to change the nature of Book Television's programming, away from its mandated coverage of writing, books, authors and publishing, and toward "more attractive programming," which would mean "…the scheduling of drama programming based upon the printed word."

My first reaction was this: Hello? Excuse me? Does Book Television still exist? Apparently it does, loitering in the nether regions of digital cable and far as I can tell, occasionally airing a bunch of book-related programs made years ago in the middle of the night. That is, on those nights when it isn't airing "Paid Programming," also known as infomercials. In prime time on weeknights, it shows hours of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. On weekends it airs, over and over, a series called History of Science from 2005. One rare recent program about a writer – Margaret Atwood – was made in 2006.

This is known as doing nothing. And yet people pay money to subscribe to Book Television. Most subscribers probably have no idea they're paying to get it, because it is bundled with other channels they want to see. This is known as getting money for doing nothing.

Does Book Television actually do what it received a licence to do? Nope. It does nothing. On its website there is a Frequently Asked Questions section. One question is this: "How will I know if my book or event will be covered on Book Television?" and the answer is: "If your book or event is suitable to our programming, we'll contact you or your publicist." In other words, don't call us, we'll call you. Since Book Television doesn't actually cover books any more, the call isn't coming, book people.

A salient fact here is this: The channel turned a $1.1-million pre-tax profit in 2011, according to the CRTC's most recent data. A million bucks for doing nothing. And now the owners want to change the channel's content and turn it into yet another purveyor of dramas and comedies in prime time, as long as they are based on books – a definition so elastic as to be ridiculous. Bring on the endless Sex and the City reruns.

What's happening in this instance has happened time and time again with specialty channels in Canada – channels that get your money even if you never watch them. The Bell-owned Bravo channel, mandated to be an arts channel, is no longer any such thing. It airs low-grade American dramas in prime time and recently began airing the execrable reality show The Moment. Two of the original staples of the channel – Bravo!News and Arts & Minds – are long since cancelled. Both were magazine-style shows covering the arts. All gone. The original mandate is ignored, but the ability to collect subscriber fees goes on. The money rolls in for doing nothing.

And then there's the channel once known as Canadian Learning Television, mandated to offer educational programming, specifically credit-based, skills-related programs. Owned by Corus, CLT is now OWN, the channel created to promote all things Oprah Winfrey. In a rare move, the CRTC called out Corus on the matter and obliged it to come up with a plan to air programs that conform to its mandate. We await the plan.

Look, getting a specialty licence in Canada is getting a licence to make money – the subscriber fees roll in from people who have no interest in the channel, and that will continue to be the case until there is pick-and-pay choosing of channels in Canada.

Getting a licence to make money comes with the obligation to do as the channel is mandated to do. Again and again, channel owners view this as an oppressive regulatory hindrance. Such is the laxity of regulation that Book Television makes money doing nothing and wants to make more money doing even less.

This situation is now beyond a disgrace. You know what's wrong with this country, in truth? I'll tell you what's wrong with this country: We are obliged to pay money for nothing, and do nothing about it.

Airing tonight

Seed (City TV, 8:30 p.m.) has had its ups and down since a great first episode. While the premise remains engaging – sperm donor Harry (Adam Korson), a village-idiot type, ends up at the centre of various families and relationships – the rhythm has been off in some episodes. Tonight's is very clever, though – all wordplay and French farce, with one scene spiralling into another. In fact, the comedy is more adult than usual – not everyone will find the send-up of adultery and online bullying to be amusing. You need your brainy wits about you.

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