Jean-Pierre Blais' speech in Banff on Wednesday is very promising. The Chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, addressing the Banff World Media Festival, said, "It's time to ask: Do the assumptions that lie beneath our current regulatory policies still hold true?" Potentially, that could mean a root-and-branch revision of the CRTC's policies – subject, of course, to its governing statute. But then again, the commission might at least recommend legislative changes, too.
Change will not come rapidly. Mr. Blais said that consultations about Canada's television system will begin in the fall, and no doubt it will take time to "hear directly from Canadians," as he put it.
In particular, it would be a good thing if all grants of "mandatory carriage" were reviewed, and a strenuous onus applied to any new application for that status. The application of Starlight, for a channel broadcasting a neglected realm of Canadian culture, namely Canadian film, is a good example of a exception that merits serious consideration. Ideally and eventually, however, cable providers should sooner or later be emancipated from any requirement to distribute this or that channel. Cable companies would still have commercial incentives to offer a wide range of channels.
One key passage of Mr. Blais' speech pointed out that the traditional pattern has been to issue licenses to networks, cable providers and satellite providers, subject to specific conditions, but that "it's become gears in and of itself. It's become about the rules."
He struck a more cautious note in pointing out that the average Canadian watches 28.5 hours of TV a week, but only 2.8 hours of Internet television, and that less well-off people continue rely largely on TV – in the meaning of the term known since the mid-20th century – for their news and information.
The visionary quality of Mr. Blais' speech may bog down in the consultations and subsequent implementation, but his open mind is highly welcome.