FREEDOM TO CHOOSE

THE ROTARY CLUB OF VANCOUVER

JANUARY 25, 1983

“Hell hath no fury like a woman porned.”

We were looking for a high profile launch for Pay TV which as you know begins on February 1st, at least in its Canadian version. The publicity that has surrounded Pay TV in the last ten days has led to some suspicion that I have been offering to paint the picket signs and pour the tea for anyone willing to protest. This is of course not so – only because it has been entirely unnecessary!

All you have to do is take a good measure of sex, cinema and censorship, add the media who are having a dull week anyway, and you have a public relations bonanza.

All levels of government have commented – often coming down on both sides of the question within the same paragraph. This has led to a series of very collectable and quotable observations.

Pat McGeer who has been solidly on the side of an open skies policy – if you don’t want me to receive those signals, don’t let them fall in my back yard – suddenly decided that a Canadian cable company carrying the same material was not going to be acceptable. I can only gather that he must feel it is acceptable for Canadian men to watch American ladies in the buff, but not for us to sneak a peek at our own local ladies.

Francis Fox has been pushing for Canadian content. Now that First Choice has agreed to spend $30 million producing Playboy-type films in Canada, he is in a dilemma. I gather bunnies in beaver coats wearing maple leaves in place of fig leaves are not quite what he had in mind.

Maude Barlow, Director of Ottawa’s Municipal Office of Equal Opportunity for Women, obviously is thoroughly enjoying the issue. After a demonstration in Ottawa she said, “a fun day – power is wonderful.”

Actually, if one can keep one’s sense of humour, it has been a fascinating week. I have been variously asked if I had umbrella marks on my head, whether I had changed my name to Hugh Fierheller, in deference to Hugh Hefner, and whether my plans for next week were, “boobs on the bunny tube, or bunnies on the boob tube.”

Behind all this, however, are some issues that should be looked at.

THE ROLE OF CABLE IN PAY TV

It should first of all be understood that the cable company acts as a retailer for a variety of broadcast or other services. We provide the electronic shelf space for products that are made available nationally or locally. Only in selected instances do we produce material ourselves.

In the case of over-the-air Canadian television or radio broadcasting we are not allowed to alter what the broadcaster chooses to put forth. In the case of programming imported from the United States we do not alter its content, but we are required by CRTC regulation to replace an American signal with a Canadian signal when both are carried at the same time. This. I might add, is not as unreasonable a requirement as one might think. As the Canadian networks pay for the privilege of broadcasting the American material and reasonably should give the Canadian advertisers full exposure in the markets they have paid for.

In the case of Pay TV, our contracts do not allow us to alter the programming being provided. National advertising would become impossible if each cable company juggled around the content of a Pay TV programme producer.

Therefore, we are in the middle between the producers and the public.

This does not of course remove responsibility from us as a broadcast receiving undertaking not to contravene the Criminal Code. But there is nothing in our licence that would allow us to be a censor of material that we simply felt might offend one group or another.

In fact, the cable company has gone out of its way in its community programming, where we do in a sense act as producer, to ensure that all points of view are represented. I can assure you that some of these, such as Cablevision, receive even more comments than anything we have received on the proposed Playboy material.

I have taken the stance that as I am not a publicly elected official. I do not feel it is appropriate for me to decide what you as the viewing public may want to watch.

The dangers in such unilateral censorship, in my opinion, far outweigh the potential problems created by some material that some people might feel is inappropriate.

One of the claims made by a number of women’s groups is that the Playboy material tends to stereotype women. This may well be so, but if I were to eliminate all such material for that reason I would then have to ensure that Porgy and Bess was never played on cable, as this tends to stereotype our black fellow citizens. I could certainly not play M.A.S.H. as this stereotypes the military. Dallas would be out as this stereotypes the business community.

If the concern is about what is erotic and what is pornographic, then I can see pressure being brought to eliminate movies such as Last Tango in Paris. Or we could be asked to discontinue Empire on CBC. Or, as happened in Sweden this week, I might be asked to ban E.T. on the grounds that it was not suitable for children.

I was very pleased to see that a number of major feminist groups disagree with the radical approach of the few and see the broader issues.

THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE

A second major point to understand about the role of the cable companies is that what is offered through Pay TV is a discretionary service. In a word, if you do not like what is being presented you do not have to watch it. And you do not have to pay for it.

This is quite different from conventional broadcast television. As I have pointed out on many occasions, Pay TV is not a good description of the new programming you are about to preview. All TV is Pay TV. You pay for the material you watch from the networks every time you buy a product or service. It is only through the advertising revenues that these programmes are supported. On a totally involuntary basis you pay for these every time you buy a can of peas or a new car. You pay whether you enjoy, or even watch, the programming.

Then there is the CBC. Here again, you pay on a non-voluntary basis through your taxes. The CBC budget runs over $800 million per annum and very little of this is recovered through advertising.

Only PBS gives you an opportunity to watch programming which is partially supported by sponsors, i.e. by you indirectly when you buy the sponsor’s product, but which is partially supported by voluntary donations. Here you might get a bit of free TV if you choose to watch without contributing. I might point out, however, that over 40,000 households in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island do support PBS each year through donations – a form of voluntary Pay TV.

My point in reminding you of this is that the thrust behind the current Pay TV is that it is totally different for it is completely discretionary. If you like what is offered you can pay to see it; if you do not, you don’t have to take it or can stop paying for it at any time.

For the adult material being offered on First Choice, your cable company is offering a further discretionary device, on the assumption that you may like much of what First Choice offers, but do not want to have young people, baby sitters, or others watch certain types of material. We will supply at cost a key operated parental guidance device which allows parents to turn off the access to Pay TV at their discretion.

This is our approach to the issues raised over the past week or so. It is fully within anyone’s discretion to take any or none of the channels offered. We are further offering a low cost discretionary device to allow even a portion of any of those channels to be cut off.

Beyond this we do not feel it is within our mandate to act as censors. We are not going to decide for you that, should you so choose, you cannot watch the sort of material that you could buy in the form of a Playboy magazine on any newsstand in British Columbia.

Penthouse is the second largest selling magazine from newsstands in Canada, next only to TV Guide, Playboy is not far behind. As Canadians dedicated to the freedom to choose you have already decided what is acceptable. Adult movies, at a comparable level to the material found in Playboy magazine, shown after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights can hardly be called irresponsible.

I do not believe that the electronic media when offering totally discretionary services should be subject to a different set of regulations than the print media, which is also offered on a discretionary basis for a price.

If this is not the wish of the public then they should express their feelings by not taking the material in question, or by working through their duly elected officials to change the laws governing censorship.

Vigilante groups with their own concept of what an acceptable level of morality should be have ample freedom to express their own view. However, they should not be allowed to unilaterally deny others the right to view or read and then make up their own minds.

BESIDES THERE IS SOMETHING ELSE

In any case, this issue has clouded the fact that what we are offering on February 1st is a wide range of fine entertainment. For those who enjoy PBS-like programming I would encourage you to look at C-Channel, this channel will offer the best of foreign films – often material that has won festivals but has not often been available in local movie theatres. It also provides the best of theatre, opera, ballet and music festivals of all types. In many cases these will be Canadian productions of the highest standards, To assure you that we are endeavouring to offer a full range of programming, I am pleased to remind you that during appropriate hours C-Channel will also provide high quality children’s programming. The ratio will be about 40% film, 40% special productions and 20% children’s programming.

A second channel will be of particular appeal to the multicultural communities that exist within our province. World View is a local B.C. company serving only the Lower Mainland at the moment. Its programming will be provided in Chinese, East Indian, Italian, German, Scandinavian and Japanese. Before you feel that this channel may be of no interest if these are not your native tongues, you should be aware that many are presented with English sub-titles.

World View will also be bringing the best of international television providing a fascinating window on the world. They also plan to provide international sporting events.

Finally, this brings us back to First Choice. While all the emphasis in the past ten days has been on the Playboy programming, First Choice will offer twenty-four hours a day access to first run movies and specials unavailable elsewhere. During the first month, twenty-one outstanding films will be presented, as well as four specials and a Boxing Match of the Month. As with all the Pay TV channels, this fare is offered uncut and without advertising.

With all of the pay channels, material is repeated so that you will have a good opportunity to see all of the fare offered at times convenient to you.

The cost per channel is $15.95 per month for each of First Choice and C-Channel and $16.50 for World View. However, discounts apply when two or more channels are ordered.

As you will undoubtedly also have read in the newspapers, you do require a suitable external converter to work with your television set. A converter is obviously required because the Pay TV channels are in a part of the spectrum beyond the reach of the tuners of many TV sets. You may already own such a converter or you can lease one from the cable company for $4.50 per month. In either case, the descrambler is so easy to install that you can do it yourself thereby reducing the installation charge to $16.50 on a one-time basis. I might add that the criteria was that if the president could install his own – then anyone could do it!

SUMMARY

We used to use a motto called Freedom To Choose.

I still believe this is what constitutes the basic product of the cable television industry. I hope you will enjoy the previews being shown on channels 22, 23, 24 and 25 over the next few days and will enjoy this new medium of home entertainment.