Entertainment

HDTV a threat to Canadian culture, critics warn

The push to provide consumers with high-definition television is a threat to Canada's cultural sovereignty, according to two University of Calgary professors.

The push to provide consumers with high-definition television is a threat to Canada's cultural sovereignty, according to two University of Calgary professors.

Bart Beaty and Rebecca Sullivan argue that while HDTV is offered as part of an expanded choice for consumers, the selection of programming using digital over analog technologies is almost exclusively American.

"If you were to ask most Canadians what's wrong with Canadian TV, they wouldn't say 'image quality,' " said Beaty, co-author with Sullivan of the newly published book Canadian Television Today, in a statement Thursday.

The two authors argue in their book that "the only incentive for [Canadian] broadcasters to make the transition is competition — or, more like co-operation or even collusion — with the United States."

Traditionally, over-the-air television is transmitted in analog format and HDTV in digital. The U.S. has committed to phasing out analog delivery by 2009, but the CRTC has yet to set a date.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will begin hearings onMonday to look at a number of issues facing Canadian broadcasters, including options for delivering digital television.

Butwhile the two Calgary professors are worried the technology represents a threat, NDP heritage critic Charlie Angus thinks Canada should be concerned about the alternative.

"If we don't look at the move to HD, then none of our programming will be sellable," Angus told CBC Arts Online.

"We won't be in the game."

But Sullivan argues the cost required to switch to HDTV will be too much for smaller broadcasters.

"The big networks can absorb the costs to switch to HDTV, but for local outlets the costs are prohibitive," she said in a statement on Thursday.

Angus agrees making the change by 2009 would be a costly endeavour that requires more funding.

Earlier this week, the standing committee on Canadian heritagedecided a comprehensive review of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will begin next February.

Angus thinks both the CRTC review next week and the upcoming CBC review are important for determining and preserving our cultural heritage.

The CBC review, in particular, is something he says is overdue.

"We need to find out where we stand as a nation about our public broadcaster, and I don't think we can wait," he said.

Angus had called for a review last spring but waited with the expectation Heritage Minister Bev Oda would call one. Oda instead called on the CRTC to review broadcasting technologies and the relationships between television, radio and the internet.

The CRTC is expected to give its report to Oda on Dec. 14.

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