A story in the Globe and Mail says that the tax credit program for film and video under the Income Tax Act is soon to be subject to after-the-fact decisions about what is offensive or in the public's best interest. It is part of a new approach by the Department of Canadian Heritage to be more selective about what it funds. It seems to mean is that film producers might be turned down for tax relief after they'd spent the money or borrowed against it.
This is not a merely academic discussion, since the same ministry is now holding public consultations concerning a radical restructuring of the Canada Magazine Fund and the Publications Assistance Program; they are to be rolled together and called the Canada Periodical Fund. Will part of the restructuring include similar guidelines to determine whether magazine content is ineligible because it doesn't meet government criteria? Magazines don't have a tax credit, mind you, but could similar principles apply to other support programs?
Mark Musselman, vice-president of business affairs at Toronto's Serendipity Point Films and Maximum Film Distribution, said Wednesday that the implications are huge, “both from the perspective of freedom of speech and for the Pandora's box of uncertainty this will open up from a business perspective.”
If certification is denied, the producer would be on the hook to repay organizations such as Telefilm, which invests only in Canadian-certified productions, Mr. Musselman added. “This review panel totally fetters the discretion of Telefilm. What will it do, send the panel scripts it is worried might be too racy or offensive?”
He called a review procedure that determines eligibility for Canadian content certification after the completion of a film or TV show production “unworkable in terms of the cold, hard reality of financing these types of things,” adding that “it's entirely possible the whole financing structure could crumble.”
Toronto lawyer David Zitzerman of Goodmans LLP says the government's plans smack of “closet censorship.”....“The government – and Heritage – are of the view that they should have prerogative to assess whether a particular film, TV production or book meets their public policy criteria,” he said. “And if it doesn't, they should have the right to decline to invest in it. They don't view this as censorship because they say anyone is free to make the film or show or book, but not with their money.”Substitute the word "magazine" for "film" or "video" and you may start to see why this bears watching. Discuss.