If nothing else, reports that the World Trade Organization has concluded that Canada is unfairly protecting its magazines at the expense of magazines from the United States makes it clear how economic bureaucracies view the independent culture of small countries. Expendable is the word that comes to mind. This was a test case which many in the ‘culture’ sector of the Canadian economy were watching with great interest, it began when the U.S. magazine Sports Illustrated decided to put out a Canadian edition that retained its U.S. content. The ads, however, would be all Canadian. Magazine industry experts argued that such editions, termed split-run editions, would drain ad dollars away from the fragile Canadian magazine market The Liberals – noble protectorates of Canadian culture so long as it doesn’t cost them anything – promptly legislated to close the loop-hole that allowed Sports Illustrated to publish its split-run Canadian edition in the first place. And so began a bizarre trade case ending in Canada’s defeat. We say bizarre because the case didn’t just end with the striking down of heavy tariffs put in place to prevent split- run editions. It is purported that the WTO also concluded that Canada’s policy of giving Canadian magazines a postal subsidy was a violation of international trade agreements. This incredible decision is like announcing that Canada’s decision to give a grant to a book publisher creates an unfavorable trade climate in which the Canadian publisher is able to undercut the US competition by flooding the North American market with cheaper books. Of course, nothing could be further from what the reality is. The real trouble started when the Federal government decided to fight a trade battle over Canadian magazines as if they were hot-dog companies.
Not only are most of the hundreds of magazines in Canada not profit driven, they also lack a corporate ad base from which they can be damaged by a US split-run magazine. And so, the trade war fought on their behalf is basically a sham from which small mags havelots to lose and little to gain. Now let’s turn our attention to the exciting world of mainstream Canadian magazines. One might argue that it is for the sole benefit of these profitable, corporate owned magazines that the Canadian government started a magazine trade war. So do we fight for the twenty magazines in this country that everybody reads but seem to have little to say? Or do we let them fend for themselves and concentrate on ensuring the survival of the little magazines with fewer readers but a lot to say about what is going on in various local and cultural spheres in this country? It might be argued that Canadian magazines with all Canadian content – even glossy, profit driven ones – – will never be in competition with US split-run editions like Sports Illustrated If that argument is correct, then it is for those mainstream Canadian magazines without discernible Canadian content that the Liberal government is battling the US. The result? A stupid ruling that might cause some big magazines to post smaller profits and could result in a crisis for a handful o trade magazines. Oh, and a ruling that poses a significant threat to hundreds of independent Canadian magazines Magazines that collectively make up the most important – and commercial free – – body of publications Canadian have to confer information about themselves to the curious world that exists beyond the bungling bureaucrats. And you know what else? We very much doubt the US reading public would appreciate their government’s threat to ban Canadian magazines – the US citizenry tends to be a bit more proactive in its reaction to censorship than us god-fearing Canadians .