US Country Music Takes Beating in Canada

EACH day 28 million Canadians watch as relentless waves of American culture - from Ms. magazine to Madonna, Mr. Rogers to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers - crash on the shores of Canadian society.

As with all that is American, Canadians both love it and, in a measure, hate it, too.

Nine of 10 Canadian moviegoers are headed to a United States film. Canadian television viewers get NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, and PBS and a slew of US-based speciality cable channels. On newsstands, about 3,000 US magazines occupy 90 percent of the space, squeezing out most of 1,400 Canadian periodicals.

Yet cultural anthropologists say Canadians dread waking up one day to find no Canadian TV programs, movies, or magazines - all of it instead made by the big US entertainment machine.

Now there are signs Canada isn't going to take it anymore, and a US-Canada trade battle over entertainment and culture is looming.

``Let us get one thing clear,'' Heritage Minister Michel Dupuy told Parliament recently. ``We must bring back culture to the forefront of society's concerns, for it is essential to our identity ... and our independence.''

Recent government moves to make good on the pledge include:

* On Tuesday, a Canadian appeals court upheld a government ban that yanks the US-based Country Music Television (CMT) cable channel off the air after 10 years in Canada. The ban paves the way for a new Canada-based country-western channel with 30 percent Canadian content to air Jan. 1.

* Yesterday, Mr. Dupuy announced a heavy surtax aimed at US publishers that simply repackage ``Made in America'' editorial material into ``Canadian editions'' with little Canadian content. New York-based Time Warner's Sports Illustrated, which produces seven Canadian editions a year, was hard hit.

Few Canadians would mistake the target of such actions. Certainly US companies do not. Nor apparently does the US government.

``We are examining all of our rights, including our retaliation rights under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),'' says Andrew Koss, a US embassy spokesman in Ottawa.

Under NAFTA, Canada has the right to ban US entrants or favor Canadian-produced culture, trade experts say. But if Canada does so, NAFTA also permits the US to retaliate with equivalent penalties on Canadian exports.

``The US entertainment industry believes that it has every right to go forth and conquer,'' says Gordon Ritchie, an architect of the 1989 US-Canada Free Trade Agreement, a forerunner of NAFTA. ``But from the Canadian perspective we're already the most open market in the world. There is no medium in which American penetration isn't already over 60 percent.''

TILL, the co-owner of the banned CMT channel is fighting mad.

``If the Canadian courts will not protect our assets, then the court of international law or the US courts will,'' says Cheryl Daly, a spokeswoman for Group W Satellite Communications in Stamford, Conn., part owner of CMT.

Caught in the middle are Canada's country- music artists who say they welcome a new channel but oppose the government's ban.

``It's fantastic that there is going to be a new Canadian country channel,'' says Patricia Conroy, this year's Canadian Country Music Female Vocalist of the Year. ``But I feel badly CMT was pulled because it was giving us a helping hand. There should be room for both.''

The government's toughness this week appears calculated to cool down Canadian nationalists angry that the government on Dec. 16 allowed New York-based Viacom Inc. to acquire Canadian media interests that include one of the last Canadian textbook publishers.

Canadian corporate interests have long cheered free trade, yet many have fallen into line behind the government ban of CMT.

``The US probably controls 90 percent of the entertainment market in Canada,'' says Shaun Purdue, an executive at Maclean Hunter, which owns the New Country Music channel replacing CMT. ``Our country is a tenth the size of the US. All Canadians are saying is, `For heavens sake give us a piece of our own back yard.' ''

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