Banned by Bureaucrats

Article excerpt

The European Union and now Canada ration American music, films and television. The United States calls this practice arbitrary -- and authoritarian.

The TV show Baywatch became a hit in 140 countries without any help from U.S. trade officials. But even as American entertainment grows more popular overseas, foreign governments are devising ways to resist what they consider an assault on their cultural identities.

The United States was hit recently on two fronts: The European Union, or EU, promised to enforce quotas on Hollywood imports, and Canada banished Country Music Television from its airwaves, prompting Trade Representative Mickey Kantor to consider filing a complaint.

"You cannot grow culture in a greenhouse," says Maury Lane, director of government relations for the U.S.-based Group W Satellite Communications, whose popular country-music channel was evicted from Canadian airwaves in January 1995 to make room for a Canadian clone. Group W lost an audience it spent nine years cultivating. "They decided it was best for them, for the country, to pirate our business, our channel space, our good will, our format and give it to a Toronto media giant," complains Lane. "Everything that made us the second-fastest-growing channel in Canada was given to a competitor."

Keith Spicer, president of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, makes no apologies for bumping Country Music Television, arguing that Canadian law is clear: Foreign programming is welcome only when it doesn't compete with a Canadian equivalent. "They knew the deal when they signed up," says Spicer. But Raymond Chretien, Canada's ambassador to the United States, admits that new technology makes protective measures more and more difficult.

Canadian officials point out that while Canada offers a generous sampling of U. …