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OMF Rebuffs Criticism Of Professor Michael Geist

Kerry Doole's picture

They do say that any publicity is good publicity, but it is unlikely that anyone involved in the Ontario Music Fund was thrilled about a column appearing in The Toronto Star on Monday. In an opinion piece headlined “Ontario’s music fund striking wrong note,” regular technology columnist Michael Geist was sharply critical of the OMF.

In one passage, he wrote that “despite the industry accolades, the Ontario program suffers from a surprising lack of transparency with virtually no public information on how the money is actually spent.

Moreover, according to documents obtained under provincial access to information laws, the Liberal government has exaggerated the impact of the first round of funding with the creation of relatively few new full-time positions and limited international investment in the province.”

Geist wrote that he was given a fee estimate of $11,659.10 for his access to information request by The Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), the agency that administers the program on behalf of the government. "That fee was only reduced after an appeal to the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner," added Geist.

In his piece, he claimed that “the Ontario government supports the secretive approach in which the public has seemingly no right to know how its money is spent.”

To gauge their reaction to the piece and give them a chance to respond to some of Geist’s claims, FYI interviewed two spokespersons at The Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Kristine Murphy, OMDC’s Director of Industry Development, noted that “It is an opinion piece, and we respect people’s right to voice their opinions. I would say that the Ontario government and the OMDC is very proud of the Ontario Music Fund. We think it has provided a tremendous benefit to the full eco-system of the Ontario music industry, from large companies to live music venues to smaller emerging entrepreneurial music companies.”

The numbers cited by Murphy do differ from those quoted by Geist. “A result of that public investment has been a number of great successes and metrics in the first year,” she states.  “Over 620 jobs have been created, and close to 20,000 Ontario artists have been rewarded.

Close to 250 new recordings have been created as a result of OMF support, and these new recordings contributed to increased revenue of the music companies involved of close to $20 million. We believe there have been terrific results from the program.”

She also defends the transparent approach of the OMF, noting that “At a broad level what I would say is that the Ontario Music Fund has been a very carefully crafted program. It has transparent guidelines and criteria.”

“The OMF is unique for OMDC in that the oversight and decision framework is actually shared between the agency and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. The oversight committee is led by two senior executives, the OMDC President and CEO and the Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for Culture at the Ministry, both senior, knowledgeable and committed public servants.”

The provincial government was pleased enough with the OMF to renew the program after its second year. “We are just ending year three, and are in the process of finalizing decisions and contracts now for the next fiscal year,” says Murphy.

To counter Geist’s criticism of a “secretive approach,” Marina Adams, Manager, Ontario Music Office, stresses that “the process of evaluation is a comparative and competitive process. The applicants submitting this commercially sensitive information have the expectation of confidentiality. If we were to release that information to the public it could affect their competitive position in the market. While we are absolutely committed to following the legislation, in terms of freedom of information and transparency, we definitely need to be mindful of our applicants’ commercial situation. That is very important to us, so we need to balance the two.”

Murphy concurs, explaining that “in looking at the application and the material that were included in the writer’s [Geist’s] enquiry to the agency and his freedom of information request, we saw there was a lot of commercially sensitive information in that material.

“We do make our awards public on our website and in other ways. It will show company 'A' may have received $50,000, but the nature of what the companies are applying to the agency for is commercially sensitive information.

“There is a rigorous application process we require, such as a business plan and confidential financial information. The applicants do provide us with information on such things as artists they may be hoping to sign or concerts and initiatives they may be hoping to undertake. If we were not to consult with the applicant about their private commercial sensitive information then there is a potential commercial harm in releasing that information.”

Adams stresses that funding from the OMF “is not a flat out grant. It is important to note that all applicants are required to put some skin in the game. In one of the streams it takes a 50 percent investment on the part of the company.”

When asked to comment on the recent inauguration of a BC Music Fund, Murphy laughingly notes that “they say imitation is the highest form of flattery. It is great that there are other governments across the country supporting the music industry."

In preparing this story, FYI reached out to other music industry sources, but none would comment on the Geist story on the record.

You can read his piece at goo.gl/y4q9Sv

For more info on the OMF, go to omdc.on.ca/music