Neepawa Community Access TV (NACTV), one of 8 not-for-profit community-owned TV stations in Canada, faces possible closure. NACTV's board voted to close on September 19th if the station can't address financial shortfalls.
NACTV broadcasts an average of 20 hours of original volunteer-generated content per week over the air and on Westman cable channel 12 in Neepawa, on MTS cable 30 across Manitoba, and on channel 592 on satellite on Bell ExpressVu nationally.
The not-for-profit community-owned TV license class was created by the CRTC in 2001 to help communities step into the service gap left by cable community channels. Cable penetration has dropped to about 60% in the face of competition from satellite and online services, and many cable studios have closed as cable systems have been interconnected.
Catherine Edwards, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), says the CRTC is aware of the role channels like NACTV play in fulfilling the need for local media, but hasn't supported them: “The CRTC understood that a community-based solution that wasn't restricted to cable was needed when it created this license class, and it repeated at the 2008 Diversity of Voices hearing that financial support is needed for these stations. But there's been no follow-through. The CRTC keeps creating funds to stimulate local production, but only private stations are eligible. There's nothing to help true community stations, where the average person has a voice.”
Both the CRTC's 2010 review of community TV policy and its new policy released on June 15th this year continue to enable cable companies to direct almost the entire national budget for 'community TV' (more than $150 million) to community channels they own and control, available only on cable. No funding is available for community-owned stations.
CACTUS has asked the CRTC to reconsider its June 15th decision to reallocate funding from community TV to private broadcasters on the grounds that inadequate data about community TV channels operated by large vertically integrated media companies was available for consideration by stakeholders and the general public during the consultation, the number of false, selective, and erroneous statements in the decision, and the number of internal contradictions.
CACTUS has also asked the CRTC to create an Ombudsperson or permanent staff position to develop expertise regarding community media.
CACTUS decided to submit the request after widespread shock rippled through the community TV sector following the CRTC's June 15th announcement. In the decision, the Commission admits that “no private local television station was able to provide estimates of how much money it would need to continue operations” and that “no compelling evidence of imminent station closures was provided on the record”, yet still decided to reallocate most of the budget for community TV to private news stations in about a dozen markets. CACTUS' Executive Director Cathy Edwards said, “Canada is too big and sparsely populated for everyone to access a CBC or private news station. Community ownership of local media is the only cost-effective solution in small markets and to serve minorities in large markets.” Data posted by the CRTC confirmed that almost all cities that have a CBC or private station (which will benefit from the transfer) have populations over 100,000.
André Desrochers of CSUR La Télé, a community-owned station in Vaudreuil-Soulanges agreed. “The decision was supposed to increase the amount of local news and information available to Canadians, but the effect will be the reverse. Money contributed by subscribers in small communities for 'community TV' will be shifted to a handful of larger markets where there is a private news bureau.”
The 11th World Social Forum (WSF) held in Montreal August 10-14th supported a call by the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) to strengthen community media in Canada and around the world. Specifically, the WSF supported:
- the launch of a petition to the Government of Canada to enable a network of community-operated media centres to serve communities and voices not served by public- and private-sector media, and
- to establish an international organization to advocate for community media in the digital environment.
The World Social Forum consists of 26 constituent assemblies dealing with issues as diverse as climate change, the world economy, land rights, and media. The petition was supported in all assemblies where it was introduced, including climate, defense of democracy, right to housing, and free media. Participants supported the crucial role community media plays in enabling dialogue and visibility about a gamut of local, regional and national challenges.
Catherine Edwards, Executive Director of CACTUS, presented the findings of the assembly on free media during the Agora held in Jerry Park on Saturday, August 13th, along with representatives of each of the other assemblies. She said “The World Social Forum is unique in that it develops a calendar of action to enable international players in civil society to co-ordinate their efforts. It's not just talk.”
Other action plans adopted by the assembly on free media include:
- the establishment of international working groups to protect journalists from violence
- to strengthen indigenous media
- to map the locations of organizations that support free and open expression
- to publicize the World Charter on Free Media developed at the World Social Forum in Tunis in 2015
- to develop a web list of not-for-profit Internet service providers internationally and
CACTUS' Executive Director, Cathy Edwards, will be presenting a workshop about community TV and media at the World Forum on Free Media in Montreal at 3:30 p.m. on Monday August 8th in Arts 150 at McGill University.
She will be both presenting the policy proposal to support community media in the digital environment that was developed at ComMedia 2015 at Carleton University in November of 2015, sharing the implications CRTC's new local and community TV policy announced on June 15, 2016, and brainstorming ways forward with attendees.
For more information, see the program of the World Forum on Free Media.
Volunteers are needed in for 2 hours in Montreal Wed. Aug. 10th, Thurs. Aug. 11th, or Friday Aug. 12 at 4 p.m. to collect petition signatures at various assemblies of convergence during the World Social Forum. Experience democracy in action! Please contact CACTUS at cathy.timescape.ca or attend an organizing session in Arts-120 at McGill at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday August 9th.