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CACTUS will be offering a workshop entitled "Reclaiming Our Community TV Channels" at the Peoples’ Social Forum (PSF) in Ottawa on Friday August 22nd. CACTUS has also been invited to participate in a panel hosted by rabble.ca about how independent media can be used to support social movements, and by Communicatons Workers of America (Canada) about funding models for alternative media.
In case you haven't heard of the PSF, its web site describes it as "a critical public space aimed at fostering activist involvement of individuals and civil society organizations that want to transform Canada as it exists today. It is a space for social movements to meet and converge, for the free expression of alternative ideas and grassroots exchanges. Social justice, Original Peoples rights, sustainable development, international solidarity and participatory democracy are at the centre of its concerns." Ten thousand people are expected to participate and the keynote address will be given by Naomi Klein.
CACTUS hopes to both network with other community and alternative media, but also with environmental, First Nations, and social justice organizations about how community media can help them get their messages out.
For more information about the PSF, see:
Attendees are being billetted with Ottawa residents.
Entry for the whole forum is only $20.
CACTUS' workshop will be offered from 1 - 2:30 p.m. on Friday.
The rabble.ca panel, which will be moderated by Judy Rebick and in which CACTUS is taking part, will be offered immediately following at 2:45 p.m. (more information here):
The CWA panel regarding community media funding will be immediately following the rabble.ca panel at 4:30.
Prior to 2006, there was only ever one 'community channel' in a given neighbourhood. In 2006, Rogers petitioned the CRTC to divide its Ottawa community channels along linguistic lines. Other cable and satellite TV providers have been following Rogers' lead lately, a worry trend that takes Canadian 'community TV' ever further from its roots and more and more a copy of what's already available on commercial local TV.
The CRTC expects cable and satellite television service providers to spend 5% of their revenues on Canadian production. If they elect to offer a 'community channel' in a given licence area, they are allowed to retain between 1.5 and 2% of the 5% for the operation of the channel. The remainder flows to the Canada Media and other production funds that support professional production nationally.
Almost all cable and satellite companies have elected to operate a community channel given this choice, because it gives them some control over how a portion of their contribution to Canadian production is spent, and enables them to leverage local branding and advertising.
A US appeals court has thrown out the concept of net neutrality, which had heretofore ensured that different kinds of Internet traffic are given equal access to bandwidth, and had prevented Internet providers from charging different rates to different kinds of traffic.
The US ruling sets a dangerous precedent that could threaten the long-term health of community media, as more and more people acquire information and entertainment on-line.
Click here for the full Wall Street Journal article.
People often ask, "Why do you need community TV channels anymore with the Interent? You've got YouTube."
There are lots of answers to this question:
- You have to give up your copyright on many services such as YouTube, and they are being more and more commercialized. The community doesn't own or control them.
- YouTube doesn't aggregate local audiences, and isn't live.
- YouTube doesn't provide training and media literacy skills and equipment access for people who are not already media-savvy.
The CRTC is hosting a public consultation called "Let's Talk TV", to consult the general public about how it thinks the broadcasting system should evolve in the digital and multi-platform environment.
The consultation will have several stages. Before Christmas, it was very free form. Canadians were encouraged to post informal comments on the CRTC's web site, in response to questions in three categories, including programming content as well as technological access to services.
Groups and organizations were also encouraged to host "Flash Conferences" examining the same questions. These conferences could be informal get-togethers in people's houses, coffee shops, a townhall, a teleconference or web consultation. CACTUS held a "Flash Conference" in January. Our report can be found on the CRTC web site, along with the reports of other groups and organizations. (Click the link below, and then click "Flash Conference Reports" in the middle column where it says "Get Up to Speed on the Conversation.)
Here's what the CRTC's report on stage I had to say about community and local programming:
On September 5th, Videotron proposed to the CRTC that it be allowed to spend between $6 and $10 million to fund a second community TV channel for Montreal, to be programmed exclusively in English. The money would be taken from the Canada Media Fund, which is used by independent professional producers to fund high-quality drama and documentaries... programs like Murdoch Myseteries, Rookie Blue, and the Listener.
The channel would be called MYtv, a clone to Videotron's existing MAtv service. The company is currently in violation of its licence requirements to "reflect the official languages, ethnic and Aboriginal composition of the community" with the exclusively French MAtv service.
The professional production community is naturally concerned, given that the new channel would drain scarce resources that would otherwise have supported the production of programming that could be seen nation-wide.
A citizen group has proposed a third solution, that would meet the needs of both Montreal's minority communities AND the professional production community. The Steering Committee for an Independent Community Channel (ICTV) for Montreal, is challenging Videotron for its basic licence to administer the community channel. Current CRTC policy states that if a cable company is not meeting its licence requirements, a community-based undertaking can have it, along with the 2% of that cable company's revenues from the licence area to support it.
Click here to see ICTV's complaint against Videotron, and licence application (scroll down the list of Part 1 applications until you find 2013-1746-2 and double-click it).
A zip file will open on your computer showing a list of documents.
CACTUS filed its end-of-year report for the first year in a two-year grant by the Ontario Trillium Foundation to promote digital broadcasting opportunities to communities across Ontario.
CACTUS had committed to engage at least 6 communities in the process of setting up a digital media centre by the end of year 1 of its grant, and 15 communities by the end of year 2.
Work during the first year focussed on a) salvaging broadcasting transmission equipment being decommissioned by both TVO and the CBC for use by communities and b) reaching out to municipalities, bands, and communities across Ontario about the potential of digital technologies for broadcasting to improve local communications.
Eighty-seven communities secured former TVO broadcast towers, and one community in Ontario has acquired a former CBC TV transmitter to date. Community groups in the following areas so far are exploring the potential for a digital community media centre to improve increase access to media skills training and local content (some using former TVO and CBC equipment):
- Manitoulin Island
- Sandy Lake First Nations
- North Bay
- Parry Sound
We look forward to working with these groups throughout the coming year, and in welcoming others to the process as our outreach to communities across the province continues.
For more information on the Ontario Trillium Foundation and its granting programs, click here.
(reprinted from PRLOG of Jan. 6, 2013)
Do America's struggling families deserve free TV for life?
A group of small-market broadcasters think so.
Octave Network Television has entered the media marketplace as a no-fee hdtv service provider, offering dozens of public, government and community access channels free of charge to every U.S, citizen.
8ctave's network combines the strength of hundreds of small-market, noncommercial, student-run, government, public-sourced and community access broadcast stations from across the country. Many of these 'tiny towers' are grossly underfunded, underpowered or unavailable without digital 'rabbit ear' antennas.
Public broadcasters are a vital part of national media, connecting communities, serving the public trust and acting as key components to national security through use of the FCC's Emergency Alert System, which informs and instructs the public during a crisis.
Now enters Octave, a startup bent on 'Powering Public Access' with streaming TV technology, broadcasting to millions of Americans via Roku and other internet TV receivers.
Roku is the largest streaming TV box in America, credited with creating the popular Netflix video on-demand service. Devices like Roku contain the nuts and bolts that enable Octave's free HD offerings, with units costing less than $50.
In addition to on-demand content delivery, Octave channels broadcast in TV's traditional linear format. Octave looks like 'regular' TV because it is, combining the strength and character of America's Public Access broadcasters into a nationwide network with more potential carriers than ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX combined.
According to Octave founder Edward Balboa, you need "a lot of Davids" to take on a Goliath, a role relished by the unknown recently dubbed 'The Rocky Balboa of Broadcasting.' He says folks often mistake Octave for a music channel, but that an Octave's true description isn't so do-ray-mi.
Hagensborg, BC is the second community that CACTUS is aware of that has salvaged CBC equipment in order to maintain CBC TV free to air. “The story of television in the Bella Coola Valley is one of community perserverence and ingenuity” says John Morton of the Hagensborg TV Society. “We rebroadcast 6 television signals and 3 radio channels using a community-owned transmission tower” he says. “The CRTC at first refused to licence our system back in the 1970s, because the CBC had reported that it was technically impossible to have TV reception in the Bella Coola Valley. This was a surprise to those of us who had witnessed--among other events--the moon landing in 1969!”
Hagensborg is one of over 600 communities that was slated to lose free over-the-air CBC and Radio Canada service on July 31st of last year, the date the CBC turned off its analog over-the-air transmission network, and began retiring equipment. The Hagensborg TV Society offered the CBC a nominal amount for the analog transmitter, receivers, modulators and amplifiers, which would likely have been scrapped. “The community is really delighted to have been able to re-establish over-the-air service. Many in our community can't afford satellite TV. Although there are some costs to maintain the tower and pay downlink fees for the channels we want, it works out to only about 60$ per household per year, which is really affordable."
Neepawa Community TV can now be seen across on Manitoba on MTS Ultimate TV, in addition to its prior distribution over the air within the town of Neepawa, and on the Westman Cable network.
The MTS Ultimate TV service is growing thanks to the expansion of MTS’s fibre-to-the-home network, the MTS FiON Network. Since 2010, MTS has launched the MTS FiON Network in Selkirk, Steinbach, Dauphin, Thompson, The Pas, Neepawa, Carberry, Minnedosa, Killarney, and select areas of Winnipeg. More communities are being added as we write, which will bring NACTV to an even wider audience.
“MTS is proud to provide Neepawa Access TV to subscribers throughout Manitoba,” said Greg McLaren, Manager of MTS TV Content.
Ivan Traill, the manager of the Neepawa community channel, is delighted. "Many ex-Neepawa residents that have moved to Winnipeg can now see us, and they're thrilled that they can see our sporting and other events. They're even getting together to watch them!"
CACTUS is delighted too. "It's essential that community TV channels be available on whatever platform residents obtain TV service, so that the whole community can share the content."
As many of you know, CRTC staff elected to audit selected cable community channels for a week in March of 2011, in response to data provided by CACTUS that suggested that many cable licence areas fail to meet both the access and local programming thresholds specified in regulations. Shaw, Rogers, Videotron, Cogeco and Eastlink were asked to provide their programming logs to the CRTC for a week and to answer a series of questions about their programming.
Their responses were forwarded to CACTUS in the summer of 2011 for our comment. After a six-week review, we filed a 70-page analysis of the logs to the CRTC at the end of 2011.
In June of 2012, CRTC staff sent CACTUS a letter that acknowledged some issues with cable community channels, but offered a differing interpretation of what constitutes an "access program", which led staff to different conclusions regarding cable company compliance with the 2010 community channel policy.
CACTUS filed a request with the Commission today for clarification, and for a formal Commission decision regarding the 2011 audit. We will keep you updated in the new year.
For more information about the issues that require clarification, and to see our letter, click here.
As you may be aware, the new community TV policy announced by the CRTC in September of 2010 (CRTC 2010-622) announced that an "industry working group" would be established to create of Code of Access Best Practices to guide cable operators in the administration of cable community channels.
CACTUS objected (as did the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec--the Fédétvc) that the "industry working group" included five representatives of cable companies, and none from the general public these channels are meant to serve. In response to our complaint, the "working group" was told it must "consult" both the Fédétvc and CACTUS regarding the contents of the Code. The extent of this consultation was that the working group sent us a copy of their draft code. We and the Fédétvc submitted separate but similar comments to the effect that the Code gives cable companies too broad a scope to reject particular programming ideas on grounds such as "community values" and "public taste" (as determined by who?)
The working group ignored our comments, and submitted its draft Code to the CRTC. The CRTC posted the document for public comment in September of 2011. Since our comments had been ignored, both CACTUS and the Fédétvc resubmitted our comments as part of this public process. Finally, another year later, the Code of Best Practices was announced on September 7, 2012. Although the Code is largely the document proposed by the cable industry working group, it does include two new sections about dispute resolution and copyright (the latter echoing almost verbatim CACTUS' suggestions):
- If disputes arise about access between producers and any broadcast distribution undertaking (BDU) and it cannot be resolved by the parties, a third-party arbitrator agreeable to both parties is to be appointed. Any expenses related to the arbitration are to be borne by the BDU.
CACTUS participated in both the written and oral phases of the CBC licence renewal process. Although commenting on the role of the public broadcaster would normally not fall within our mandate, we decided to participate because CACTUS' Executive Director Catherine Edwards and Karen Wirsig of the Canadian Media Guild had co-authored and presented a paper in the spring at the Journalism Strategies conference at McGill regarding models by which public and community broadcasters could collaborate to improve local media. The paper proposes models by which more quality and quantity of local content could be created in an austere financial environment. It responds to statements in the CBC's 2015 strategy document "Everyone, Everyway" in which the CBC commits to maximize its presence in the regions by entering into new partnerships and using new technologies. Examples of such partnership could include:
- sharing of transmission infrastructure (our recent campaign to salvage CBC towers and transmitters for communities)
- sharing of facilities in an affiliate relationship (e.g. local volunteer-production as well as CBC network content within a shared schedule, or two separate licences working out of a shared facility)
Despite the barrage of more than 2200 letters to the CBC and the CRTC in the summer requesting that CBC towers and transmitters slated for decommissioning be offered to communities first, the CRTC imposed no special conditions on the national broadcaster prior to shutting off free-to-air CBC and Radio-Canada service on July 31st.
Communities were told that they could apply directly to the CBC for transmitters, and to a third-party (Capital Networks) managing the sale of the CBC's tower sites. Although the dead-line for requesting towers was October 9th, only a handful of communities have yet received a reply from the CBC. Those that have have been declined except for one. Gary Hoffman of the Hay River TV Society in the NWT managed to acquire both the CBC English, CBC French, and APTN transmitters and has restored all three services to his community. The transmitters were donated by the CBC free of charge.
In the case of Maniwaki, Quebec and various rural sites in Manitoba, however, several communities have been informed that they didn't make it past the first stage in the commercial bid process. One group bid on several remote sites, offering the CBC thousands of dollars per tower, but was still declined. The group had been told that many of the towers have revenues associated with them. Space may be leased on the towers by third parties for another 5 or 10 years...
... which once again raises the question, why is the CBC getting rid of them?
More than 2000 individual Canadians, community organizations, MPs and municipalities have written to the CRTC to ask that they be consulted about what happens to CBC transmission sites in their communities.
In response to federal cuts, the CBC and Radio-Canada announced in April that they plan to switch off more than 623 analog transmitters on July 31, 2012. Canadians outside major cities and provincial and territorial capitals will lose free access to the CBC and Radio-Canada over the air using bunny ears or rooftop antennae.
Getting the CBC and Radio-Canada’s signals to all Canadians living in communities of at least 500 people was a major policy goal in the 1970s to link the country coast to coast. This transmission infrastructure is worth millions and has already been paid for by Canadian taxpayers. Rather than being scrapped, it could be maintained by communities themselves. The transmitters and towers can be used not just to continue free TV service, but also to set up local wireless Internet or mobile service, or a community TV or radio service.
The CRTC Consultation: 2012-0509-7
The CRTC has begun a public consultation on the CBC’s plan. CACTUS urged town and band councils, community colleges, community media groups and concerned citizens to ask the CRTC and CBC before the June 18th dead line to make the transmission equipment available for local use.
Of the more than 2200 individuals and groups that responded, 1549 live in or near large urban centres where CBC service will continue. They empathized with their rural countrymates and urged that CBC infrastructure be offered to communities slated to lose service.
From April 19-23, McGill hosted a "Journalism Strategies" conference. The goal was stated as follows:
"We think something important is at stake: the health of Canadian democracy. We believe the more ways we can find for more Canadians to be involved in public discourses and questions of governance, the better off we will all be. We believe journalism can and should play an important role...
We are bringing together established academics, graduate students, journalists, activists, policy-makers and others interested in journalism policies. Our goals:
1) help mobilize a broad network that will recommend public policies for ensuring spaces in the Canadian media ecology for journalism that places public deliberation and citizen participation at the core of its mission.
2) undertake a process of policy-making that is itself participatory (within the limitations of time and resources available.)"
This sounded like a perfect venue to discuss the important contributions played by community media in the Canadian "media ecology", so Karen Wirsig of the Canadian Media Guild and Catherine Edwards of CACTUS co-submitted a paper the explored ways that public and community broadcasters could work together for mutual benefit and to the benefit of Canadians.
The paper is available here:
You can also see our presentation at the conference (as well as the other conference presenters) here:
CACTUS Presentation at Journalism Strategies (starting at minute 43).