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CACTUS just completed its review of cable company logs submitted by Rogers, Shaw, Eastlink, Cogeco and Videotron as part of the most comprehensive audit ever conducted by the CRTC of cable community channels. The logs detail all the programming aired on cable community channels in selected licence areas for March 6-12, 2011.
The findings? The same widespread abuse of this community resource as was revealed by the CRTC's previous audits, conducted in 2002-2005. As in 2002-2005, many cable companies failed to meet the 60% local programming minimum that is a standard condition of their licences, and almost all failed to meet the 30% minimum for programming produced by community members (as opposed to programming produced by cable company staff).
Also as in 2002-2005, programs are frequently claimed as "access" (produced by someone in the community) when in fact the companies' web sites suggest they are driven by cable staff. Some cable companies are charging community groups for access; others employ network templates for programs, which are used over a large area.
For us at CACTUS, these findings are no surprise. As we have stated in several public proceedings, the time when it made sense for small mom-and-pop locally based cable companies to administer community channels and media resources is long past. Canada's big five cable companies have no place in the "community media" universe; Canada continues to be the only country in the world in which "community media" is not administered by communities... duh!
Since the audit week occurred just six months into the CRTC's new community TV policy (issued in August of 2010), we are sceptical that the targets of the new policy can be met. If cable companies cannot meet the 30% access programming minimum currently in force, we fail to see how they will be able to ramp up to the 50% access expectation that the CRTC has announced by 2014.
For a full copy of our findings, click here:
We'd like to welcome as members both individuals and other organizations. As individuals, you are TV viewers and many of you have participated in TV production at community TV channels.
We welcome member organizations including community TV channels and producing groups, and others within the broadcasting industry and civil society that share our support of Canadian content, diversity, and free expression.
For more information or to renew your membership, click the appropriate link below:
If you are not interested to become a member but would like to make a one-time donation to CACTUS, click here:
As a result of the new community TV policy announced on Aug. 28th, the CRTC has asked cable companies to draft a code of access "best practices", and have sent to CACTUS and to the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec a draft for review by Jan. 20th.
While neither CACTUS nor the Fédération was initially invited to participate in the "industry working group" to generate the code, CACTUS drew attention to the oversight at the Shaw cable license renewal in September. The CRTC responded by requesting cable companies in the working group to consult us.
CACTUS is discussing the draft code within its membership and with interested parties. If you would like to be included in this process, please e-mail Cathy Edwards at cedwards at timescape dot ca.
CACTUS is delighted that the CRTC has acknowledged that the public should be included in decisions about governance of community channels.
Once the working group submits its final draft code to the CRTC at the end of February, it will be offered to the public for comment, at which time any member of the public can intervene directly.
In the wake of the CRTC's new community TV policy, announced August 28th, CACTUS has participated in three CRTC hearing processes related to Shaw Communications, and presented a brief before the Standing Committee Heritage regarding the role of small broadcasters in an increasingly consolidated media environment:
1) CACTUS intervened in the Shaw purchase of Canwest to support Shaw's offer to share transmission facilities with local and community broadcasters. This offer could considerably reduce the costs for community over-the-air broadcasters to launch in any market where Global is present.
2) CACTUS intervened in the Shaw license renewals to point out that of the 22 license areas in which Shaw was seeking a renewal, CACTUS could only confirm that 11 access studios exist. CACTUS asked that studios be reopened in the license areas that currently have no access facilities. This request was denied by the CRTC.
3) CACTUS intervened in the license application by Corus for a network of pseudo-weather community information channels called Local1, which would be located in the same communities where there is currently a Shaw community channel facility. Since Shaw's community channels already offer a Local1-like combo of weather and community news, CACTUS was concerned that the license being sought would repurpose existing community channel content, without addressing the access problems on those community channels.
The way TV signals were delivered over the air changed in Canada beginning in August 2011. If you have a cable or satellite subscription, your service was unaffected. If you watch TV using an antenna ("bunny ears") mounted on the TV or on your roof, one of the following situations applies:
- In most major towns and cities, broadcasters upgraded their signals to digital. You needed either a digital TV or a digital-to-analog converter box to continue watching over-the-air TV with an antenna.
- In smaller communities, some of your local broadcasters may have upgraded or may yet upgrade their signals to digital (and you'll need a digital TV or converter box). Others may continue broadcasting in analog. In both cases, you can continue watching free TV, for now.
When the analog transmitters reach the end of their useful life, however, local broadcasters may elect not to replace them. At that time, you and your neighbours would have to subscribe to cable or satellite to continue to watch TV. For example, on July 31st, 2012, TVO and the CBC will cease all analog broadcasts (everywhere outside the major cities where signals were upgraded to digital last year).
After eight long years of complaints from the Canadian public that they have been excluded from “community TV channels” on cable, the CRTC recently released a new community TV policy for Canada that is little better than the existing policy.
As dissenting Commissioner Michel Morin dubs it, “The Commission’s paternalistic community model” leaves community cable channels and the money that is collected from Canadians for “local expression” firmly under the control of cable companies. Catherine Edwards, Spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) noted, “The Commission ignored the request of the Canadian public—which was made abundantly clear at these hearings—that the time has come for community broadcasting to be in the hands of communities, as it is in all other countries that have a community sector. This is how it operates here in Canada in the community radio sector. Why not TV?”
Licences for communities to run their own channels were introduced in 2002, but there was no funding formula. The CRTC’s analysis acknowledges that a lack of funding explains why so few community licenses have been requested, yet the new policy denies communities access to the Local Programming Initiative Fund, to commercial advertising, and to the more than $120 million collected annually from Canadians for “local expression”, but which instead goes to cable companies for their professional regional channels.
By Richard Ward
Community Media Education Society
In the comments listed on the CRTC web site under the current review of community television policy (CRTC 2009-661), groups supporting CACTUS include ACTRA; the Directors' Guild; CTV; Canwest; the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union; the Canadian Conference for the Arts; the Independent Media Arts Alliance; the National Community Radio Association; and NUTV in Calgary. MultiMedia Centre support comes from the City of Burnaby, Metro Vancouver, the Canadian Media Guild, the Documentary Organization of Canada, OpenMedia, the Canadian Library Association and Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
Altogether 3,007 people responded to the CRTC of whom 2,670 are published on the website. Four single comments are actually large collections of letters: 2510 generally supporting the CACTUS model. A quick look at the first 50 letters in comment #3002 (which alone has 2,080 letters) demonstrates diversity of ideas comparable to most of the letters published individually by the CRTC.
Comment #2973 is an 18-signature petition on behalf of the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec. Counting these responses individually gives a total of 3,103 supporting CACTUS and the Fédération, compared to 2,714 supporting Rogers. The only sure conclsion is that many people feel strongly about their community channel.
Ontario is heavily represented with 1,972 comments, about 60% of the national total. Quebec with 441 and New Brunswick with 250 letters are next in number. There are 486 comments from BC. Alberta is fifth with 151.
CACTUS has continued to refine its model for the new Community-Access Media Fund proposed in its submission to the CRTC review on community television. The oral phase begins next Monday, April 26th, with CACTUS' own presentation.
The document "Revitalizing Canada's Community TV Sector: Operating Principles for the Community-Access Media Fund" can be viewed in full here.
It includes sample budgets for multimedia access centres and timetables for the roll-out of 250 such centres Canada-wide.
The document also includes suggested board structure for the Fund itself as well as board structures for the individual multimedia centres that could apply to the fund.
Also included are operating principles for those centres, including broadcasting codes, standards, and annual reporting requirements.
For more information, contact Cathy Edwards at (819) 772-2862.
CACTUS has obtained copies of audits done by the CRTC for selected cable community channels for one week in each of the years 2002 through 2005. We are pleased to note that in the exchange of letters between CRTC staff and cable companies, the Commission expresses concern about minimum levels of access by the public, that promotional messages not exceed two minutes per clock hour, and that there be accurate log-keeping.
CACTUS is nonetheless concerned at the CRTC’s findings:
2002 Audit (April 21-27)
- Eleven of the 13 systems audited (including Shaw, Cogeco, Access, Eastlink, and Rogers), could not be evaluated because of missing tapes, tape malfunctions, and inconsistencies between logs and tapes. For example, promotional messages played inside programs were often not logged.
- The auditor notes for Rogers Toronto, “The producer is often classified as “volunteers”, however, when the credits are examined, there is often no mention of volunteers, but regular producers and stations managers.”
- Also for Rogers in Toronto: OHL hockey contained 24 promotions in one episode and 41 in another, none of which were recorded in the logs.
- For Rogers Guelph, the auditor writes: “An hour long show called On Line with Rogers, classified as “A” (local), answers viewers’ question while at the same time is similar to an hour long promo of their services.”
- Rogers in Guelph classified 14 programs as “access programming” which the auditor determined were produced by staff.
- Cogeco in Kingston classified promos for Cogeco and for MTV as “access programming”.
2003 Audit (May 25-31)
CRTC public notice 2009-661 states that there are 139 cable-run community television channels in Canada. It posted the list of the companies that run them and where they are located shortly before the February 1st dead-line for written submissions to the community TV policy review.
According to an on-line analysis done by CACTUS in January of 2010 of programming schedules posted for these companies and communities, of those 139, 110 are English-language programmings services. Of those 110, only 19 have programming schedules that are "distinct" from one another: that is, more than 50% of the programming schedule is produced locally. The remaining services replay more than 50% of their programming from larger centres.
A table summarizing our findings can be found here.
It's important to note that even if a programming service is "distinct" and is mostly produced locally, the programming is not necessarily produced by the community itself. Statistically, it is more likely to be produced by cable company staff. According to cable company data collected by the CRTC, only 27% of the programming on cable community channels are reported to be produced by community residents. The rest is produced by staff or acquired from other sources. Several systems are playing commercial radio throughout much of their morning schedules (Shaw's Western channels, for example), or third-party programs such as the Armed Forces News.
Furthermore, CACTUS believes that the 27% 'access programming' claimed by cable companies is probably high. Reports of cable companies claiming 'access programming' when community members are simply invited onto programs as guests or are interviewed in a segment are widespread.
CACTUS unveils its plan for 21st century broadcasting, at NO NEW COST. For a quick summary, financials, and FAQs, see 21st-Century Community Broadcasting at NO NEW COST.
For more background, see A New Vision for Community TV, on the Navigation bar to the left.
The dead-line for public comment for the CRTC public notice of consultation 2009-661 is now closed.
Thank you for everyone who took the time to support the call for a return to community access in our country--and more specifically--to the vision of community media access production and distribution centres in every town, run by communities themselves.
Over 2000 of you supported this message, whether by endorsing the CACTUS campaign letter and requests, or by adding your own comments and experiences where you live.
There may be other ways that you can help and increase the chance that the dream of open access for everyone and in every community can become a reality as we approach the hearings, so stay tuned!
The CACTUS Team
Since the notice of the CRTC policy review of the community TV sector was posted on October 22nd, CACTUS has been trying to stimulate genuine debate about the future of the sector that would include input from a broad cross-section of Canadians.
The two major stumbling block have been:
1) The lack of information in the public notice itself. All it says about the current community TV channels on cable is that there are 139 in the country: nothing about where they are, who runs them, nor how much access programming they do.
CACTUS has now submitted six different Access to Information request trying to find out whether the sector is living up to its current policy mandate. The CRTC required cable operators to keep logs of the number of hours of access programming that they do, the titles of the programs, and the names of parties provided access, to enable the Commission to monitor performance. We were therefore surprised that none of this information had been offered in the public notice, but even more surprised when the CRTC informed us that since 1990, it has never once asked cable operators to see this information. We were puzzled, as we had heard anecdotally that various cable companies had been audited over the years for compliance.
Since cable companies are required to keep these logs for 12 months, our latest request to the CRTC is that they ask for these most recent logs to be made available before the hearings, to enabel Canadians to objectively assess whether the goals of the community TV policy as stated in public notice 2009-661 are being met. We are still waiting to hear.
CACTUS participated in both hearings regarding the value-for-signal hearings (both the CRTC's own deliberations in November as well as the government-ordered collection of Canadian public feedback that occurred in December).
We had three messages:
1) We supported the principal of broadcasting distribution undertakings (cable, satellite, your phone company) compensating over-the-air broadcasters for their content. (Up until now, cable companies like Rogers and Shaw pay specialty channels such as Discovery and US channels like PBS for the right to include them in cable service tiers, but not Canadian over-the-air channels such as CTV or the CBC.) We supported this concept provided that over-the-air community TV channels are included. The rationale for paying for Canadian over-the-air services is to help finance local content. Since the community sector is cabable of generating more volume of local content than any other, it is logical and fair.
2) We proposed that there by reserved and protected over-the-air frequencies for community use through the transition to digital. The community sector currently is not being taken into account in the digital allotment plan and may not be able to get on air in larger urban areas without specific set-asides.
3) Since the community sector is interested to acquire transmission equipment that might fall into disuse if public and private sector broadcasters pull out of smaller communities after the transition to digital, we proposed that community license-holders could continue to maintain transmitters for remote signals from the public and private sectors so that these communities can continue to receive free over-the-air TV. Many smaller communities across the country already offer this service to residents.
Click here for the transcript the Nov. 25th CACTUS presentation.
The CRTC public notice has been posted for the community television review. You can read it at:
As with most policy reviews, the Commission poses specific questions. We will be posting an analysis of what the questions mean this week and next, as it's not always obvious, even if you are familiar with previous hearings and the minutiae of CRTC policy.
In the mean time, the press for the hearings has begun. CACTUS was quoted in both MediaCaster last week at:
and (incorrectly) by TechMedia Report at:
(CACTUS spokesperson, Cathy Edwards, did not in fact propose that boards of independent community TV channels should be appointed by municipalities or locally elected officials, although municipality representation and support will be important.)
If you have press contacts that could give exposure to CACTUS' proposals for a revitalized independent community television sector, please contact us (see the About page). We need to encourage as many individual Canadians and community organizations that have used community channels to publicize their activities and events to intervene with their views at the hearings.