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CACTUS member Cathy Edwards, Robin Jackson (the ex-executive director of the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund) and Patrick Watt met with CRTC officials on September 3rd to outline CACTUS' proposal to revitalize the community tier by creating a new community-access license class and an accompanying Community-Access Media Fund to support the new license holders. CRTC staff listened attentively and asked lots of questions. We hope that this information-sharing session will help shape the framework of the upcoming hearings by educating CRTC staffers about what the sector can accomplish if given the right tools.
Table of Contents
a) Status of Community-Access Programming in Canada
b) CACTUS Position in Upcoming Policy Review
c) Action Plan if a New Community-Access Media Fund is Created
a) Status of Community-Access Programming in Canada
In the 1980s and 1990s, there were over 300 community-access television channels across Canada, by which the Canadian public (both individuals and groups) had direct access to the airwaves. Most were operated and/or distributed by cable companies. Since the cable industry enjoyed 80% penetration at that time, community TV was “accessible” to most Canadians both as producers and viewers. A few community channels operated over-the-air, in remote areas that were not cost-effective for cable, such as in Valemont, B.C.
In 2009, although there are still about 200 “community channels” in operation country-wide, CACTUS estimates that just over 100 of those, or 1/3 the original number, are genuinely “community-access”; that is, enabling individuals and groups within communities to make programs and messages for themselves. These include:
During the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage emergency meetings this summer on local programming, CACTUS members Cathy Edwards and Michael Lithgow made the following presentation (also available in video at http://www2.parl.gc.ca/CommitteeBusiness/CommitteeHome.aspx?Cmte=CHPC&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=2 (click on May 13th):
"The Canadian Association for Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) is building a bilingual national membership of independent community television channels, cable co-op community television channels, some private cable companies that still practice community-access television, and the public who uses and watches them. We are an association that believes in citizen access to the airwaves... that is, that individual members of the public should be able to participate in the broadcast system.
The Broadcast Act specifies that Canada’s broadcasting system should enable a diversity of voices to be heard, and that there should be as broad-based access to it. The economic crisis has also focussed attention on the scarcity of local programming. The latter problem is not new, however. Both CBC and private broadcasters have been cutting back on production and shutting channels in smaller population centres for years. Over the same period, BDUs have progressively regionalized and professionalized community television production, resulting also in station closures and fewer hours of local programming.
This is a great pity, as it is the community sector that has the greatest capacity to address all three needs:
For access by as many Canadians as possible
For local programming and expression.
Today was the deadline for submission to the CRTC for the CRTC's public consultation on new media broadcasting in Canada. What follows in CACTUS' submission, responding to concerns about how regulating new media broadcasting might effect community television.
The Canadian Association of Community Television User Groups and Stations (CACTUS)
830 Cite des Jeunes, #6
Friday, December 5, 2008
Re: Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2008-11
Canadian Broadcasting in New Media
Dears Sirs and Mesdames,
1) I am writing on behalf of the Canadian Association for Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), which is building a bilingual national membership of independent community television channels, cable co-op community television channels, some (typically smaller) private cable companies that still practice community access television, and the public who uses and watch them.
2) I would like to state that I am not a “new media” expert in the sense of understanding the current state of the technology, bandwidth available in different parts of the country, the likelihood of this bandwidth to increase in the near-to-long-term, or how likely it is that this bandwidth will be sufficient to support, for example, streaming of live HD video. Therefore, I will state certain assumptions that underlie my arguments, knowing that they may change over time.
The deadline for intervening in Shaw's attempt to takeover Campbell River Television was today. CRTV is one of Canada's few remaining community owned cable cooperatives. The takeover has split the community and called into question how non-commercial media organizations are regulated.
Amidst accusations of regulatory non-compliance and possible illegality, intervenors from across Canada have been demanding that the takeover be stopped.
What follows is the CACTUS submission.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Re: Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2008-1187-9
Shaw Cablesystems Application to buy CRTV (Campbell River Television)
Dears Sirs and Mesdames,
1)I am writing on behalf of the Canadian Association for Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), which is building a bilingual national membership of independent community television channels, cable co-op community television channels, some (typically smaller) private cable companies that still practice community access television, and the public who uses and watch them.1 In preparing this intervention, CACTUS consulted members of the “Save CRTV” committee in Campbell River, and draws on the expertise of:
Catherine Edwards, who has travelled the globe researching models of community-access television during the shooting of the documentary series My TV, Your TV, Our TV.
Michael Lithgow, whose masters thesis developed a framework for assessing the effectiveness of community access television channels.
Members of the Community Media Education Society and Independent
Community TV of Vancouver, who have for ten years tenaciously continued to operate an independent community TV corporation despite enormous legislative and financial difficulties.
The Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec, the professional association representing 40 independent community television channels in Quebec.
CACTUS member Cathy Edwards is presenting today at the CRTC hearings on cable company regulations. One of the questions put on the table by the Commission is the removal of the community channel from the basic cable package. This would cripple community television as an effective medium for community participation and local reflection.
Watch the hearings live by clicking here.
The following is a letter written by Sid Tan to the Globe & Mail in response to Marsha Lederman's article: Is community TV facing its Waterloo? published on April 10, 2008
Sid Tan is a community television producer and activist with ACCESS TV (Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society) and the Slim Evans Society (producer of Working TV). His current projects include Fearless TV and Salt Water City Television in Vancouver.
Just over ten years ago, government regulators and cable companies delivered a near lethal blow to community television. The government ruling and self-serving interpretation by dominant cable operators Rogers and Shaw led to the dismantling of community television volunteer networks and local office infrastructure and resources in Metro Vancouver. This near death scenario continues, seemingly with government and corporate collusion, and begs for a judicial review. As
well, the Auditor General should review the $800-million in public money handed to cable companies across Canada on behalf of community television the past ten years. That's $60-million to Rogers and Shaw in Metro Vancouver the last ten years.
In 2003, a Senate (the Lincoln) report stated its "frustration" and "dismay" that no information exists on what happens to cable company expenditures on behalf of community television. There's no way to find out if citizens got their money's worth!
In Public Broadcasting Notice 1997-25:131, the government regulator responsible to the Minister of Canadian Heritage - the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) - handed community television to cable companies. It boldly and trustingly states: "This policy reflects the Commission's belief that opportunities for local expression would continue to be provided in the absence of a regulatory requirement. In the Commission's view,
C.M.E.S. Responds to CRTC Rejection of Innovative Community TV Licence Application (Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2008-19)
Ultimately it's about the money. Canada's $80 million annual broadcast distribution levy has created the modern hybrid community channel, a community-corporate partnership where the entire tax is returned to the company to be used for business promotion.
When CRTC commissioners rejected the C.M.E.S. application to provide the community channel for the Telus TV distribution network, they considered three issues. The middle issue is that C.M.E.S. might not be able to provide a community channel without revenue from Telus. From its own resources C.M.E.S. is being asked to fund this channel. The CRTC suggests advertising, going into not-for-profit competition with commercial TV.
In fact cable companies are seeing dramatic advertising revenue growth on community TV ─ $5 million in 2005, money that once would have been available to broadcasters to help fund Canada's entertainment industry. Now some cable companies have become so financially dominant they can refuse to pay the tax that helps finance the Canadian Television Fund.
The third reason given by the CRTC for rejecting the C.M.E.S. application is that distribution of shows for Alberta and BC would come from Calgary and Vancouver. Production would take place in all fourteen communities covered under the Telus licence, independent shows controlled by residents in those communities, but the CRTC did not consider that to be sufficiently local. Until Terrace and Lethbridge can have a full local schedule financed by local subscribers they can't have anything.
Venezuela government supports community television in response to “savage” opposition media campaign
In a surprise move, the Venezuela government has donated audio-visual production equipment to 69 community television facilities across the country. The Communication and Information Minister Andres Izarra, speaking to over 400 community television representatives in Caracas, said that community television has a crucial role to play in the struggle for truth. The donation comes in response to what has been described as a “savage” opposition media campaign currently underway by Globovision.
The donation has been well received by community television producers, according to Jhonny Pancho, representative of Catia TV, one of Venezuela's oldest community television stations. As for any perceived influence peddling by the government, Pancho and Caita TV president Gabriel Gil were adamant that community television remains independent of government.
Community television responds to people's needs rather than government needs, said Gil. More than 70 per cent of the programming is produced by community collectives.
Go to venezuelanalysis.com for the more story.
Also, for some background check out Justin Podur's piece on Znet.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has won a major victory for Canadians who want a say in telecommunications policy in Canada. In Telecom Costs Order CRTC 2007-14 issued today, the CRTC upheld PIAC's request for compensation for the preparation of a submission to a public hearing on whether or not to eliminate regulatory constraints on telephone companies' basic rates.
The public hearing (Telecom Public Notice CRTC 2006-10) was instigated in response to a letter from Bell Canada requesting deregulation of basic phone service fees. PIAC was strongly opposed to such a move, and included with its submission a request under s.44 of the CRTC Telecommunications Rules of Procedure for compensation for the costs of preparing its submission. Under s.44, the CRTC can award costs against a regulated company to an intervener who represents a class of subscribers with an interest in the outcome, who has participated in a responsible way, and who has contributed to a better understanding of the issues. The CRTC ordered that PIAC be compensated in the amount of $20,182.74.
Bell Canada (on behalf of itself, Bell Aliant Regional Communications, and Saskatchewan Telecommunications) had argued against the application, suggesting that PIAC had not been responsible, that they had unnecessarily delayed the proceedings and had made unsubstantiated allegations during the hearing. The CRTC found unequivocally that PIAC had participated in a responsible way and had contributed to a better understanding of the issues.
As many of you may know, there have been community TV organizations operating independently from cable operators in Quebec for much of the history of community TV in Canada. They are represented by the la Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec.
In their own words:
Les télévisions communautaires autonomes sont des organismes à but non lucratif et sont réparties dans 15 des 17 régions du Québec. Distribuées sur le service de câblodistribution de leur région, elles rejoignent jusqu’à 1 400 000 téléspectateurs et téléspectatrices. La Fédération est membre du Réseau québécois de l’action communautaire autonome, du Chantier de l’économie sociale, du CSMO-ÉSAC et de la Corporation de développement communautaire de l’Érable. Le fonctionnement de la Fédération est subventionné par le ministère de la Culture, des Communications et le la Condition féminine du Québec
We'd like to welcome the Fédération and its members as CACTUS contributors and include the following article about the Fédération's reaction to 2007-10. This is reprinted from the Fédération's quarterly "Bulletin", which you can read in full at the Fédération's web site at: www.fedetvc.qc.ca. The current "Bulletin" contains articles about Quebec's bingo laws (member of the member channels subsist in part on bingos), as well as fund-raising activities at some of the member channels. But first, the Fédération on 2007-10:
Une déréglementation majeure des modalités d’exploitation du canal communautaire est à nos portes!
La Fédération est sur un pied de guerre depuis la parution, le 5 avril 2007, de l’Avis d’audience publique de radiodiffusion CRTC 2007-10 portant sur la Révision des cadres de réglementation des entreprises de distribution de radiodiffusion et des services de programmation facultatifs.
During the recent CRTC “Diversity Hearings”, I realized that
a) a national organization is needed to represent Canadian community television channels, similar to the Alliance for Community Media in the US and the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec and
b) that organization should apply for a license for and administer a national citizen-access channel.
For ten years, the CMES has been the focal point for community television interventions with the CRTC
in English Canada, and the Fédération has represented community TV in Quebec. Although the CMES and the Fédération are on one another’s mailing lists and have exchanged information from time to time, we have not lobbied the CRTC with one voice to date. The differing views that these organizations have on the issue of advertising on the community channel is just one issue on which both parties have been saying different things to our federal regulator (please see the blog below).
A common and stronger front with respect to regulation is just one benefit that a national organization can bring. Others include:
a) help for groups attempting to obtain a new community TV license
b) training and guidance for new community TV license holders
c) on-going professional development for existing community TV license holders
d) a national awards program to stimulate production values and encourage the exchange of programming ideas (such as was formerly provided by the CCTA’s Galaxy awards)
e) the possibility of program bicycling
f) resource sharing, such as the posting of sample license applications and interventions on this web site
g) public-awareness raising about community television and democratic media rights
We hope that with your support, CACTUS will become this organization.
The latest just in from Larry Widen and Lance Klaasen in Campbell River, B.C. (for the background to this story, read further down the home page articles):
The CRTV annual general meeting went well.
I sat close to a mike and was able to make two motions that passed by a good majority. The first concerned a letter from Shaw offering to buy CRTV for $3,000 to each subscriber.
That the letter from Shaw be received and filed with no action taken.
I move that the owners of CRTV assembled at this 2007 annual general meeting direct the current board of directors, the board of directors elected as a result of nomination accepted at this annual general meeting and all persons employed by CRTV as follows:
That the course of action set out in what has been reported as option #1, to maintain the status quo, and option #3, to sell CRTV, be abandoned and not receive any further consideration in favour of option #2 and aggressively implement a course of action to maintain, improve, enhance and expand services provided by CRTV including community programming to the full extent financially practicable
There were about 450 owners in attendance. Those who wanted their $3,000.00 complained that some who wanted to attend could not get in as there were no more seats. There is a wide range of the counts of how many could not get in. The same people called for a referendum on all three options with no success.
The local chapter of the Council of Canadians organized an information handout as members were entering the theatre relating to Public Notice 2007-10 (paragraph 73). The handout encouraged members to make public submissions to the CRTC to oppose the proposed CRTC deregulation.
Now all that remains is for CRTV is to determine how they will finance the new services needed to keep up with the competition.
The issue of advertising on the community channel is becoming more and more contentious. Prior to 1997, only sponsorship messages without moving video were allowed. Since 1997, moving video, product placement, and infomercials seem to have become rife on "community TV", particularly corporate-run channels such as Shaw, which use every opportunity to promote their own services.
Most community TV practitioners (and the early legislation) envisioned a non-competitive, educational platform for local voices and issues, free from the need to compete for the dollar. In recent years, however, there has been pressure from two sources to liberalize the restrictions on advertising on the community channel:
1) From the cable operators, who want to be able to turn their 2-5% cable levy contribution to commercial advantage
2) From small independent community TV organizations who have inadequate or no access at all to the 2-5% cable levy ear-marked for community TV
The Dunbar-Leblanc report that was recently filed as part of CRTC policy hearing 2007-10 also recommends that advertising rules on the community channel be liberalized.
Resistance to liberalization of the rules comes from two sources also:
1) From CAB and its member broadcasters, who rightly see advertising on the community channel as competition
2) From community TV practitioners such as myself who worry that liberalizing the rules will not only change the character of community TV programming in the long term to favour more commercial formats that will appeal to larger audiences (and exclude the niche audiences that the channels were designed to serve) but also give the CRTC an excuse to give away the 2-5% of the cable levy for other funding initiatives.
The dead-line for comments and replies to comments on CRTC 2007-10 has been extended to January 25, 2008. This has been done because the scope of the CRTC's questions have been expanded to include the issue of must-pay carriage status for over-the-air broadcasters. The broadcasters are asking that they be paid per subscriber by cable operators, similar to specialty channels.
The CRTC is accepting first-round comments on this question until January 25th, and also replies to the first-round of comments on all other issues.
So, if you haven't participated to date, I encourage you to do so now. You can easily formulate a "reply" by commenting on, supporting, or elaborating on other submissions about community TV (and the infamous paragraph 73 suggesting that the requirement that the community TV channel be included on the basic cable tier be removed).
Just go to www.crtc.gc.ca, click on "Policies, Directives", search for 2007-10, scroll to near the bottom, and click on "Interventions Form" to make your comment. It's all automated.
The following letter was submitted by Campbell River, (Vancouver Island) Community TV Technical Foreman to the Campbell River local paper:
From reading the papers and listening to folks talk lately, I get the feeling that citizens of Campbell River may have recently developed a false impression about the state of CRTV. I would like to dispel some of the misconceptions people might have about the condition of their cable company.
Through talk shows , press releases and letters, certain people may have inadvertently lead the public to believe that our cable company is not worth anything anymore – and if it still is, ‘woe is us’, it won’t be for long!
This could not be further from the truth. If you acquire a copy of the President’s Report for the last 5 or 6 AGM’s, you will find that a pretty rosy picture was being presented over the years – and justifiably so! In the past few years, we’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to speak of the positives regarding CRTV. How could the picture change so dramatically in such a short period of time?
Why would Shaw offer $3000.00 per subscriber for a cable system? That amount speaks volumes to the value of this cable system! Why would they offer this unprecedented amount?