About CACTUS

Welcome to the CACTUS web site!

CACTUS stands for the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations. CACTUS was created to educate consumers and to improve access by Canadians to two specific media services:

  • Local media, especially video and television programming
  • Media production training and equipment at the local level, especially video and television.

What is community television?

Community television is made by and for members of a community, and is therefore an open-access democratic platform as well as a training platform for Canadians to gain the digital and media literacy skills they need to participate fully in the political, cultural, social and economic life of their communities.

Because of the voluntary participation of community members, community television is a low-cost way to generate relevant local TV content even in relatively small communities. It is also often more innovative, investigative, diverse and engaged than mainstream media because of this direct participation by viewers.

Community media is formally recognized in the Canadian Broadcasting System as one of three pillars in the broadcasting system.

Community television exists in Canada in two forms.

The Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission requires cable companies and other broadcasting distribution undertakings to set aside one channel for community use. This is the historical "Waynesworld" model. Many Canadian actors and cultural figures got their start on such channels, including Dan Aykroyd, Mike Meyers, Tom Green and Guy Maddin. In recent years, many of the rural cable community channels that once existed have been closed, and production has been both regionalized and professionalized (i.e. cable company staff shape most of what is seen.) Individuals and community groups can nonetheless approach such channels to request equipment training, access and airtime. CACTUS sometimes advises and assists individuals and groups to obtain access to cable community channels. For example, we participated in developing the Code of Access Best Practices according to which cable companies are expected to operate these channels.

Local community TV licences are also available for community groups to manage themselves. Nine such licence holders exist at the present time, most of whom are members of CACTUS. Due to the systemic problems with the cable-managed community TV system, and with the fact that only 60% of Canadians subscribe to cable, CACTUS promotes this model of community ownership. This licence class enables communities to broadcast over the air, but is also carried on cable in the basic cable tier, and on Bell satellite services by regulation. We encourage our members to make their programming available on the Internet as well, so that all members of a community can participate and see the content, regardless of the method by which they watch television.

Lastly, in a multi-platform digital universe, the old distinctions among radio, television and print are breaking down. CACTUS assists communities that already have licences or that wish to obtain a licence to design their production facility as a multimedia training and production centre that may include all these elements. For example, in addition to broadcasting using a traditional TV and/or radio licence, the community's web site might incorporate sound, moving video, print, or interactive elements that solicit community participation.

Why the CACTUS web site?

Canadians have been making community television for more than 40 years, but for most of that time, there has been no national organization to promote it, no place where its fans and practioners can share stories and exchange ideas, nowhere to discuss the policies and regulations that affect community television, and no one place to learn about other community TV groups and how they manage volunteers, fundraising, technological change, and program creation.

CACTUS provides a space where people who care about local and democratic media in Canada can collaborate, share resources, and exchange ideas. CACTUS' goal is to enable Canadians' free expression on mainstream media platforms, as envisioned under the Canadian Broadcasting Act.

How does CACTUS work?

The CACTUS web site uses druple, which allows users from anywhere in the world to share content. Anyone can read the articles and information contributed. We ask for a nominal membership starting at $10 to enable you to contribute and post information of your own, including member news or to contribute to discussion fora. Membership also ensures that you receive our press releases, newsletters, and e-mail updates.

Resources

In these pages you will find resources on policy issues, technology, fundraising, training, and programs that can be shared.

Group PhotoBlogs

Since we are scattered across this huge country, few of us get to meet other community television practitioners. PhotoBlogs are a chance for you to introduce yourself and the other members of your TV group to the rest of the CACTUS community. Photos of people, studios, productions, equipment, and local surroundings all welcome. Tell the story of who you are, and how you came to be.

Community TV News

One of the primary puposes of the site is to share community television news: new stations, program innovations, policy changes, calls for action, community tv in far away lands… Both our press releases as well as instances of CACTUS or community TV in the news are available on the green Navigator bar at the left. You can also access Member News at the upper left of the home page.

What’s in a name?

Cacti in Canada are rare, like community television channels at the present time. But there are cacti native to Canada (such the prickly pear cactus), that are beautiful, hardy and persistent. Cacti flower with only the smallest amounts of water… well, you can see where this is going. We like to think the metaphor captures the resilience and humble beauty routinely found in the efforts of community television programmers across the country.

Getting Involved

Please contact us if you are interested in getting involved. The most direct route is to become a member, as described here.

Who are we? & Contact

For more information, please contact Cathy Edwards, CACTUS' Executive Director at (819) 772-2862.

Cathy Edwards used to be the Volunteer Co-ordinator and trainer at Shaw's community television channel in Calgary until 1997, the year the public was told it could no longer participate in local production. For the last several years, she has been touring the globe researching and documenting forms of community-access television. The results will be aired next year as the six-part series "My TV, Your TV, Our TV" on Canadian Learning Television, Access, the Education Station, PBS, FreeSpeech TV and Link TV.

CACTUS' board members include:

Richard Ward (Western region), retired audio-visual technician and former community programmer in BC. Richard also founded the Community Media Education Society, a think-tank.

Ivan Trail (Prairie region), former CEO of Westman Cable and current General Manager of Neepawa Community TV, Manitoba.

Patrick Watt (Maritime region): former Rogers community TV employee, and current Manager of St. Andrews Community TV in New Brunswick.