Community TV Review Backgrounder

CRTC Public Notice of Consultation 2009-661 (available at: in English or en francais) invited the public to comment on the performance of Canadian community television channels for the first time in eight years.

Under the Canadian Broadcasting Act, the broadcasting system consists of three elements: public (the CBC and provincial broadasters), private (over-the-air channels like Global as well as specialty channels like Discovery), and community. The community element is meant to enable the public that owns the broadcast system the opportunity to participate directly as program producers.

The dead-line for public comment was February 1st.

For comparison, a report written by TimeScape Productions about community television in other countries is available here.

There is very little information provided in the public notice about the performance of community TV channels in Canada, however. CACTUS is concerned about this absence and requested under Access to Information legislation for information that all cable companies are required to keep: logs of hours of "community-access" programming, the titles of such programs, and the names of parties provided access. We received a letter back from the CRTC saying that while it is true that cable companies must collect and keep such information for one year, since the CRTC itself has never requested such information, it cannot provide us with this information. We had asked for information going back to 1990. So, the CRTC's reply is in effect an admission that it has not monitored the cable industry's spending of more than $100,000,000 annually on "community programming" in almost 20 years.

Since that request, we have discovered that limited audits were done of selected cable companies in 2003, 2004 and 2005, that confirm what we had been hearing anecdotally... that many cable-run community channels repurpose programming among different systems, that levels of access programming are very low, and that misreporting about original hours of production and access hours of production is common.

We believe that Canadians need more complete information to understand what has happened in the community television sector, and filed another request on March 2nd, asking that the CRTC request BDUs to provide their programming logs for the most recent programming year, so that the public could review the volumes and types of programming (include access programming) appearing on Canadian community channels. We hope that this information will be available before the oral hearings commence on April 26th.

For the CACTUS vision for a revitalized community media sector, see our VISION for Community TV.

For a summary of the data we presented in our submission to 2009-661, see our Executive Summary.

If you have comments that you would like to share with others in the lead-up to the oral hearings, just click "Add New Comment" at the bottom of any page you'd like to comment on.