A New Vision for Community TV
CACTUS believes that community media is vital for the health of modern democracies. Individuals need local forums where they can learn about all media, not just television, and have dialogue with others about the culture, issues and events that shape their communities. It is in the process of learning together and participating in this exchange that communities gather the perspective and tools they need to effect positive change.
Once upon a time, the CRTC recognized and defended this vision. Canada was the first in the world to enact official policy to promote community television.
Today, however, CACTUS estimates that 90% of Canadians no longer have access to a genuine community television channel. Cable companies, that were entrusted with the administration and running of most community TV channels, have tended to both regionalize and professionalize their productions over the last dozen years. The public has been gradually excluded in most parts of the country, especially from producing roles.
Cable is also available only to roughly 60% of Canadians today, so it is no longer possible for all or even most members of a community to share their stories on this platform.
For these reasons, CACTUS believes that the time has come for community channels to be run by communities themselves. Community control defines the community sector in all other countries that recognize community media as a sector distinct from the public and private sectors. Community control is also the hallmark of the community radio sector right here in Canada.
CACTUS believes that the money that cable operators currently spend on their own "community channels" ($116,000,000 last year) should be liberated to a new Community-Access Media Fund to which communities themselves could apply to run these channels. This money was earmarked for community expression, and is one of the ways that cable companies give back to the communities they serve to support Canadian culture. If you are a cable customers, you already pay for community expression on your cable bill.
We also believe that the money should be used not just to generate traditional television programming, but to establish multi-platform community-access production and distribution centres. They would have over-the-air licenses (possibly both radio and TV from the same centre), as well as carriage in the basic cable tier, be distributed live over the Internet, and via new media as it becomes available. They will be located in public facilities where the community already congregates and from which events can easily be broadcast, such as theatres, libraries and community centres. The public could "one-stop-shop" to get messages out about important events and issues. Training, equipment access, and distribution of finished programs and content would be free.
For a quick look at how we propose these centres would be rolled out, see our summary 21st-Century Community Broadcasting at NO NEW COST.
For this vision to become a reality, not only do communities need access to non-commercial sources of funding, they need access to over-the-air frequencies. At present, the frequency allotment plan for the digital transition in 2011 does not recognize the need for space for community media. Much of the bandwidth that is currently used for television broadcasting may be auctioned off for use by wireless services. There has also been press about the possibility of many Canadians losing access to free over-the-air TV after the digital transition. We believe that to ensure public access to communications in the future, communities need control of their own broadcasting infrastructure. Whether the platform is over the air, the Internet, cable, wireless, or satellite, part of the space should be available for community use.
CACTUS believes that in an environment of media hyperconcentration and shrinking sources of local information, community media--with its reliance on voluntary input from the community--is the answer. It's dynamic, democratic, low-cost, and alternative.