CRTC Cable Audits Reveal Widespread Abuses of the Community Channel
Ottawa (March 31/2010) CRTC audits of community channels operated by Canada’ largest cable companies from 2002 through 2005 (the last year in which the CRTC monitored them) show numerous abuses, said the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) today.
In 2002, the CRTC found that 11 of the 13 systems it audited, including Shaw, Cogeco, Access, Eastlink, and Rogers, could not be evaluated because of missing tapes, tape malfunctions, and inconsistencies between logs and tapes.
Rogers routinely exceeded the maximum of two minutes per hour of promotional ads allowed (sometimes by as much as 7 minutes), and doubled the 15-second limit for sponsorship messages. Its OHL hockey program contained 24 ads in one episode and another 41 two nights later—but none of the ads were indicated in the Rogers logs. As for On Line with Rogers, aired in Guelph, the CRTC wrote the hour-long show was “similar to an hour long promo of their services.”
Community channels were created in the 1970s to enable Canadians to actively participate in their own broadcasting system. The CRTC’s current policy requires cable companies to ensure that at least 30% of their community channels’ schedules consist of “access program": that is, produced by members of the community. The companies have been having difficulty meeting even this minimum (only 27% last year). The CRTC audits found that Cogeco, Rogers, Shaw, and Persona all classified staff-produced news and other programming—even MTV promos in one instance—as “access programming”. Some Eastlink systems reported no access programming at all.
“The CRTC’s data show that Canada’s 'community' channels have become promotional tools for cable companies,” said Catherine Edwards, spokesperson for CACTUS. “Canadians should know that cable companies collected more than $120 million from them last year in order that they should have a window into their own broadcasting system, but very little of that money is being spent on training or access.” In 2004 the CRTC concluded there did not “appear to be any promotion of community access on any of the channels monitored.” Copies of the audits were obtained under an Access to Information request.
CACTUS has proposed that the millions collected by cable companies for community access be directed to a new fund that would enable more than two hundred Canadian communities to run 21st century multimedia training and distribution centres. CACTUS says they would bring back significant quantities of local programming to communities of every size. “Apart from generating thousands of hours of new Canadian hyper-local content, the money earmarked for community expression would be administered by accountable local bodies,” said Edwards. “At no new cost to Canadians, they could receive training and access the newest digital tools and technology.”
CACTUS has posted a summary of the audits done by the CRTC and the audits themselves on its web site at cactus.independentmedia.ca.
The CRTC has yet to release any more recent data on cable community channels in time for its April 26 policy hearing into community television.
Contact: Catherine Edwards, (819) 772-2862