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CACTUS Contributes Fresh Ideas to CBC Licence Renewal Hearing

CACTUS participated in both the written and oral phases of the CBC licence renewal process. Although commenting on the role of the public broadcaster would normally not fall within our mandate, we decided to participate because CACTUS' Executive Director Catherine Edwards and Karen Wirsig of the Canadian Media Guild had co-authored and presented a paper in the spring at the Journalism Strategies conference at McGill regarding models by which public and community broadcasters could collaborate to improve local media. The paper proposes models by which more quality and quantity of local content could be created in an austere financial environment. It responds to statements in the CBC's 2015 strategy document "Everyone, Everyway" in which the CBC commits to maximize its presence in the regions by entering into new partnerships and using new technologies. Examples of such partnership could include:

  • sharing of transmission infrastructure (our recent campaign to salvage CBC towers and transmitters for communities)

  • sharing of facilities in an affiliate relationship (e.g. local volunteer-production as well as CBC network content within a shared schedule, or two separate licences working out of a shared facility)
  • sharing of content, possibly by uploading to a central server for CBC regional news outlets to access

The paper proposes the establishment of a fund to encourage such partnerships, which was endorsed in the CMG's presentation before the CRTC.

These ideas were also suggested independently as part of the Payette report, which recommended that Telequebec source content from Quebec community broadcasters.

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Hay River, NWT First Community to Acquire CBC Transmission Equipment So Far

Despite the barrage of more than 2200 letters to the CBC and the CRTC in the summer requesting that CBC towers and transmitters slated for decommissioning be offered to communities first, the CRTC imposed no special conditions on the national broadcaster prior to shutting off free-to-air CBC and Radio-Canada service on July 31st.

Communities were told that they could apply directly to the CBC for transmitters, and to a third-party (Capital Networks) managing the sale of the CBC's tower sites. Although the dead-line for requesting towers was October 9th, only a handful of communities have yet received a reply from the CBC. Those that have have been declined except for one. Gary Hoffman of the Hay River TV Society in the NWT managed to acquire both the CBC English, CBC French, and APTN transmitters and has restored all three services to his community. The transmitters were donated by the CBC free of charge.

In the case of Maniwaki, Quebec and various rural sites in Manitoba, however, several communities have been informed that they didn't make it past the first stage in the commercial bid process. One group bid on several remote sites, offering the CBC thousands of dollars per tower, but was still declined. The group had been told that many of the towers have revenues associated with them. Space may be leased on the towers by third parties for another 5 or 10 years...

... which once again raises the question, why is the CBC getting rid of them?

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More than 2000 Canadians Ask CBC to Consult Them Before Shutting Down Transmission Sites

More than 2000 individual Canadians, community organizations, MPs and municipalities have written to the CRTC to ask that they be consulted about what happens to CBC transmission sites in their communities.

In response to federal cuts, the CBC and Radio-Canada announced in April that they plan to switch off more than 623 analog transmitters on July 31, 2012. Canadians outside major cities and provincial and territorial capitals will lose free access to the CBC and Radio-Canada over the air using bunny ears or rooftop antennae.

(Click here to see whether you will be affected.)

Getting the CBC and Radio-Canada’s signals to all Canadians living in communities of at least 500 people was a major policy goal in the 1970s to link the country coast to coast. This transmission infrastructure is worth millions and has already been paid for by Canadian taxpayers. Rather than being scrapped, it could be maintained by communities themselves. The transmitters and towers can be used not just to continue free TV service, but also to set up local wireless Internet or mobile service, or a community TV or radio service.

The CRTC Consultation: 2012-0509-7

The CRTC has begun a public consultation on the CBC’s plan. CACTUS urged town and band councils, community colleges, community media groups and concerned citizens to ask the CRTC and CBC before the June 18th dead line to make the transmission equipment available for local use.

Of the more than 2200 individuals and groups that responded, 1549 live in or near large urban centres where CBC service will continue. They empathized with their rural countrymates and urged that CBC infrastructure be offered to communities slated to lose service.

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Journalism Strategies Conference at McGill April 19-22

From April 19-23, McGill hosted a "Journalism Strategies" conference. The goal was stated as follows:

"We think something important is at stake: the health of Canadian democracy. We believe the more ways we can find for more Canadians to be involved in public discourses and questions of governance, the better off we will all be. We believe journalism can and should play an important role...

We are bringing together established academics, graduate students, journalists, activists, policy-makers and others interested in journalism policies. Our goals:

1) help mobilize a broad network that will recommend public policies for ensuring spaces in the Canadian media ecology for journalism that places public deliberation and citizen participation at the core of its mission.

2) undertake a process of policy-making that is itself participatory (within the limitations of time and resources available.)"

This sounded like a perfect venue to discuss the important contributions played by community media in the Canadian "media ecology", so Karen Wirsig of the Canadian Media Guild and Catherine Edwards of CACTUS co-submitted a paper the explored ways that public and community broadcasters could work together for mutual benefit and to the benefit of Canadians.

The paper is available here:

Public and Community Partnerships to Improve Local Media.

You can also see our presentation at the conference (as well as the other conference presenters) here:

CACTUS Presentation at Journalism Strategies (starting at minute 43).

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LPIF Hearing Winds Up

The Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) was created by the CRTC in 2008 to stimulate more local TV programming in 'markets' having fewer than 1 million people.

As far back as the 2002 Lincoln Report, "Our Cultural Sovereignty" (initiated by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage), a fund had been recommended that would stimulate more TV AND radio content, at the "community, local, and regional levels". However, when the CRTC asked the Canadian Association of Broadcasters to design eligibility criteria for the fund in 2008, community broadcasters were not invited to the consultation (and are not members of the CAB). Eligibility criteria were subsequently defined that stated that the fund was only available for "conventional broadcasters" (i.e. those in the public and private sectors) and that a qualifying station must establish "local presence" by producing at least 5 hours of "local news" per week and by the employment of local professional journalists.

The CRTC is currently reviewing the LPIF. CACTUS spokesperson Cathy Edwards appeared before the CRTC last week, making the case that community broadcasters have in fact the most true "local presence" (almost 100% of what they produce is typically made for the local market) and that funding community broadcasters would stimulate content at a rate six times greater than funding 'conventional broadcasters', since a community production on average costs just one sixth what it costs a public or private broadcaster to produce, thanks to the multiplier effect of volunteer labour.

We went to some length to describe how community broadcasters--while they typically don't produce a daily 'newscast' consisting of short segments--in fact produce more in depth content in all the same genres typically produced by a conventional broadcaster: politics, local affairs, arts and culture, sports, health, and so on.

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CRTC Audit of Cable Community TV Reveals Same Pattern of Abuse as Previous Audits

CACTUS just completed its review of cable company logs submitted by Rogers, Shaw, Eastlink, Cogeco and Videotron as part of the most comprehensive audit ever conducted by the CRTC of cable community channels. The logs detail all the programming aired on cable community channels in selected licence areas for March 6-12, 2011.

The findings? The same widespread abuse of this community resource as was revealed by the CRTC's previous audits, conducted in 2002-2005. As in 2002-2005, many cable companies failed to meet the 60% local programming minimum that is a standard condition of their licences, and almost all failed to meet the 30% minimum for programming produced by community members (as opposed to programming produced by cable company staff).

Also as in 2002-2005, programs are frequently claimed as "access" (produced by someone in the community) when in fact the companies' web sites suggest they are driven by cable staff. Some cable companies are charging community groups for access; others employ network templates for programs, which are used over a large area.

For us at CACTUS, these findings are no surprise. As we have stated in several public proceedings, the time when it made sense for small mom-and-pop locally based cable companies to administer community channels and media resources is long past. Canada's big five cable companies have no place in the "community media" universe; Canada continues to be the only country in the world in which "community media" is not administered by communities... duh!

Since the audit week occurred just six months into the CRTC's new community TV policy (issued in August of 2010), we are sceptical that the targets of the new policy can be met. If cable companies cannot meet the 30% access programming minimum currently in force, we fail to see how they will be able to ramp up to the 50% access expectation that the CRTC has announced by 2014.

For a full copy of our findings, click here:

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BECOMING A MEMBER, RENEWING YOUR MEMBERSHIP or MAKING A DONATION

We'd like to welcome as members both individuals and other organizations. As individuals, you are TV viewers and many of you have participated in TV production at community TV channels.

We welcome member organizations including community TV channels and producing groups, and others within the broadcasting industry and civil society that share our support of Canadian content, diversity, and free expression.

For more information or to renew your membership, click the appropriate link below:

individual non-voting member

individual voting member

organizational non-voting member

organizational voting member

If you are not interested to become a member but would like to make a one-time donation to CACTUS, click here:

Make a one-time donation

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CACTUS Prepares Feedback for a Code of Best Practices for Cable Community Channels

As a result of the new community TV policy announced on Aug. 28th, the CRTC has asked cable companies to draft a code of access "best practices", and have sent to CACTUS and to the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec a draft for review by Jan. 20th.

While neither CACTUS nor the Fédération was initially invited to participate in the "industry working group" to generate the code, CACTUS drew attention to the oversight at the Shaw cable license renewal in September. The CRTC responded by requesting cable companies in the working group to consult us.

CACTUS is discussing the draft code within its membership and with interested parties. If you would like to be included in this process, please e-mail Cathy Edwards at cedwards at timescape dot ca.

CACTUS is delighted that the CRTC has acknowledged that the public should be included in decisions about governance of community channels.

Once the working group submits its final draft code to the CRTC at the end of February, it will be offered to the public for comment, at which time any member of the public can intervene directly.

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CACTUS and Public Policy: Fall 2010

In the wake of the CRTC's new community TV policy, announced August 28th, CACTUS has participated in three CRTC hearing processes related to Shaw Communications, and presented a brief before the Standing Committee Heritage regarding the role of small broadcasters in an increasingly consolidated media environment:

1) CACTUS intervened in the Shaw purchase of Canwest to support Shaw's offer to share transmission facilities with local and community broadcasters. This offer could considerably reduce the costs for community over-the-air broadcasters to launch in any market where Global is present.

2) CACTUS intervened in the Shaw license renewals to point out that of the 22 license areas in which Shaw was seeking a renewal, CACTUS could only confirm that 11 access studios exist. CACTUS asked that studios be reopened in the license areas that currently have no access facilities. This request was denied by the CRTC.

3) CACTUS intervened in the license application by Corus for a network of pseudo-weather community information channels called Local1, which would be located in the same communities where there is currently a Shaw community channel facility. Since Shaw's community channels already offer a Local1-like combo of weather and community news, CACTUS was concerned that the license being sought would repurpose existing community channel content, without addressing the access problems on those community channels.

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The Digital Transition in Your Community

The way TV signals were delivered over the air changed in Canada beginning in August 2011. If you have a cable or satellite subscription, your service was unaffected. If you watch TV using an antenna ("bunny ears") mounted on the TV or on your roof, one of the following situations applies:

  1. In most major towns and cities, broadcasters upgraded their signals to digital. You needed either a digital TV or a digital-to-analog converter box to continue watching over-the-air TV with an antenna.

  2. In smaller communities, some of your local broadcasters may have upgraded or may yet upgrade their signals to digital (and you'll need a digital TV or converter box). Others may continue broadcasting in analog. In both cases, you can continue watching free TV, for now.

    When the analog transmitters reach the end of their useful life, however, local broadcasters may elect not to replace them. At that time, you and your neighbours would have to subscribe to cable or satellite to continue to watch TV. For example, on July 31st, 2012, TVO and the CBC will cease all analog broadcasts (everywhere outside the major cities where signals were upgraded to digital last year).

To find out whether your community will continue to receive free over-the-air TV signals after August 31st 2011, check the web site on the Digital Transition maintained by Canadian Heritage.

Your community has options to maintain these services and to add new ones. For more information about Community Distribution of TV and other services, click here:

NEW OPPORTUNITIES: COMMUNITY DISTRIBUTION

This information can also be viewed as a .pdf file by clicking the link below.

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New CRTC Community TV Policy Little Better than Previous One

After eight long years of complaints from the Canadian public that they have been excluded from “community TV channels” on cable, the CRTC recently released a new community TV policy for Canada that is little better than the existing policy.

As dissenting Commissioner Michel Morin dubs it, “The Commission’s paternalistic community model” leaves community cable channels and the money that is collected from Canadians for “local expression” firmly under the control of cable companies. Catherine Edwards, Spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) noted, “The Commission ignored the request of the Canadian public—which was made abundantly clear at these hearings—that the time has come for community broadcasting to be in the hands of communities, as it is in all other countries that have a community sector. This is how it operates here in Canada in the community radio sector. Why not TV?”

Licences for communities to run their own channels were introduced in 2002, but there was no funding formula. The CRTC’s analysis acknowledges that a lack of funding explains why so few community licenses have been requested, yet the new policy denies communities access to the Local Programming Initiative Fund, to commercial advertising, and to the more than $120 million collected annually from Canadians for “local expression”, but which instead goes to cable companies for their professional regional channels.

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Analysis of Submissions to 2009-661

By Richard Ward
Community Media Education Society

In the comments listed on the CRTC web site under the current review of community television policy (CRTC 2009-661), groups supporting CACTUS include ACTRA; the Directors' Guild; CTV; Canwest; the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union; the Canadian Conference for the Arts; the Independent Media Arts Alliance; the National Community Radio Association; and NUTV in Calgary. MultiMedia Centre support comes from the City of Burnaby, Metro Vancouver, the Canadian Media Guild, the Documentary Organization of Canada, OpenMedia, the Canadian Library Association and Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

Altogether 3,007 people responded to the CRTC of whom 2,670 are published on the website. Four single comments are actually large collections of letters: 2510 generally supporting the CACTUS model. A quick look at the first 50 letters in comment #3002 (which alone has 2,080 letters) demonstrates diversity of ideas comparable to most of the letters published individually by the CRTC.
Comment #2973 is an 18-signature petition on behalf of the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec. Counting these responses individually gives a total of 3,103 supporting CACTUS and the Fédération, compared to 2,714 supporting Rogers. The only sure conclsion is that many people feel strongly about their community channel.

Ontario is heavily represented with 1,972 comments, about 60% of the national total. Quebec with 441 and New Brunswick with 250 letters are next in number. There are 486 comments from BC. Alberta is fifth with 151.

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Operating Principles for Community-Access Media Fund

CACTUS has continued to refine its model for the new Community-Access Media Fund proposed in its submission to the CRTC review on community television. The oral phase begins next Monday, April 26th, with CACTUS' own presentation.

The document "Revitalizing Canada's Community TV Sector: Operating Principles for the Community-Access Media Fund" can be viewed in full here.

It includes sample budgets for multimedia access centres and timetables for the roll-out of 250 such centres Canada-wide.

The document also includes suggested board structure for the Fund itself as well as board structures for the individual multimedia centres that could apply to the fund.

Also included are operating principles for those centres, including broadcasting codes, standards, and annual reporting requirements.

For more information, contact Cathy Edwards at (819) 772-2862.

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CRTC Audits Reveal Widespread Abuse of the "Community Channel"

CACTUS has obtained copies of audits done by the CRTC for selected cable community channels for one week in each of the years 2002 through 2005. We are pleased to note that in the exchange of letters between CRTC staff and cable companies, the Commission expresses concern about minimum levels of access by the public, that promotional messages not exceed two minutes per clock hour, and that there be accurate log-keeping.

CACTUS is nonetheless concerned at the CRTC’s findings:

2002 Audit (April 21-27)

  • Eleven of the 13 systems audited (including Shaw, Cogeco, Access, Eastlink, and Rogers), could not be evaluated because of missing tapes, tape malfunctions, and inconsistencies between logs and tapes. For example, promotional messages played inside programs were often not logged.

  • The auditor notes for Rogers Toronto, “The producer is often classified as “volunteers”, however, when the credits are examined, there is often no mention of volunteers, but regular producers and stations managers.”

  • Also for Rogers in Toronto: OHL hockey contained 24 promotions in one episode and 41 in another, none of which were recorded in the logs.

  • For Rogers Guelph, the auditor writes: “An hour long show called On Line with Rogers, classified as “A” (local), answers viewers’ question while at the same time is similar to an hour long promo of their services.”

  • Rogers in Guelph classified 14 programs as “access programming” which the auditor determined were produced by staff.

  • Cogeco in Kingston classified promos for Cogeco and for MTV as “access programming”.

2003 Audit (May 25-31)

  • Read more...


    Only 19 Distinct Cable Community Services in English Canada

    CRTC public notice 2009-661 states that there are 139 cable-run community television channels in Canada. It posted the list of the companies that run them and where they are located shortly before the February 1st dead-line for written submissions to the community TV policy review.

    According to an on-line analysis done by CACTUS in January of 2010 of programming schedules posted for these companies and communities, of those 139, 110 are English-language programmings services. Of those 110, only 19 have programming schedules that are "distinct" from one another: that is, more than 50% of the programming schedule is produced locally. The remaining services replay more than 50% of their programming from larger centres.

    A table summarizing our findings can be found here.

    It's important to note that even if a programming service is "distinct" and is mostly produced locally, the programming is not necessarily produced by the community itself. Statistically, it is more likely to be produced by cable company staff. According to cable company data collected by the CRTC, only 27% of the programming on cable community channels are reported to be produced by community residents. The rest is produced by staff or acquired from other sources. Several systems are playing commercial radio throughout much of their morning schedules (Shaw's Western channels, for example), or third-party programs such as the Armed Forces News.

    Furthermore, CACTUS believes that the 27% 'access programming' claimed by cable companies is probably high. Reports of cable companies claiming 'access programming' when community members are simply invited onto programs as guests or are interviewed in a segment are widespread.

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