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Is community TV facing its Waterloo? A response

The following is a letter written by Sid Tan to the Globe & Mail in response to Marsha Lederman's article: Is community TV facing its Waterloo? published on April 10, 2008

Sid Tan is a community television producer and activist with ACCESS TV (Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society) and the Slim Evans Society (producer of Working TV). His current projects include Fearless TV and Salt Water City Television in Vancouver.

Dear Editors.

Just over ten years ago, government regulators and cable companies delivered a near lethal blow to community television. The government ruling and self-serving interpretation by dominant cable operators Rogers and Shaw led to the dismantling of community television volunteer networks and local office infrastructure and resources in Metro Vancouver. This near death scenario continues, seemingly with government and corporate collusion, and begs for a judicial review. As
well, the Auditor General should review the $800-million in public money handed to cable companies across Canada on behalf of community television the past ten years. That's $60-million to Rogers and Shaw in Metro Vancouver the last ten years.

In 2003, a Senate (the Lincoln) report stated its "frustration" and "dismay" that no information exists on what happens to cable company expenditures on behalf of community television. There's no way to find out if citizens got their money's worth!

In Public Broadcasting Notice 1997-25:131, the government regulator responsible to the Minister of Canadian Heritage - the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) - handed community television to cable companies. It boldly and trustingly states: "This policy reflects the Commission's belief that opportunities for local expression would continue to be provided in the absence of a regulatory requirement. In the Commission's view,

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C.M.E.S. Responds to CRTC Rejection of Innovative Community TV Licence Application (Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2008-19)

Ultimately it's about the money. Canada's $80 million annual broadcast distribution levy has created the modern hybrid community channel, a community-corporate partnership where the entire tax is returned to the company to be used for business promotion.

When CRTC commissioners rejected the C.M.E.S. application to provide the community channel for the Telus TV distribution network, they considered three issues. The middle issue is that C.M.E.S. might not be able to provide a community channel without revenue from Telus. From its own resources C.M.E.S. is being asked to fund this channel. The CRTC suggests advertising, going into not-for-profit competition with commercial TV.

In fact cable companies are seeing dramatic advertising revenue growth on community TV ─ $5 million in 2005, money that once would have been available to broadcasters to help fund Canada's entertainment industry. Now some cable companies have become so financially dominant they can refuse to pay the tax that helps finance the Canadian Television Fund.

The third reason given by the CRTC for rejecting the C.M.E.S. application is that distribution of shows for Alberta and BC would come from Calgary and Vancouver. Production would take place in all fourteen communities covered under the Telus licence, independent shows controlled by residents in those communities, but the CRTC did not consider that to be sufficiently local. Until Terrace and Lethbridge can have a full local schedule financed by local subscribers they can't have anything.

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Venezuela government supports community television in response to “savage” opposition media campaign

In a surprise move, the Venezuela government has donated audio-visual production equipment to 69 community television facilities across the country. The Communication and Information Minister Andres Izarra, speaking to over 400 community television representatives in Caracas, said that community television has a crucial role to play in the struggle for truth. The donation comes in response to what has been described as a “savage” opposition media campaign currently underway by Globovision.

The donation has been well received by community television producers, according to Jhonny Pancho, representative of Catia TV, one of Venezuela's oldest community television stations. As for any perceived influence peddling by the government, Pancho and Caita TV president Gabriel Gil were adamant that community television remains independent of government.

Community television responds to people's needs rather than government needs, said Gil. More than 70 per cent of the programming is produced by community collectives.

Go to venezuelanalysis.com for the more story.

Also, for some background check out Justin Podur's piece on Znet.

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CRTC Awards Compensation to Citizen's Advocacy Group for Cost of Preparing Submission

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has won a major victory for Canadians who want a say in telecommunications policy in Canada. In Telecom Costs Order CRTC 2007-14 issued today, the CRTC upheld PIAC's request for compensation for the preparation of a submission to a public hearing on whether or not to eliminate regulatory constraints on telephone companies' basic rates.

The public hearing (Telecom Public Notice CRTC 2006-10) was instigated in response to a letter from Bell Canada requesting deregulation of basic phone service fees. PIAC was strongly opposed to such a move, and included with its submission a request under s.44 of the CRTC Telecommunications Rules of Procedure for compensation for the costs of preparing its submission. Under s.44, the CRTC can award costs against a regulated company to an intervener who represents a class of subscribers with an interest in the outcome, who has participated in a responsible way, and who has contributed to a better understanding of the issues. The CRTC ordered that PIAC be compensated in the amount of $20,182.74.

Bell Canada (on behalf of itself, Bell Aliant Regional Communications, and Saskatchewan Telecommunications) had argued against the application, suggesting that PIAC had not been responsible, that they had unnecessarily delayed the proceedings and had made unsubstantiated allegations during the hearing. The CRTC found unequivocally that PIAC had participated in a responsible way and had contributed to a better understanding of the issues.

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Our Quebec Friends' View on 2007-10

As many of you may know, there have been community TV organizations operating independently from cable operators in Quebec for much of the history of community TV in Canada. They are represented by the la Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec.

In their own words:

Les télévisions communautaires autonomes sont des organismes à but non lucratif et sont réparties dans 15 des 17 régions du Québec. Distribuées sur le service de câblodistribution de leur région, elles rejoignent jusqu’à 1 400 000 téléspectateurs et téléspectatrices. La Fédération est membre du Réseau québécois de l’action communautaire autonome, du Chantier de l’économie sociale, du CSMO-ÉSAC et de la Corporation de développement communautaire de l’Érable. Le fonctionnement de la Fédération est subventionné par le ministère de la Culture, des Communications et le la Condition féminine du Québec

We'd like to welcome the Fédération and its members as CACTUS contributors and include the following article about the Fédération's reaction to 2007-10. This is reprinted from the Fédération's quarterly "Bulletin", which you can read in full at the Fédération's web site at: www.fedetvc.qc.ca. The current "Bulletin" contains articles about Quebec's bingo laws (member of the member channels subsist in part on bingos), as well as fund-raising activities at some of the member channels. But first, the Fédération on 2007-10:

Une déréglementation majeure des modalités d’exploitation du canal communautaire est à nos portes!

La Fédération est sur un pied de guerre depuis la parution, le 5 avril 2007, de l’Avis d’audience publique de radiodiffusion CRTC 2007-10 portant sur la Révision des cadres de réglementation des entreprises de distribution de radiodiffusion et des services de programmation facultatifs.

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Proposal for a National Public Access Channel

During the recent CRTC “Diversity Hearings”, I realized that

a) a national organization is needed to represent Canadian community television channels, similar to the Alliance for Community Media in the US and the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec and

b) that organization should apply for a license for and administer a national citizen-access channel.

For ten years, the CMES has been the focal point for community television interventions with the CRTC
in English Canada, and the Fédération has represented community TV in Quebec. Although the CMES and the Fédération are on one another’s mailing lists and have exchanged information from time to time, we have not lobbied the CRTC with one voice to date. The differing views that these organizations have on the issue of advertising on the community channel is just one issue on which both parties have been saying different things to our federal regulator (please see the blog below).

A common and stronger front with respect to regulation is just one benefit that a national organization can bring. Others include:

a) help for groups attempting to obtain a new community TV license

b) training and guidance for new community TV license holders

c) on-going professional development for existing community TV license holders

d) a national awards program to stimulate production values and encourage the exchange of programming ideas (such as was formerly provided by the CCTA’s Galaxy awards)

e) the possibility of program bicycling

f) resource sharing, such as the posting of sample license applications and interventions on this web site

g) public-awareness raising about community television and democratic media rights

We hope that with your support, CACTUS will become this organization.

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Victory in Campbell River

The latest just in from Larry Widen and Lance Klaasen in Campbell River, B.C. (for the background to this story, read further down the home page articles):

The CRTV annual general meeting went well.

I sat close to a mike and was able to make two motions that passed by a good majority. The first concerned a letter from Shaw offering to buy CRTV for $3,000 to each subscriber.

MOTION #1

That the letter from Shaw be received and filed with no action taken.

MOTION #2

I move that the owners of CRTV assembled at this 2007 annual general meeting direct the current board of directors, the board of directors elected as a result of nomination accepted at this annual general meeting and all persons employed by CRTV as follows:

That the course of action set out in what has been reported as option #1, to maintain the status quo, and option #3, to sell CRTV, be abandoned and not receive any further consideration in favour of option #2 and aggressively implement a course of action to maintain, improve, enhance and expand services provided by CRTV including community programming to the full extent financially practicable

There were about 450 owners in attendance. Those who wanted their $3,000.00 complained that some who wanted to attend could not get in as there were no more seats. There is a wide range of the counts of how many could not get in. The same people called for a referendum on all three options with no success.

The local chapter of the Council of Canadians organized an information handout as members were entering the theatre relating to Public Notice 2007-10 (paragraph 73). The handout encouraged members to make public submissions to the CRTC to oppose the proposed CRTC deregulation.

Now all that remains is for CRTV is to determine how they will finance the new services needed to keep up with the competition.

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Advertising on the Community Channel

The issue of advertising on the community channel is becoming more and more contentious. Prior to 1997, only sponsorship messages without moving video were allowed. Since 1997, moving video, product placement, and infomercials seem to have become rife on "community TV", particularly corporate-run channels such as Shaw, which use every opportunity to promote their own services.

Most community TV practitioners (and the early legislation) envisioned a non-competitive, educational platform for local voices and issues, free from the need to compete for the dollar. In recent years, however, there has been pressure from two sources to liberalize the restrictions on advertising on the community channel:

1) From the cable operators, who want to be able to turn their 2-5% cable levy contribution to commercial advantage

2) From small independent community TV organizations who have inadequate or no access at all to the 2-5% cable levy ear-marked for community TV

The Dunbar-Leblanc report that was recently filed as part of CRTC policy hearing 2007-10 also recommends that advertising rules on the community channel be liberalized.

Resistance to liberalization of the rules comes from two sources also:

1) From CAB and its member broadcasters, who rightly see advertising on the community channel as competition

2) From community TV practitioners such as myself who worry that liberalizing the rules will not only change the character of community TV programming in the long term to favour more commercial formats that will appeal to larger audiences (and exclude the niche audiences that the channels were designed to serve) but also give the CRTC an excuse to give away the 2-5% of the cable levy for other funding initiatives.

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Dead-line for CRTC 2007-10 Extended to January 25, 2008

The dead-line for comments and replies to comments on CRTC 2007-10 has been extended to January 25, 2008. This has been done because the scope of the CRTC's questions have been expanded to include the issue of must-pay carriage status for over-the-air broadcasters. The broadcasters are asking that they be paid per subscriber by cable operators, similar to specialty channels.

The CRTC is accepting first-round comments on this question until January 25th, and also replies to the first-round of comments on all other issues.

So, if you haven't participated to date, I encourage you to do so now. You can easily formulate a "reply" by commenting on, supporting, or elaborating on other submissions about community TV (and the infamous paragraph 73 suggesting that the requirement that the community TV channel be included on the basic cable tier be removed).

Just go to www.crtc.gc.ca, click on "Policies, Directives", search for 2007-10, scroll to near the bottom, and click on "Interventions Form" to make your comment. It's all automated.

C. Edwards

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The Latest from Campbell River, Vancouver Island

The following letter was submitted by Campbell River, (Vancouver Island) Community TV Technical Foreman to the Campbell River local paper:

Dear readers;

From reading the papers and listening to folks talk lately, I get the feeling that citizens of Campbell River may have recently developed a false impression about the state of CRTV. I would like to dispel some of the misconceptions people might have about the condition of their cable company.

Through talk shows , press releases and letters, certain people may have inadvertently lead the public to believe that our cable company is not worth anything anymore – and if it still is, ‘woe is us’, it won’t be for long!

This could not be further from the truth. If you acquire a copy of the President’s Report for the last 5 or 6 AGM’s, you will find that a pretty rosy picture was being presented over the years – and justifiably so! In the past few years, we’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to speak of the positives regarding CRTV. How could the picture change so dramatically in such a short period of time?

Why would Shaw offer $3000.00 per subscriber for a cable system? That amount speaks volumes to the value of this cable system! Why would they offer this unprecedented amount?

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Winnipeg Free Press Article #2 re. Bumping Community TV Off Basic Cable Tier

What Will Become of Community TV? (Part 2)

If you were following this column 2 weeks ago, you’ll know that for the last 10 years, citizens in Winnipeg have not had access to their “community-access channel” (channel 9). These days, the channel is entirely programmed by Shaw staff, despite CRTC requirements that at least 30-50% of the content be “access programming” (initiated and executed by members of the community at large). Gone are the days of cult shows like Math with Marty, What’s New Pussycat, or the Pollock and Pollock Gossip Show, let alone hours and hours in every genre covering local sports, children’s, multicultural activities and local affairs.

The latest nail in the coffin for community TV is the current CRTC proposal to remove the requirement that the community channel be carried on the basic cable tier. Canada’s Broadcast Act says that there are three tiers in our broadcasting system: public (the CBC and provincial educational broadcasters), private, and community. Since there are so few public and community channels compared to the vast array in the private tier, the few there are should be as widely available as possible; for example, the CBC and provincial educational channels are available over the air as well as through cable and satellite. Ideally, the same would be true of the community channel. When cable was the only game in town, the community channel (the sole representive of that “tier”) was available to most Canadians. Up until 1997, approximately 80% of Canadian homes had at least basic cable service. Since 1997, satellite customers have lost access to the community channel. If the community channel is removed from basic tier, it will become even more of a rare bird, more likely to be neglected by cable operators, and to lose further funding. (Financial support for community channels fell from 5% to 2% in 1997).

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Winnipeg Free Press Article #1 re. Status of Community TV

This article appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press in September. Winnipeg had one of the most active and avant-garde community programming in the country at its height.

"Channel 9 : Take Back the Airwaves!"

Do you remember Wayne’s World? How about the original Tom Green Show? Do you remember when you could tune in to VPW 13 and see interactive programs made by volunteers… shows that recruited cult followings in their time, like Math with Marty, What’s New Pussycat? or the Pollack and Pollack Gossip Show?

If your memory is hazy, it’s because those days are gone. In 1997, the CRTC stopped mandating community access to “community TV channels”. The response by most cable companies, including Shaw, was to kick the public off its channels, and see whether they could be turned to a competitive advantage. Shaw hired professional reporters and came up with their now-familiar newswheel, with a weather strip along the bottom and the same one hour of local news repeated all day. Before the format change, Videon and Shaw aired more than 30 hours a week of volunteer-produced local programming in every imaginable genre, including kids’ shows, pet shows, multicultural shows, music shows (Alternative Rockstand, The Cosmopolitans), sports, variety, and even drama, often showcasing works from the Winnipeg Film Group (Survival, Apocalypse Now).

The other thing that has changed about so-called “community TV” is the ads. Prior to 1997, you could sponsor a program and the community channel and your sponsorship could be acknowledged with a verbal thank you or text credit. You couldn’t show moving video. If you’ve watched channel 10 lately, you’ll know it’s rife with ads and product placement, making it indistinguishable from commercial TV.

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Community TV in Campbell River B.C. Under Threat

Larry Widen of Campbell River, Vancouver Island, submitted this letter to his local paper. It concerns an offer by Shaw (delivered in the form of a letter to every homeowner) to buy the co-op-owned cable system for $3,000 per person. Read on...

THE CRTV QUESTION ~ IT’S ABOUT COMMUNITY PRIDE

I cannot remember the year but it was, I think, in the early 1970s that I had the privilege of serving as the president of CRTV. I am proud that during my term as president the extremely rigid provisions that must be met to sell CRTV were written into the bylaws. I mention this to make it clear that I have a personal and sentimental bias in my arguments that CRTV should remain a community owned and operated enterprise.

To support my argument for continuing with a community owned CRTV it is necessary to take an all too brief and incomplete look at the community spirit that is Campbell River.

· Some fifty years ago a small group set out on an impossible dream to bring cable TV to Campbell River at a time when no private enterprise had any interest in doing so as there was no profit to be made.

· A need for a public boat ramp in Campbell River resulted in a small group doing the organizing, fund-raising and getting the authorization and producing a public boat ramp on the spit.

· Jack Caldwell, the first lawyer to set up a practice in Campbell River, and others worked long and hard to realise their objective of our own hospital for Campbell River.

· In the 50s I recall meeting a chap named Ed Meade who was promoting the establishment of a museum in Campbell River. Today we have a wonderful museum that is second to none.

· Campbell River’s Maritime Center is a tremendous project that has now to be given national status.

· The Rotary Club’s sea walk is a prominent example of what the many Campbell River service clubs have accomplished.

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Submission to the CRTC 2007-10: Keep Community TV in the Basic Cable Package

Here is a copy of my submission to the CRTC's call for comments about removing community television from the basic cable package. The deadline for submitting comments was today. Michael Lithgow

PS. The IMAGE accompanying this blog is from the poster for Too Art for TV, Too.

CRTC October 19, 2007
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N2

Re: CRTC 2007-10 / 2007-10-2

1. I do not want to appear at the hearing.

2. In paragraph 73 the Commission writes that it “considers that it might be appropriate to eliminate the regulatory requirement that the community channel, if offered, be distributed as part of the basic service” and asks for comments.

3 I want to strongly urge the Commission to maintain the current regulatory requirement that the community channel, if offered, be distributed as part of the basic service.

4 Community access television was created in Canada as a way for cable companies to contribute to Canadian culture in return for privileges awarded through telecommunications policies, privileges that have allowed them to grow into some of the largest and most profitable companies in Canada, and into competitive and profitable participants in global markets.

5 The community channel, from its inception, was also intended to play a critical role in the Canadian broadcasting system – in fact, the third part of a three sector system alongside private and public broadcasting, as delineated in s. 3 of the Broadcast Act.

6 The community channel is recognized in s. 3 of the Broadcast Act because of its ability to do what neither the private nor the public aspects of the Canadian broadcasting system can do: namely, allow Canadians to participate in cultural expression through the important medium of cable television and ensure that local expression makes up a part of the cultural reality of Canada’s broadcast system.

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CRTC Proposal Threatens Community Television in Canada

Community access television in Canada is once again at risk of being destroyed as an access medium for the Canadian public. The CRTC wants to remove the community channel from the basic cable package, a move that would, in effect, gut community television as an access medium. Canadians are being urged to write to the CRTC and demand that community television remain in the basic cable package. The deadline for submissions is October 9, 2007.

If you want to respond immediately, here's what to do. Click here, to see the CRTC's call for comments in CRTC 2007-10. Paragraph 73 proposes that community television be removed from the basic cable package. Find paragraph 105 and follow the links to file an electronic response. You can also write your response in a separate file and attach it to your electronic submission.

If you would like to know more about this issue, where to find supporting documents such as existing regulations for community television, or the names of organizations working to save community tv in Canada, keep reading...

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