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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.

7 The Commission has recognized over the years -- and it is widely recognized among experts in telecommunications in Canada - that the private and public aspects of the broadcasting system are structurally disposed to certain kinds of exclusions; that is, there are aspects of Canada’s diverse cultural reality that do not appear in the commercial broadcasting system. Perhaps most glaringly, there is a chronic and ongoing lack of local cultural and public affairs programming. Commercial broadcasters and the public broadcaster consistently make cuts from local coverage first. It is expensive to produce: broadcasters’ economies of scale make it attractive to produce programming centrally and re-distribute geographically. One regional newscast reproduced a dozen times is much less expensive to organize than a dozen local news casts.

8 And while such a model of centralized regional programming serves the needs of broadcasters, Canadians and the Commission must ask if this serves the needs of Canadians. Are broadcaster needs synonymous with community needs, when it comes to the Canadian broadcasting system?

9 Community television is recognized as the third pillar in the Canadian broadcasting system because it provides a solution to this structural problem. If broadcaster economies favour centralized regional programming and dis-favour local cultural expression, then community television provides a system-wide balancing mechanism than ensures that Canadians will have access both to the means of contributing to Canadian culture through broadcast and cable technologies and also to viewing and consuming local and diverse forms of cultural expression.

10 Community access television is not a specialty channel – it has a different legislative history whose roots are found firmly in the public policy concern for balance and diversity within the Canadian broadcasting system and mass media’s role in Canadian democratic society. This is altogether different from, say, the pet channel or science fiction channel. People watch community programming largely because it is there – they discover it when flipping through the dials, and are pleased or surprised or intrigued by the unique form and local content of what makes up most community programming.

11 Specialty channels attract viewers by competing in commercial markets using the tools of market competition, i.e. marketing and promotion. Community access channels do not have the resources or the expertise to promote their services, nor would this be an appropriate use of community channel money – resources that are earmarked to facilitate community participation. The point of community access television, what makes it the third pillar of the Canadian broadcast system, is that it is not organized within the commercial framework. Community programming is intended to complement not replicate commercial programming. If community television is required to compete on commercial terms, it will inevitably come to resemble commercial programming. Community television serves the structural weaknesses in the commercial framework that tend to result in the exclusion of local reflection and expression, and to narrow the cultural and social diversity that eventually makes its way into programming.

12 The removal of the community channel from the basic cable package (where offered) will for all intents and purposes restructure community access television into community specialty television. Mass distribution is the cornerstone of community access television’s effectiveness in maintaining healthy and diverse informational and cultural flows of local expression in the Canadian broadcasting system.

Thank you.

END OF DOCUMENT

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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...

Cable companies are currently required to include community television with every cable service they provide. In places like Vancouver and Quebec and across Canada, communities produce programming that provides local coverage, that celebrates local artists, that can challenge political and corporate status quos, and which tells stories from diverse perspectives many of which wold otherwise be excluded from the commercial system. This is why community television in Canada is often referred to as 'access television'. By forcing cable companies to carry the community channel, Canadians are guaranteed access both to the means of producing television programs that express unique and often marginalized perspectives, and to the means of distributing those programs to mass audiences. Canadians watch community television in part because it's there - they discover it when flipping through their channels. TV listings rarely if ever list community channel programs.

Throughout it's history, and under existing regulations (see CRTC Public Notice 2002-61, community television was mandated to make programming that complements -- not replicates -- commercial programming. This is a crucial distinction. Asking community channels to compete with specialty channels for subscriber support would force community volunteers to make decisions based on market feedback. This is not only next to impossible for volunteer run organizations without resources, but if it was possible, it would transform community programming into exactly what it is not supposed to be: programming whose existence is directly linked to audience share.

Community access television was created to ensure diversity in the Canadian broadcasting system in full recognition that commercial television and cable markets DO NOT ensure diversity. In fact, they work against it, naturally excluding voices that lack access to the means of learning production skills, access to equipment, or access to the kinds of cultural, economic and political power generally required to make television and have it distributed in a commercial market. The destructive tendency of the telecommunications industry to exclude voices that do not have ties to the corridors of political and economic power and to exclude voices that are critical of those same powerful groups, was effectively mitigated by (i) requiring cable companies to provide training, access to production facilities, and distribution of programming; and (ii) by ensuring that every household that received cable also received these local programs. Community television has never been about market share (although it is widely watched across Canada); rather, it is about democratic necessity -- the necessity of ensuring that the television programming available to Canadians reflects the diversity of Canadian society.

Community television is recognized under s.3(b) of the Broadcasting Act as the third element of the Canadian broadcasting system, alongside private and public broadcasting. Under current regulations, cable companies must share production resources with Canadians, create volunteer opportunities, provide technical training, and fill up to 50% of their community channels with independent community programs. There is no other means of ensuing that community voices will be heard through the culturally powerful medium of cable television in Canada.

If you would like more information, here are the names of a few groups working to keep community television alive in Canada.

CMES Community Media Education Society

ICTV Independent Community Television Cooperative

IMAA Independent Media Arts Alliance

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Pirate TV Station in Toronto Challenges CRTC

In a recent press relase, Jan Pachul, creator of Star Ray TV has thrown a gauntlet down at the feet of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. Accusing the CRTC of corruption after 10 years of trying to get a license for a low-power community station, Star Ray TV is on the air and broadcasting in Toronto, Canada without a license.

According to Pachul, the CRTC will not grant a hearing to ask the public if they support Star Ray's application for a low-power community license in the Toronto area -- a refusal that Pachul says goes against a 1971 Supreme Court of Canada decision affirming an applicant's statutory right to a hearing when an application is filed with the CRTC. Says Pachul: "Past CRTC actions in regards to Star Ray could best be described as shameless bald-faced fraud. These actions include returning our application as "incomplete" over a year after we answered all deficiency" questions, manufacturing a complaint using a fictitious person, taking almost one year to answer correspondence, inventing a regulation to stop the processing of our application, violating our privacy rights, in sum denying Star Ray TV any due process to become a legitimate station."

Pachul's complaints against the CRTC are not limited to his own community license stand-off. Pachul also recently accused the CRTC Diversity" Hearings scheduled for next week as being "a charade that they have put on to mask the truth that the big private broadcasters effectively control them."

The volunteer run Star Ray TV offers viewers local event coverage, a weekly forum discussing Toronto issues, local sports, and programming provided by Canadian producers. Star Ray also distributes on the internet supplying over 50 channels of international radio and streaming video programming including Star Ray TV and SR Music, a radio station uniquely programmed by the listeners through a web interface. These free channels can be accessed through the tobradcast.com website.

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Fearless TV: Television from Canada’s Poorest Neighbourhood

Fearless TV was born in the poverty and resilience of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES), Canada’s poorest and most vulnerable neighbourhood. Occupying a 25 block radius a little east of Vancouver’s business district, the DTES is home to over 5,000 intravenous drug users, and staggering levels of poverty, HIV infection rates, and social malaise. But it is also home to a vibrant creative community of residents, activists and artists. Fearless TV is television made in the DTES by people who live and work there.

The show was created on the heels of television activism workshops offered this Spring and last Fall by local organizer Sid Tan, founder of Access TV and long time community television activist. Tan explained that the workshops were designed to introduce people to community television and how to use it as a tool for social and political change. The response was so positive, they decided to make a show.

Fearless TV brings together creative resources from a number of community groups -- the DTES Community Arts Network (DTES-CAN), des media, Access TV and Gallery Gachet. Together, they are working to share the stories and points of view of the people who live in the DTES with the wider community.

The first episode was made in a month and shot on location at Gallery Gachet. In it, Sid Tan talks to Diane Thorn Jacobs, a member of the galleryabout its mission and activities. Carolyn Wong talks with David Eby, a lawyer withPivot Legal Society and author of a report on homelessness and housing in the DTES. Patricia Kelly talks to Paul Taylor, local resident and occupant of an SRO (Single Room Occupancy), the small and usually neglected hotel rooms that most resident live in. Sid Tan talks to Terry Hunter of Vancouver Moving Theatre about upcoming We're All In This Together, a project about addiction and recovery. And Paul Ryan talks with Kim Kerr, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Residents' Association (DERA).

The show has its debut airing on April 4 at 8 pm (cable 4) in the Lower Mainland.

Fearless TV isn’t available online yet, but to find out when it will be, or for more information, contact Sid Tan at accesstv[at]telus.net.

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How Much Money Did They Make? The CRTC Releases Its Annual Report On Television In Canada

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has tallied up the winnings, I mean, earnings of the television industry for 2006...

Canadian conventional television stations generated $2.2 billion in revenue in 2006. National advertising remained steady at $1.5 billion. Local advertising increased 3.4% to $375.4 million. Profitability, however, declined from $242 million industry-wide to $91 million according to the report.

Other interesting tidbits include:

Spending on foreign programming increased 12.2% from $613.2 million in 2005 to $688.3 million in 2006.

Spending on Canadian programming increased 6.3% from $587 million in 2005 to $623.7 million in 2006 (including $144.7 million for independently produced material, up from $138.5 million in 2005).

Genre expenditure breakdowns include: $328.1 million for news programs; $101.6 million on general interest programming; $73.9 million on drama; $66.3 million for other information programs; $35 million for musical and variety shows; $9.3 million for sports; and $5.7 million for game shows.

The industry employed 8,197 people in 2006.

To read the report go here. For more information, go the CRTC’s website.

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Tectonic Plates Shifting Under Cable Services (Community Access Still Protected, At Least For Now)

The CRTC is reassessing what basic cable means in preparation for the digitalization of the television industry in 2010. What is at stake are millions of dollars in revenues for broadcasters and how we organize and define what channels are "selected" for the least expensive cable service, the basic package.

Details of the hearing are expalined in Broadcast Notice 2007-1, items 7-18. In a nutshell, what is being determined in part is who gets to be included in the cable "basic package" (the question of why we have a "basic package" is not on the table). It is a money question. For every cable subscriber who receives a channel, the channel gets a fee. For example, the Weather Network gets 23 cents each month per subscriber. With 12 million subscribers, it collects about $2.76-million monthly. If your channel is in the basic package, everyone in Canada who has cable is a subscriber. Community channels are currently included in the basic package, but do not receive subscriber fees.

How channels are selected for inclusion in the basic cable package is a bit of black box magic and a bit of legislation. Some criteria are set out in the Broadcasting Act. For example, the Act states that subscribers should have access to a basic service that: (1) fosters the growth of Canada’s cultural, social, economic and political aims; (2) is varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information and entertainment programming, at an affordable cost; (3) is drawn from local, regional, national and international sources; (4) includes educational and community programs; and (5) reflects and contributes to Canada’s linguistic duality and ethno-cultural diversity, including the special place of Aboriginal peoples in Canadian society.

So. The CRTC is challenging the inclusion of some channels while preserving the status of others. MuchMusic, CBC Newsworld, Le Réseau de l’information (RDI), TV5, Vision TV, VRAK-TV, The Weather Network/Météomédia and YTV are having their basic package status threatened. Canada's national networks, major U.S. networks and local cable access channels are not having their status questioned. Hearings begin on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 in Gatenau, Quebec to sort out which of the challenged stations should get to stay.

For more information, contact your local CRTC office and pester them with questions. This is something that all Canadians should have a say in. But because of the CRTC's Byzantine protocols, limited promotion of opportunities for public participation, and the complexity of the language generally used in CRTC public notices, the public will likely be unrepresented at the hearings.

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