January 13, 2010: CACTUS Questions CRTC’s Decision to Deny Canadians Information about Community TV

CACTUS Questions CRTC’s Decision to Deny Canadians Information about Community TV

Ottawa (January 13, 2009) The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) fears that the CRTC’s failure to provide adequate information about community TV threatens meaningful participation by Canadians in the CRTC’s review of this element of our broadcasting system. “The community sector is the only part of the broadcasting system that is directly accessible to the Canadians, and this is its first review by the CRTC in eight years,” said spokesperson Cathy Edwards. “The lack of publicity by the CRTC about this important hearing along with the absence of meaningful and objective data, together deny Canadians the opportunity to understand how $116 million dollars that cable subscribers paid for community TV in 2008 alone, were actually spent.”

While the CRTC’s current rules require radio and TV stations to broadcast neutral information when their licences are being renewed, there are no rules about hearings like the April 2010 community TV policy review. “Since its call for comments on community TV was first published on its website in late October, we’ve been asking the CRTC to require cable companies to publicize this hearing with an objective notice on community channels themselves. After our fourth request, the CRTC finally passed it on to Canada’s largest cable companies—but so far only one has responded. And its proposed wording describes community channels as ‘Rogers TV’ without mentioning the channels’ true mandate—to provide communities with access to the broadcasting system, not to be part of a cable company’s brand or business.”

“Even if Canadians could find the CRTC’s community TV policy hearing notice,” Edwards went on, “they wouldn’t find any useful data in it.” The notice mentions that there are 139 cable-run community channels in Canada, but not where they are located nor how much community-access programming they provide. “More surprising still,” said Edwards, “is that even though the CRTC’s own regulations require cable companies to keep logs about communities’ access to the channels to permit it to assess how well its community TV policy is working, the CRTC has admitted to us that it has never asked for this information.”

While the CRTC’s website claims it undertakes “ongoing financial and corporate monitoring of the communications industries” [1] the CRTC has never asked cable companies what they have done with $680 million they have collected from subscribers since 2002 and claim to have spent on community TV channels. “How can the CRTC assess what is happening in the broadcasting system,” Edwards asked, “if it doesn’t ask for the basic programming and expenditure data it requires broadcasters and cable companies to collect?”

Edwards noted that the CRTC has also denied requests that CRTC staff attend community meetings to inform the public about its community TV policy and the April hearing. “How can Canadians comment intelligently on this issue,” Edwards asked, “when the federal regulatory agency that is supposed to be monitoring Canadian broadcasting won’t meet with Canadians where they live, doesn’t publicize the hearings, and doesn’t bother to collect basic information about communities’ access to their own channels?”

In the hope of prompting action from the CRTC, CACTUS will file its sixth access to information request with the Commission this week, this time asking the CRTC to obtain cable companies’ community-access data for the most recent programming year (cable companies are required to keep it for one year) and to publish it in time for the April 26th hearing. If the CRTC makes this crucial information available, CACTUS will be supporting Rogers Cable’s request that the CRTC delay the current deadline for comments in response to Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2009-661 from February 1st, to March 15, 2010, so as to give Canadians adequate time to review and respond to this new and important information.

For more information, see the CACTUS web site at: www.cactusmedia.ca.

The CRTC’s notice is available at: http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2009/2009-661.htm

Contact: Catherine Edwards, (819) 772-2862

[1] See: http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/pol/pdr-epr2.htm