A Bigger Shaw Communications Must Support Real Community and Local TV: Advocates

Ottawa (November 2, 2010) Community and local TV advocates have asked Shaw and the CRTC on three occasions recently to ensure that Canada’s broadcast system remains open to public participation and local content production. As one of Canada’s largest and most highly vertically integrated media companies, Shaw Communications plays a large role in Canada’s media landscape.

"Broadcasting in Canada is changing fast and Shaw is leading the charge," explains Catherine Edwards, the spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS). "In exchange for using a limited public resource—the airwaves—the company needs to respect the priorities of Canadians, especially with regard to local content."

CACTUS intervened at the license renewals for Shaw cable systems in September, calling for Shaw to reopen approximately 40 community-access studios that the company has closed across Western Canada since the 1990s. "There used to be twelve neighbourhood offices in the Vancouver area alone where the public could borrow equipment and create programs," says Richard Ward of the Community Media Education Society. "Now there’s just one." Providing community access has long been a requirement of cable operators and their performance is reviewed during license renewals. The CRTC’s decision is pending.

The CRTC did approve Shaw’s purchase of Canwest Global’s TV stations and specialty channels last week, subject to a requirement to upgrade all of Global’s over-the-air transmitters to digital within five years, including 67 in smaller communities in BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia. The ruling also requires Shaw to offer space on Global transmission towers to other local and community broadcasters on a cost-recovery basis.

"While we think the CRTC should have gone further and ordered Shaw to share the new digital transmitters with other broadcasters in order to provide a true public benefit—especially public, provincial and community stations—this is a start," says Canadian Media Guild spokesperson Karen Wirsig.

"It’s vital that local access to over-the-air transmission facilities be maintained, so that residents can continue to receive local channels for free and have the possibility of programming their own content, whether for TV, radio, wireless Internet, text or other mobile services," adds Edwards of CACTUS. "Access to the towers and sites is a start. Access to the digital transmitters would have removed the final cost barrier for future innovation by communities."

CACTUS also opposed the application by Shaw’s subsidiary, Corus, for a chain of local weather and information channels to be called Local1, on the grounds that they too closely resemble Shaw’s community channels. "Shaw has been repurposing its community channels for more than a decade," Edwards notes. "They present exactly the kind of looping weather and short community news hits as are proposed in the Local1 application. These channels were meant to be open access platforms. We have asked the CRTC to return them to the community."

Contacts: Catherine Edwards, CACTUS (819) 772-2862.