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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.

4) CACTUS presented a brief before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage regarding the role of and challenges faced by the community sector in an increasingly consolidated media landscape. We focussed both on community channels themselves and on the potential represented by the upcoming digital transition.

Copies of each of these presentations can be found in the Resources section of this web site, or by clicking the highlighted links.

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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.

The Transition to Digital Over-the-Air Television: New Opportunities (.pdf)

This information has been developed and is maintained by volunteers. If you have found it useful, please make a donation to CACTUS.

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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.

Edwards reflected, “What’s particularly sad is how outdated the Commission’s model of community TV is. Approximately 40% of Canadians don’t subscribe to cable, so a cable channel as a digital townhall for Canadians just doesn’t work anymore. We also presented data to show that the majority of the more than 300 unique community channels and studios that once existed on cable have already been closed. This evidence appears to have been ignored. The relatively minor tweaks to the existing policy do nothing to address the closures.”

CACTUS proposed a new model of community broadcasting that would offer access to digital technologies, tools and training in every community across the country, available on all platforms, not just cable. “It’s a real missed opportunity,” said Edwards.

The two apparent improvements to the existing policy are the following:

1) Access Content Minimum Raised

The 2002 policy stipulated that a minimum of 30% of a cable community channel's content must be "access programming". In the new policy, this minimum is 50%, which sounds like a lot more equitable relationship with the cable company, except for these facts:

- The new minimum doesn't take effect for four more years! This is almost unheard of in CRTC policy-making. Policies themselves are supposed to be re-examined every three years, so this renders the change almost meaningless, and also implies that a review can't occur for at least another seven years! Complainants during this year's hearing have effectively been silenced for a long time into the future... a meaningless amount of time in today's fast-changing communications environment.

- The existing 30% minimum was unenforceable. The Commission had audited cable operators from 2002 through 2006, knew the minimum was not being met, yet did nothing. Cable operators routinely classified their own staff-produced magazine programming as "access programming" on the grounds that the ideas for the segments came from the community, and that the community was given air-time in front of the camera talking about their organizations and events.

2) New Definition of "Access Programming"

The new policy attempts to address this problem by defining "access programming" as programming initiated by the community and in which the community plays a creative role on the production team, but that role can still just be an on-camera role. This means that the new-magazine format that most cable companies now favour (over full-length programs produced by volunteers) could still be claimed as "access programming".

- Even if 50% of the programming week is given over to the exhibition of "access programming", the onus is still on the public to monitor and enforce the limit, and the community will always be fighting for control of a channel with a for-profit entity whose priorities are elsewhere.

The Commission has not absorbed the message that "access" to the airwaves is not just about single Canadians getting to make programs here and there. The overall direction of a channel, its mandate, its training and staffing policies--all affect the identity of the channel and its impact and ability to interact with a community's culture on every level. These need to be under the community's control to have a chance of achieving the community's full aspirations. Access TV is meant to be a learning process... it's about media literacy. You can't have a corporation mediating that process on behalf of a community in today's hyper-competitive climate. It is "patronizing", as Commissioner Morin wrote. And with the size of today's cable companies the relationship will always be grotesquely unequal.

Quebec's community producing groups had asked to be given licenses that would put them in equal control of spending and programming decisions with the cable operator (still an uneasy and illogical partnership in a 500-channel universe... is there really not room for both?) and even that was denied.

We can interpret this decision on the part of the Commission as either extremely cynical or extremely naive, or perhaps a peculariarly Canadian weird combination of both. We can either believe that the Commission serves its client license-holders first and foremost (cable companies) and the public whom the Broadcasting Act is meant to serve a distant second (the cynical take), or we can suppose they really believe that it is possible for individual citizens at the community level to share control of a television channel with a national corporation (the naive take).

Or perhaps a third interpretation is the disappointing truth: that the Commissioners just have bigger fish to fry and not much time to spend on this. How many times did they meet since the oral hearing to rewrite the policy? Once maybe? Very little has changed. It's still a long rambling policy with many unclear and apparently contradictory requirements for multiple classes of community licenses, when we had asked for a simple policy with a single over-the-air community-access license class, with mandatory carriage in the basic cable tier, like any other local channel.

In any case, these are the principal new elements to the policy (the Commission did hear our message that there are problems with access), it's just that the Commissioners' proposed solution is to prop up the existing, outdated, and unworkable system. They didn't listen to Canadians on what the solutions should be, despite the fact that the policy is meant to serve us, and we are the ones on the ground who have been experiencing the deficits in the current policy.

They also apparently ignored evidence about the vast number of station closures and the damage done by zone-based licensing, presumably because the only logical solution to that problem is independent over the air truly local channels, and they're not prepared to take away funding from cable companies to do it.

There are a few other tweaks to the policy whose potential impacts we are still discussing. More soon.

Feel free to add your thoughts on the new policy. Anyone can create a membership and post comments at any time.

Cathy Edwards
CACTUS Spokesperson

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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.

Among letters listed individually by the CRTC 1,284 support the current Rogers channel of which 155 are from Mississauga alone, with a further 149 from Toronto. Looking at other BDUs, Cogeco was supported by 473 letters and Shaw had 219. Comment #2024 points out many of the Mississauga letters were aggressively backgrounded by Rogers Mississauga, and the office document enclosed is in fact echoed in many of the Rogers support letters.

33 people wrote in to support the over-the-air model of CFTV in Leamington, Ontario. A further eight wrote in to praise Telile over-the-air broadcasting from Isle Madame, Nova Scotia.

In these comments generally BDUs no longer claim to offer a channel where people produce and control their own information. Of the Rogers support letters on the CRTC site, 636 are from guests on shows while only 75 are from producers and, of those, 32 self-identify as Rogers employees. For Cogeco the figures are 335 guests and 35 producers, ten of whom are staff. Shaw contrasts 175 guests versus 12 producers.

Looking a little deeper at the CRTC published comments, the largest category, 617 comments, simply likes having a local channel. Access is the theme for 315; being able to deliver information to the immediate neighbourhood: 213. 231 letters speak enthusiastically about volunteering as reporters or technicians, or interns from school and university media programs. 219 charities benefit from community TV, several by running TV bingo. Arts, sports, youth, multicultural and small business promotion add a further 516 comments. Of course many letters touch on several topics and choosing the main one is subjective, so these figures can all be seen as minimums. One letter from Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, makes the familiar remark that there would have been even more letters if the CRTC website was easier to navigate.

Council meetings are central for 98 writers. Revenue -- how the channel can be funded -- is the main theme for 77 letters. 130 writers say the community channel is important for access to government. In these three categories slightly over half of the letters come from people working in the public sphere: 39 from representatives at the provincial level, 9 from MPs and 107 from city officials.

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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)

  • The audited systems fared slightly better, although inconsistent logs, missing videotapes and a failure to classify programs as “access” or “licensee produced” was still the norm rather than the exception (including Access, Eastlink, Cogeco, and Rogers).

  • Of the 4 of 8 systems that could be evaluated, Eastlink in Aylesford, NS reported only 16% access programming.

  • Eastlink in Summerside, PEI, classified programs it had obtained from Rogers as “access programming”.

  • Shaw’s Calgary system claimed the segments in its daily newswheel as “access programming” although the auditor notes that there are no volunteer names in the credits.

  • Shaw Burnaby did not classify its programs.

  • Shaw Lethbridge claimed Rogers and Canadian Prostate Cancer Network programs as local programming.

  • Rogers in St. Thomas failed to respond to the Commission’s request for logs.

2004 Audit (April 18-24)

  • Again only half of the audited systems could be evaluated because of logging inconsistencies.

  • Rogers was routinely in non-compliance with both the two-minute per hour maximum for promotions (sometimes exceeding this maximum by as much as 7 minutes) and often doubled the 15-second limit for sponsorship messages.

  • Rogers in Ottawa classified the professionally hosted and produced studio program Talk Ottawa as access programming, “unassisted by the licensee”.

  • Cogeco in Peterboroguh claimed as “local programming” a program that was produced in a different township.

  • Eastlink in Halifax and Sydney, NS reported no access programming, made no distinction between local and regional programming, double-counted some programs as local programming in both licence areas, and played double the length of promotions permitted per hour each day of the audit.

  • Persona in Sudbury claimed its news segments were “access programming” although the auditor notes that there is “no evidence that the producer is not employed by Persona.”

  • Persona in Sudbury played double the amount of allowed promotions each day of the audit and promoted services other than broadcasting.

The auditor for 2004 notes “There does not appear to be any promotion of community access on any of the channels monitored.

2005 Audit Week (April 24-30)

  • Eastlink in Halifax and Sydney classified the same series as access programming in both licence areas.

  • Persona in Sudbury again claimed that its news program was “access”. Persona states in correspondence with the Commission that “community individuals, groups and organizations promote and share their activities and information either by requesting coverage in a segment or an interview”.

  • Persona was again found to be using its community channel to advertise non-broadcasting services, which the company attributed to a “traffic error”.

  • Although Rogers Ottawa classified 64.4% of its schedule as “access programming”, the auditor notes that “access programs” include OHL Hockey, Ottawa Citizen Business Television, and Decorative Paintner, which feature community groups but do not identify the party provided access. When requested by the CRTC to provide the names of the producing parties, Rogers did not respond.

  • Commenting on Shaw Vancouver, the auditor raises questions about multi-segment programs such as The Express and Studio 4, in which segments are claimed as “access” when no volunteer names appear in the credits.

The auditor concludes: “Although Rogers and Shaw may be in compliance with access regulations statistically, their definitions of access are questionable.

Given the inconsistencies in logging and reporting, multiple instances of non-compliance with both access expectations and the level of commercialization of their channels, and the apparent failure of the country’s largest cable companies to address the same violations year after year, CACTUS is surprised that the CRTC ceased auditing cable community channels in 2005, and waited five more years to hold a public hearing.

We also believe that the public has a right to know what has been happening with subscriber fees spent on “community expression” since 2005. It is within the CRTC’s power to request BDU community programming logs for the most recent programming year, and we believe they should be made available for public scrutiny in time for the hearings.

We therefore submitted a final request to the Secretary General of the CRTC on March 2nd, 2010, to request these logs from the BDUs, under section 28 of the BDU regulations, and to make them public on the CRTC’s web site. On April 6th, we received a letter denying this request, on the grounds that “logistical challenges and third-party privacy issues do not make this feasible at this time.”

We would respectfully ask, if not now, in the context of a policy review, then when? Transparency and accountability are fundamental to the creation of broadcasting policy that serves the public interest.

The community-owned and operated solution proposed by CACTUS would answer the needs for both transparcency and accountability, by putting the funds for “community expression” collected from cable subscribers directly in the hands of communities, which would file annual reports on amounts and genres of programming, as well as parties provided access.

Click on the links below to review the full audits provided to CACTUS by the CRTC:

2002 Audit
2003 Audit
2004 Audit
2005 Audit

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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.

Our review of the web sites of the company's largest cable companies supported the view that the majority of programming is staff-produced. The producer contact names given are usually staff names, and employee lists include paid hosts, reporters, and producers.

Before the community sector was deregulated in 1997, the cable staff of community TV channels were usually called "co-ordinators", "facilitators", or "community animators". Their role in supporting the community to produce content for itself was clear.

In the 1980s, CRTC documents reported the existence of 294 distinct community TV channels in Canada. That number has been steadily declining, probably because of the zone-based approach to cable licensing that has been adopted by the CRTC, which has allowed cable service areas to be consolidated.

The good news is, that for no new cost, and by leveraging the power of communities to program for themselves once more, hyper-local community content can once more be created by every community... coast to coast.

Click here for the CACTUS proposal for 21st-Century Community Broadcasting at NO NEW COST.

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21st Century Community Broadcasting at NO NEW COST

CACTUS unveils its plan for 21st century broadcasting, at NO NEW COST. For a quick summary, financials, and FAQs, see 21st-Century Community Broadcasting at NO NEW COST.

For more background, see A New Vision for Community TV, on the Navigation bar to the left.

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Support Community Media Now!

The dead-line for public comment for the CRTC public notice of consultation 2009-661 is now closed.

Thank you for everyone who took the time to support the call for a return to community access in our country--and more specifically--to the vision of community media access production and distribution centres in every town, run by communities themselves.

Over 2000 of you supported this message, whether by endorsing the CACTUS campaign letter and requests, or by adding your own comments and experiences where you live.

There may be other ways that you can help and increase the chance that the dream of open access for everyone and in every community can become a reality as we approach the hearings, so stay tuned!

The CACTUS Team

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CACTUS Requests Basic Information to Be Made Available to Public about Community TV

Since the notice of the CRTC policy review of the community TV sector was posted on October 22nd, CACTUS has been trying to stimulate genuine debate about the future of the sector that would include input from a broad cross-section of Canadians.

The two major stumbling block have been:

1) The lack of information in the public notice itself. All it says about the current community TV channels on cable is that there are 139 in the country: nothing about where they are, who runs them, nor how much access programming they do.

CACTUS has now submitted six different Access to Information request trying to find out whether the sector is living up to its current policy mandate. The CRTC required cable operators to keep logs of the number of hours of access programming that they do, the titles of the programs, and the names of parties provided access, to enable the Commission to monitor performance. We were therefore surprised that none of this information had been offered in the public notice, but even more surprised when the CRTC informed us that since 1990, it has never once asked cable operators to see this information. We were puzzled, as we had heard anecdotally that various cable companies had been audited over the years for compliance.

Since cable companies are required to keep these logs for 12 months, our latest request to the CRTC is that they ask for these most recent logs to be made available before the hearings, to enabel Canadians to objectively assess whether the goals of the community TV policy as stated in public notice 2009-661 are being met. We are still waiting to hear.

2) The failure of publicity for the hearings themselves. We wrote and requested the CRTC four times to ask that community channels themselves be required to run neutral notices to inform the public that the review is going on. We finally found out that the CRTC had passed on our request to cable companies, but only Rogers replied. Unfortunately, Rogers' proposed wording for this notice is highly prejudicial. It does not refer to the channel's access mandate, and repeatedly refers to the channel as "Rogers TV", as if it is part of Rogers' business brand, rather than a public service.

As neither of these issues has been addressed, we remain deeply concerned that most Canadians will not have the information they need to participate meaningfully in hearings that will decide the future of the one part of broadcasting system over which they are meant to have direct input and control.

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CACTUS Weights In on Fee for Carriage and the Digital Transition

CACTUS participated in both hearings regarding the value-for-signal hearings (both the CRTC's own deliberations in November as well as the government-ordered collection of Canadian public feedback that occurred in December).

We had three messages:

1) We supported the principal of broadcasting distribution undertakings (cable, satellite, your phone company) compensating over-the-air broadcasters for their content. (Up until now, cable companies like Rogers and Shaw pay specialty channels such as Discovery and US channels like PBS for the right to include them in cable service tiers, but not Canadian over-the-air channels such as CTV or the CBC.) We supported this concept provided that over-the-air community TV channels are included. The rationale for paying for Canadian over-the-air services is to help finance local content. Since the community sector is cabable of generating more volume of local content than any other, it is logical and fair.

2) We proposed that there by reserved and protected over-the-air frequencies for community use through the transition to digital. The community sector currently is not being taken into account in the digital allotment plan and may not be able to get on air in larger urban areas without specific set-asides.

3) Since the community sector is interested to acquire transmission equipment that might fall into disuse if public and private sector broadcasters pull out of smaller communities after the transition to digital, we proposed that community license-holders could continue to maintain transmitters for remote signals from the public and private sectors so that these communities can continue to receive free over-the-air TV. Many smaller communities across the country already offer this service to residents.

Click here for the transcript the Nov. 25th CACTUS presentation.

Click here for the transcript of the Dec. 7 CACTUS presentation.

In both cases, use Edit->Find "CACTUS" to scroll down to our presentation.

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CACTUS Gets Press in MediaCaster and TechMedia Reports

The CRTC public notice has been posted for the community television review. You can read it at:

http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2009/2009-661.htm

As with most policy reviews, the Commission poses specific questions. We will be posting an analysis of what the questions mean this week and next, as it's not always obvious, even if you are familiar with previous hearings and the minutiae of CRTC policy.

In the mean time, the press for the hearings has begun. CACTUS was quoted in both MediaCaster last week at:

http://www.mediacastermagazine.com/issues/ISarticle.asp?aid=1000345465&PC=

and (incorrectly) by TechMedia Report at:

http://www.techmediareports.ca/reports/content/10001-municipalities_should_have_a_bigger_say_in_how_community_channels_are_managed_cactus

(CACTUS spokesperson, Cathy Edwards, did not in fact propose that boards of independent community TV channels should be appointed by municipalities or locally elected officials, although municipality representation and support will be important.)

If you have press contacts that could give exposure to CACTUS' proposals for a revitalized independent community television sector, please contact us (see the About page). We need to encourage as many individual Canadians and community organizations that have used community channels to publicize their activities and events to intervene with their views at the hearings.

Thanks!

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Knight Commission Presents Report to FCC Head: Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy

The widely respected Knight Commission presented its report "Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy" to the FCC on Oct. 2, 2009.

The report closely echoes CACTUS' own proposals "Community Media and Technology Centres" to enable citizens to actively participate in public discourse. Like CACTUS, the report writers suggest that these centres could be built on to existing facilities central to communities, such as libraries.

The report also recommends public financial support for these centres, and that access to information and to the means of PRODUCING information is as important to the healthy functioning of communities as "clean air, safe streets, good schools, and public health".

For the full report, see http://www.knightcomm.org/

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Tyee Publishes Story on W2 Multimedia Access Centre in Vancouver

They Tyee on-line newspaper recently published the following story about Vancouver's new W2 multimedia-access centre.

A New Vision for Community TV
Centres like Vancouver's W2 promise a more democratic way to create televised media.

By Steve Anderson and Michael Lithgow, 2 Oct 2009, TheTyee.ca

Giving citizens access to digital tools.

TV is dying. What will replace it?

The Net Reboots Cinema
How long until films are wired straight into our minds?

How We Can Reinvent TV
The web now allows us to bypass the studios. At last, artists will run the shows.

Unbeknownst to most Canadians, cable companies and local community groups have been wrestling for control over community channel assets: the community groups want space on the TV dial and production resources; the cable companies want to call the shots, control the programming, and move their community channels in the direction of commercial television. Approximately $80 million collected annually from Canadians and earmarked for community programming, is at stake.

Meanwhile, the digital revolution is transforming citizens into media producers and every home computer into a virtual television station. In such a radically altered media environment, the question remains: what will community TV be in the 21st century?

Community television is a throwback to a time when cable technology was new and the web was not yet born. It allowed anyone to create a program that could be seen on cable. Community television was the YouTube of its day; but things have changed. Downloading and streaming have precipitated a complicated restructuring of the television industry, brought on in part by new viewing habits. Traditional TV now seems to be on the wane.

But there are some things that are harder for the Internet to replace. Most television takes more than one person to make. The Internet cannot replace the studio space, hands-on training and possibilities for in-person collaboration and mentorship that community television allowed for. And it won't replace the sense of place provided by a community production studio; a space where people can gather, work, learn and create together.

We are at a critical moment when traditional media ownership is more concentrated than ever, and yet we have perhaps the most participatory medium in history at our fingertips. As such, citizens need access to media literacy, knowledge and media production skills more than ever before. And Community Media Centres -- modeled on the idea of recreation centres and local libraries -- may be a crucial piece of the digital divide puzzle.

The physical rendering of the Internet

The Internet has become an engine of innovation, choice and free expression because it is a relatively open platform for citizen engagement and free enterprise. This open platform facilitates free association and collaboration, which then produces exciting projects like Wikipedia, Firefox, and citizen-powered events like ChangeCamp.

As noted in previous columns, various projects in the "terrestrial" world are integrating web practices and values like transparency, openness and participatory decision making, into their work. The new push by groups in many cities to revamp community media centres looks to be part of this larger process of physically rendering the Internet.

Community Media Centres are attracting interest because they are in many ways, a physical mirror image of the Internet. If nothing else, Community Media Centres are an open platform for citizen collaborations of all types. Take a look at the description of soon-to-be launched W2 Community Media Centre in Vancouver:

"W2 will bring together hybrid art forms, community art practices, individual human development and community cultural development in a single environment. It will be home to a diverse grouping of Vancouver arts and community service organizations offering developmental programs in writing, radio and television production, painting, sculpture, photography, mixed media, video and cross-media."

Like the Internet, W2 will allow community members to engage at a level with which they are comfortable, and to freely develop their own ambitions and capacities. The Internet is nothing if not an online space where intrinsic motivation and open communication encourage and enable personal and collective exploration, collaboration and creativity. Community Media Centres could be the offline world equivalent of this open space, or rather a site where the offline and online can effortlessly merge. They are, in a sense, the next phase of social media, bringing to life the collaborative potential of the Internet in physical production spaces that mirror the complicated technological capacities of commercial studios.

Allocating community funds to communities

This fall, the CRTC will reconsider the role of community television in Canada. And they will ask Canadians what should happen with community channel policy. CACTUS (the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations), an innovative group based in Ottawa, is putting forward a proposal for community channel money to be used to create community media centres across the country.

CACTUS is proposing that a portion of the $80 million allocated to community channels be used to create a fund that community groups can apply to set up community media centres. The centres will provide training, equipment and may even acquire community broadcast licenses for radio or television. They would offer facilities for sound recording, television production, web design, broadband streaming and share resources with other community organizations that specialize in communications, for example, community newspapers, libraries, and theatres.

The best part of the plan is that this money is already being spent by cable companies. With CACTUS's proposal, Canadians won't have to pay another dime -- the media centre proposal will tap into funding that is already available.

The offline web

With the popularization of the Internet, it was only a matter of time before people figured out that online practices and values can have a place in our offline world. The beginning of what might be a long bleed of practices and values to the terrestrial may have begun with growing interest in participatory events. But why stop there?

As the desire for open systems and practices gains momentum, we can look to these and other hubs of open collaboration as an exciting new social nexus. A network of networks, you might say, much like the Internet.

Michael Lithgow is the co-founder of CACTUS, research associate at OpenMedia.ca, and a long-time community television advocate and organizer from Vancouver now living in Montreal. He was one of the founding directors of ICTV on the West Coast, former member of the Cue Up collective at Video In. He is currently a PhD student at Carleton University.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for OpenMedia.ca. He is a contributing author of Censored 2008 and Battleground: The Media and has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times, Common Ground, Rabble.ca and Adbusters.

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"La Television des Iles" Crippled Before It Hits the Air

The latest just in from Les Iles de la Madeleine:

"La Television des Iles" is the first instance in Canada of an independent "community programming service" that qualifies and was awarded the 5% cable levy in the absence of a cable-company operated community channel. Eastlink Cable had committed to paying the new channel the levy until the announcement of 2009-544 on the 31 August, which exempts systems under 20,000 subscribers from seeking licenses, and by extension, from obligations for local expression. The previous limit had been 6,000, and before that 2,000. The change is presumably part of the CRTC's drift toward increasing deregulation, and an example of how the fate of community television continues to be determined by cable industry market conditions and regulations. Here's the original in French:

"Îles-de-la-Madeleine, 9 septembre 2009 – Diffusion communautaire des Îles réagit à la décision du CRTC 2009-544 rendu public le 8 septembre 2009 qui énonce une nouvelle ordonnance d’exemption pour les entreprises terrestres de distribution de radiodiffusion desservant moins de 20 000 abonnés. Les câblodistributeurs ne sont donc plus tenus de consacrer 5% de leurs revenus nets à la programmation canadienne depuis le 31 août 2009.

Suite à cette nouvelle réglementation du CRTC, le câblodistributeur Eastlink a décidé de se retirer du projet de relance de la télévision communautaire des Îles réduisant considérablement son budget de fonctionnement annuel.

Par conséquent, Diffusion communautaire des Îles se voit dans l’obligation d’annuler le lancement officiel de la programmation prévu ce soir à la Galerie Bar Spectacle les Pas Perdus. Au cours des prochaines semaines, le conseil d’administration évaluera les différentes options possibles concernant le manque à gagner et même l’avenir de TVI, la télévision des Îles."

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