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