CACTUS asks CRTC to reject Shaw takeover of community owned cable cooperative

The deadline for intervening in Shaw's attempt to takeover Campbell River Television was today. CRTV is one of Canada's few remaining community owned cable cooperatives. The takeover has split the community and called into question how non-commercial media organizations are regulated.

Amidst accusations of regulatory non-compliance and possible illegality, intervenors from across Canada have been demanding that the takeover be stopped.

What follows is the CACTUS submission.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Re: Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2008-1187-9
Shaw Cablesystems Application to buy CRTV (Campbell River Television)

Dears Sirs and Mesdames,

1)I am writing on behalf of the Canadian Association for Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), which is building a bilingual national membership of independent community television channels, cable co-op community television channels, some (typically smaller) private cable companies that still practice community access television, and the public who uses and watch them.1 In preparing this intervention, CACTUS consulted members of the “Save CRTV” committee in Campbell River, and draws on the expertise of:

Catherine Edwards, who has travelled the globe researching models of community-access television during the shooting of the documentary series My TV, Your TV, Our TV.

Michael Lithgow, whose masters thesis developed a framework for assessing the effectiveness of community access television channels.

Members of the Community Media Education Society and Independent
Community TV of Vancouver, who have for ten years tenaciously continued to operate an independent community TV corporation despite enormous legislative and financial difficulties.

The Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec, the professional association representing 40 independent community television channels in Quebec.

St. Andrews Community Television in New Brunswick, holders of one of the 2002-61 low-power community broadcasting licenses.

2)CACTUS would like to oppose this sale on two grounds:

That Shaw is mismanaging cable levy funds held in trust on behalf of the public and knowingly misinterpreting the spirit and application of the community channel guidelines as stipulated in CRTC policy directive 2002-61, and the previous policy directives respecting the community channel on which 2002-61 is based. Given that CRTV is one of the few remaining true community-access television channels in English Canada, we feel that it would be a shame to see its management pass to Shaw, with a resulting likely loss of access and community control (a loss for local residents) and the resulting loss of a functioning model of community access television from which the decimatd community sector can be rebuilt in the future (a loss for Canada). Given that the CRTC has acknowledged problems in the sector and has committed to a review in 2009, we feel that any change in ownership in the interim which could further weaken the status of community access television channels should be put on hold.

That there are significant irregularities in the sale process as conducted by the current board of CRTV and Shaw. The issue of this sale has been hotly debated in the Campbell River community and press all summer, with much information being distributed in the community to a) scare the community into selling and b) offer financial incentives to the community to sell which are contrary to the BC Societies Act and the CRTV’s own constitution.

3) This intervention is therefore presented in two sections,. The information in the first section, which relates to Shaw’s fitness to operate a community-access television channel, is the same information that CACTUS submitted to CRTC public notice 2008-38, in which Shaw applied to renew licenses for its Western cablesystems.

4) The information in the second section comments on the process of the proposed sale and the turmoil it has caused in the community of Campbell River. In preparing this information, CACTUS consulted members of an ad-hoc “Save CRTV Committee” (composed of Campbell River community members and past CRTV board members and managements staff concerned about the sale process, who are also intervening to this process). CACTUS independently verified all claims made by members of this ad hoc committee by consulting original documents on the CRTV web site, the web sites of the town’s two newspapers, and the BC Government. Extracts and links to the key documents are provided either within the text of this document or in footnotes.

5) CACTUS’ comments are intended to support the interventions of Campbell River residents opposed to the sale, validate their findings, and put their struggle both into a national context and in the context of next year’s proposed review of the Canadian community TV sector.

SUMMARY OF SHAW’S RECORD MANAGING COMMUNITY TELEVISION CHANNELS

6) Shaw has been ignoring community channel policy related to:

the airing of access programming
the training of the public
access by the public to equipment and technial support for the production of access programming

on its community channels for over ten years.

7) Instead of respecting the spirit of the guidelines, which are meant to engender “high levels of citizen participation” and to enable communities to express themselves, Shaw has been increasingly commercializing its channels (as supported by the CRTC’s own findings in 2008-38), taking control of program production out of the hands of the community, and striving to immitate commercial production formats to win the maximum revenue possible through sponshorship and advertising. The result is so-called “community programming” that is unrecognizable compared to the collaborative, interactive community programming that this same company did up until 1997. The programming produced today is almost indistinguishable from that produced by commercial local broadcasters.

8) Not only has the character of programming changed in ten years, but also the volume. Because of the reliance on staff to produce programming and the exclusion of community volunteers, the volume has dropped from in excess of 35 hours of programming a week in major centres in every conceivable genre (from community news magazine, to local sports, to children’s and senior’s programming, to drama production, to self-help shows, to interactive live phone-in issues shows) to little more than a CNN-style hour-long newswheel per day that repeats all day long, in urban centres that are already well-served by multiple local television news services. So, aside from the loss of citizen access, community channels have lost most of the advantages they used to offer in terms of quantity local origination. In using volunteer labour from a wide cross-section of the community, they used to be able to produce high-volume, multi-genre programming reflecting true diversity. Because today’s “community channel” imitates commercial production formats and operations, it has fallen prey to the same resource limitations and competitive considerations that limit the depth, breadth, and diveristy of programming in the commercial sector.

9) While I have less direct experience of the operation of community channels in Shaw’s smaller systems, I know from video interviews I conducted in 2007 for the series My TV, Your TV, Our TV 2 with Shaw’s VP of Programming, Alex Park, present and former station managers in both Calgary and Winnipeg, and from anecdotal information from viewers and community producers in other parts of the country that Shaw’s policies with respect to community programming are fairly consistently applied nationwide.

THE PRODUCTION AND AIRING OF ACCESS PROGRAMMING

10) Shaw’s claim in its 2008-38 application that the amount of “access” programming aired on its systems exceeds 50% is based on a definition of “access programming” that Shaw is aware differs from the CRTC’s definition.

11) 2002-61 states that access programming is:

“programming produced by individuals or groups in the community served by the undertaking, either assisted or unassisted by the licensee”.

12) The policy goes on to say that cable companies should promote the availability of training programs related to access, and to solicit program proposals.

13) It’s clear that the intent of the policy is to put production directly in the hands of the public, and to enable them to be in charge of particular programs whose concept and approach they themselves design. In this, the community’s channel free speech mandate has not changed since the 1970s.

14) Unfortunately, Shaw’s attitude has. In speaking to Alex Park and other Shaw program managers, all espoused the current company philosophy that “access programming” is any program in which an individual or group in the community is featured or has its activities publicized. I spoke to David Campbell, the Program Manager for Shaw Calgary from 1995-2005, about this change in approach to access and to volunteers on July 18, 20073:

Cathy Edwards (After reading key parts of the CRTC 2002-61 guidelines): So it sounds like they’re coming back saying “OK, there was a bit of a mess for awhile, but we really want that some of the programming should be access programming of the old-fashioned way.” How did Shaw respond as a company when this hit the books?

David Campbell: Well, I think we responded pretty positively. Again, as we talked about before, you know, it was left—it was still—everything’s an interpretation. And we interpreted volunteer use differently. Clearly there weren’t enough volunteers or the quality of programs that people would watch on an on-going basis, so we inserted more trained people into that process… put volunteers more out front. They became the subjects of the stories. They became the people who talked about what was going on in their community.

15) To Shaw, “access” today means coverage by Shaw of you or your event (if you and your event happen to fall within their programming parameters), not access to and control over the means of production and freedom to select approach and topic. The selection of topics, the responsibility for point-of-view, and every aspect of production remains firmly in the hands of cable company staff.

16) There are also no advisory boards as stipulated in the community broadcasting policy (nor were there prior to 1997), in which communities might have a chance to complain about this situation.

17) Using this definition, it’s easy to meet the 30-50% requirement, since it’s virtually impossible to report about a community if no individuals, organizations, or groups are included. The only way to avoid them might be to focus on nature, or the state of the roads! I would ask, how is this any different than the local program production of any local commercial broadcaster? When a commercial broadcaster interviews a person about a topic, that person is not considered “a volunteer”.

18) This reinterpretation of policy has corrupted the key attribute of community programming that makes it different than a commercial or public local broadcaster, which justifies the money that is poured into it, and which define it as Canada’s “third tier”: citizen participation.

19) When I asked Mr. Park on July 18, 2007, how many individuals or groups in the community still produce a complete program, he admitted that there were only four groups in Vancouver (all of whose programs Shaw had kicked off the air between 1997 and 2002-61 and which were only reinstated when forced to do so by 2002-61) and none in Calgary:

Alex Park: Community groups will just show up with a tape and say “Here’s our programming this week. Put it on.”

Cathy Edwards: Can you give me examples of that?

Alex Park: Sure. In Vancouver, we have four major groups right now that just show up and say “Here’s my program for the week. Play it.”

Cathy Edwards: Are they doing it here in Calgary too?

Alex Park: We don’t do it here in Calgary. We do it in Vancouver. We do it in a number of other cities. Some of that is just the communities.

20) I also interviewed Allan Sayegh, Program Manager at Shaw’s Winnipeg channel, about access on August 3rd, 2007:

Cathy Edwards: The expectation by the CRTC that there should be true access of the old style for part of the programming week is pretty clear. How do you reconcile that?

Allan Sayegh: Good question… I’ll take a stab at it…Community access is still I guess in some way a little part of what we do… It’s much more difficult now than it was in the past and I have no examples on air now. I have a couple of examples in development, shall we say.

Cathy Edwards: There’s even a pretty specific part in there that says that once a year there’s supposed to be a billing insert that encourages the community to present program proposals—not just story ideas for you guys to cover—and also the availability of relevant training.

Allan Sayegh: Still says that, eh? I haven’t read 2002… That’s interesting, I had no idea.

As of last summer, the Program Manager at one of Shaw’s biggest systems was unaware of CRTC regulations governing the operation of his licensed channel.

21) Upon request, I can provide transcripts of video interviews with numerous members of the Calgary and Winnipeg communities who have asked for air time or access to production facilities since 1997 and whom have been refused. They are generally told, “That doesn’t fit our format anymore.” The message is always that the channel has become “Shaw TV”. It’s no longer the channel that the community can consider “its” channel.

TRAINING OF THE PUBLIC

22) 2002-61 states:

“The Commission considers that, in light of its final policy on access, it is appropriate that cable companies take specific and effective steps to inform and promote access to the community channel, and to provide and promote the availability of related training programs.”

23) In Shaw’s recent license renewal applications throughout Western Canada, the company claims that it offers training. For example, from the Calgary application:

“We promote Training through a variety of means including the opportunity to work on mobile coverage of local cultural and sporting events; 2 week to 2 month practicum placements from the local post-secondary schools with broadcast, journalism or communication programmes; work with these local programmes in developing television production skills by offering the full day access to our production studios and our television mobile. This access allows them real-life experiences working with modern technologies.”

24) This is the only example Shaw gives. I would ask what the other “variety of means” include.

25) All this says is that Shaw uses “volunteers” who already have training from other institutions. They are being exploited as unpaid labour while the general public, who are supposed to find access to television training and opportunities, are excluded.

26) When I asked Allan Sayegh, Program Manager of Shaw TV in Winnipeg, about training, he said:

Allan Sayegh: We don’t provide the form of access where we train anymore, that’s true. We do work very closely here in Winnipeg with Red River College and with Tech Voc. One is a high school and one is a community college… That’s where a lot of our freelancers come from. We’re actually providing up-and-coming producers, shooters, producer, editors and so on with an opportunity to hone their skills. So we still do that, but it’s not the same as it was.

27) When I was the Volunteer Co-ordinator and principal volunteer trainer at Shaw’s head office in Calgary from 1993-96, Shaw offered year-round training to ANYONE, from orientation, to courses in audio, camera, mobile, graphics, control room techniques, hosting, editing, producing and ENG shooting. These were formal courses with planned and printed course agendas and workbooks that general members of the public had access to at no charge, not ad hoc on-the-job “training” as described in Shaw’s license application. Shaw is allowing unpaid students to participate as crew on large productions that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive to produce.

28) Shaw is hereby keeping television experience within the industry (students already engaged in a professional training process). No invitation is being extended to those outside to participate in the production process.

ACCESS TO EQUIPMENT AND TECHNICAL SUPPORT TO PRODUCE ACCESS PROGRAMMING

29) The claims in Shaw’s supporting documents about community TV from Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver about soliciting program proposals and advertising the availability of training are misleading. The Program Managers in both Winnipeg and Calgary told me that they solicit only ideas for short clips that staff then produce as part of the daily newswheel.

30) Shaw’s claims that they don’t get much response to their advertisements are also misleading. When opportunities genuinely exist and the community channel is receptive to programming ideas and to giving technical assistance and support, word travels fast. During the period that I worked at Shaw in Calgary, training courses were always full, with no outside explicit advertising of any kind. The programming schedule was always full with proposals from producers in the community. We had waiting lists. This is a universal experience for community TV in large Canadian centres, and continues to be the status quo in other Western countries where true community-access TV is practiced and offered.

31) The times have not “changed” in this sense as Shaw has claimed over the years. Interest in and dominance of TV of an art from has not waned. In fact, the popularity of Internet-based sites such as YouTube vouch for the continuing need for ordinary people to express themselves using video and to find an audience. The general public has been forced to find alternative venues as they have been increasingly edged off television. They persevere, despite the poorer technical quality, fractured and ad-hoc audiences, lack of production support and direction, and lack of a coherent community programming schedule and viewing public that community TV stations in Canada used to provide.

32) If Shaw claims it advertises and is getting no response, it’s not doing its job. Community facilitation has always been a part of the responsibility of the holder of the cable license, and this is no different thirty years further on, as stipulated in 2002-61. It’s a measure of the degree to which the access component has been eroded that CRTC policy writers felt they had to stipulate that a billing insert soliciting program proposals should be included at least once a year (as if that would be sufficient to rebuild a dynamic volunteer pool after years of neglect). Cable companies used to build up these relationships with the community naturally through their genuine outreach and community involvement year-round.

THE USE OF VOLUNTEES

33) Not only is it now rare on Shaw systems for volunteers to produce programs or to exercise creative control, the number of volunteers (other than trained broadcast students) that participate in all technical roles of television production has dropped to a tiny percentage of what it once was. When I left Shaw in 1997, Shaw Calgary had an active roster of 400 volunteers. At its peak, the Shaw Vancouver-area offices welcomed in excess of 1200. That’s just two of the systems held by Shaw in Western Canada covered by the current license application. I asked Alex Park in our interview how many volunteers now access the system (in all roles):

Cathy Edwards: How many volunteers are active at the moment?

Alex Park: I would say, across all of Shaw, about 200.

Cathy Edwards: You mean in Calgary here?

Alex Park: No, I mean across all of Shaw… So we, have that component… but… you know, we don’t… If the Commission sort of says, “That’s OK” then we’re OK.

34) This is fewer than the number of Shaw community television employees.

35) When I asked Mr. Park how he could justify this, he claimed that the nature of the community and people’s willingness to volunteer has changed:

Alex Park: What we find is that it is actually much harder to get people to come and volunteer and make that commitment and the 3 or 4 people a year who might want to make their own show… Things have changed. People’s lives have changed. People are no longer willing… They no longer go to cocktail parties and say, “You know what, I’m a volunteer of the community channel.” Who cares, actually?

36) In fact, an Ipsos Reid survey done in 2005 for Calgary, Shaw’s headquarters, showed that 71% of Calgarians regularly volunteer an average of 14.6 hours per month, compared to a national average of only 27%. Of this 71%, 49% said they volunteered because of a skill that they wanted to learn. It would seem, therefore, that Shaw’s headquarters is located in a particularly fertile potential volunteer pool.4

37) Mr. Park concluded this section of our interview with the following:

Alex Park: I guess having been at this for about thirty years, having started out really in the very early days of what we would consider pure access, I’ve come to the conclusion that the community is better served by the model we currently have. And, I’ve been through all of the access issues, every kind of community group, I’ve seen them, I’ve worked with them, I’ve helped them put their programs together. My personal view is that the community is no better today as a result of that—none. I can’t see anything. So while there was all sorts of effort and angst and things that went into that process, I would challenge anyone to put their hand up and say “Here’s how the city of Calgary has been improved by the fact that we had a bunch of people in the studio making their shows.”

38) The VP of Programming for Shaw neither believes in nor makes any attempt to implement the access principle throughout Shaw’s cablesystems. The only example he could give of the access principle still being applied came from Vancouver, in which 2002-61’s four-hour per week allocation of air time to groups outside Shaw has been the subject of bitter battles for ten years, as the CRTC’s record of complaints shows.

DESTRUCTION OF PROGRAMMING ARCHIVES

39) I would like to make a final comment about the inappropriateness of Shaw being the custodian/administrator of the cable levy and of the community tier in the broadcasting system throughout Western Canada.

40) Since 1997, the entire pre-1997 programming archives at both Shaw TV in Calgary and in Winnipeg have been destroyed by Shaw staff. All true access programming in both cities--a vital and irreplaceable record of each city’s social, political, artistic, and community history over nearly a 30-year-period--is gone. All that remains are a few VHS copies scattered among the basements of ex-volunteers and community producers.

41) When I asked Allan Sayegh about the loss of the Winnipeg archive, he said:

Allan Sayegh: I have a whole room of tapes. I don’t go in there very often because I get a headache when I look at them all, but I think we have, I’m sure we have things that go back for years…”

Cathy Edwards: Prior to 1997, though? That was the year of the format change.

Allan Sayegh: I don’t think we’ve thrown them out. Every so often we get onto a jag about you know we got too much junk in this place, we have to throw it out, but tapes have never been a part of that. So, I believe we have things around… I don’t know.

42) I verified with Mr. Sayegh’s staff (and checked the archives myself) that nothing prior to 1997 is still held by Shaw in Winnipeg. To save a small part of this important history, Dorthi Dunsmore, Winnipeg’s first community programming manager (who has submitted an intervention to this process), deposited a few tapes with the Manitoba Archives.

43) I also checked with current Shaw TV Calgary staff about the survival of any pre-1997 tapes. Nadine Sampson, the traffic co-ordinator at the time (who has submitted an intervention to this process), confirmed that she was told to dispose of older tapes. She salvaged a few by offering them to their community producers.

44)We feel that this demonstrates perhaps more than any other single point that a private for-profit company is not the appropriate custodian of this history nor the appropriate administrator of the on-going operations of a community-access TV channel. Shaw as a company, has shown a particularly reckless disregard for genuine access production since 1997.

45) A DVD giving examples of both Shaw’s “community programming” in Vancouver prior to and post 1997 (the year in which the company first began to exclude the public from its community programming) has been filed in person at the CRTC’s Gatineau headquarters. The DVD also includes some of the clips from the interviews with Shaw staff whose transcripts have been quoted. The full interviews are available on request.

IRREGULARITIES IN THE SALE PROCESS IN CAMPBELL RIVER

46) CRTV has been providing cable service to Campbell River for 50 years, and has the lowest cable rates in Canada. Even the most casual perusal of documents on CRTV’s web site5 shows a record of member/customer satisfaction and pride in a locally run service.

47) With respect to Shaw’s application to buy CRTV, there appear to be four serious irregularities:

At the CRTV’s most recent AGM on November 28, 2007, a record of 443 members were in attendance and overwhelmingly voted to turn down an offer by Shaw to sell. To quote the CRTV’s record of this meeting:

The open mike session began with a clear message in the form of a motion “that the offer from Shaw be received and filed with no further action taken”. This motion was immediately seconded and received a nearly unanimous vote. The following parade of speakers spoke strongly to the benefits of keeping CRTV local even if the price of basic cable had to increase. There was a very clear message from the floor… “We are not for sale!”6

At the election of board members which followed on December 3rd, 2007, the directors renewed their commitment to respect the mandate given them by their members to invest in new infrastructure, to remain competitive, and to keep the service local.

This strategy, to update the infrastructure through a cable fee increase (which still resulted in fees lower than those in most parts of Canada) appears to have been pursued by the CRTV board until April 30th, 2008, when Shaw obtained administrative approval from the CRTC to extend its existing service area into the service area of Campbell River.

When both CACTUS and concerned CRTV members made inquiries with the CRTC earlier in the year, we were told that an “administrative approval” (without a public hearing) can be granted in cases in which there is precedent and “no policy issues” are raised:

“With respect to the procedure followed to process Shaw’s proposed extension of service area, the Commission determined, in the interest of a more timely disposition of applications, that extensions to existing service territories would be handled on an administrative basis (i.e., without public comment process) in Broadcasting Circular 2006-1, Streamlined processes for certain broadcasting applications, 27 March 2006. In so doing, the Commission stated that it would issue letters of approval for such applications, provided they do not raise any policy concerns and are consistent with previous decisions. The application by Shaw to extend its service area to include Campbell River, as detailed above, fulfils these requirements and was therefore approved on an administrative basis.7”

When I spoke with members of the Distribution Group at the CRTC, I was told that such “administrative approvals” are more typically granted in cases in which a new housing development appears on the borders of an existing BDU service area, not a case such as in Campbell River, in which the area in question is already served by another organization. I also made the point at that time that in fact there WAS a policy issue at stake with Shaw’s request, which is Shaw’s poor record with respect to community-access television and the potential of its competition in the area to damage a thriving and locally controlled operation. (This record of Shaw’s was a contributing factor to Shaw’s failure to obtain a full-length license renewal for its Western systems earlier this year.) However, at the time, I was told that there is no appeal process to a CRTC “administrative approval” other than to obtain an Order in Council stopping the service area extension.

Despite the spectre of competition with a cable giant, the CRTV board nonetheless held to its mandate, as shown by this extract from a CRTV April 30th, 2008 press release:

What better way to show off the value of CRTV than by a little healthy competition! Facing recent news that Shaw will be attempting to enter the Campbell River market, CEO Jim Forsyth is confident in the 50-plus year track record of CRTV. CRTV is well-positioned on product, price, quality of service and unique local programming. It is a gem in the world of media and a company that members can be proud of.8

The release goes on to compare CRTV’s Cambpell River service to the service provided by Shaw in neighbouring Comox Valley. On every point, CRTV’s current service is cheaper and offers more choice.

Furthermore, conversations with members and technicians of CRTV indicate that that $10 per month rate increase that was implemented by the board (from $16 to $26 per month) was based on a comprehensive plan to extend the co-operative’s offerings to include Internet, cell phone service, and video-on-demand. These individuals claim that the plans were realistic and achievable, that new equipment was ordered, and the negotiations had been begun with Bell regarding cell phone service.

With respect to claims by some interveners to this process that CRTV cannot hope to compete with Shaw going forward, I have seen no evidence that this is the case, and they offer none. On the contrary, CRTV has competed successfully in the past, currently offers a superior and cheaper service (no doubt one reason why Shaw would like to remove them as competiton), and had made a coherent plan moving forward. While CACTUS attempted to obtain a copy of the technical plan that must surely have been drafted at the time of the rate increase last year, CRTV members opposed to the sale say they were denied access to documents by the CRTV board. I would recommend that if the CRTC has any doubts about the ability of the CRTV to compete with Shaw in the future, that you ask for access to this plan.

Meanwhile, on October 1st, 2007, Shaw had sent a document entitled Roadmap to Acquisition to the CRTV board, enumerating how a sale would proceed, culminating in a cash payment to each member:

“Step 10: Approximately 30 days after receipt of the last of the necessary approvals, we would close the deal. At this time, the distribution of cash to your members would take place.”9

On October 29, 2007, Shaw sent a household-to-household letter to CRTV members directly offering them each $3,000 for the value of their stake in CRTV:

“Members of the Cambpell River Television Association would financially benefit from our merger with each member’s share valued at $3000 a piece.”10

This is the first significant irregularity in the process, since this offer violates the BC Societies Act, as confirmed in the following extract from a September 22, 2008 letter from Jim Hopkins, Assistant Deputy Minister, BC Provincial Treasury and Registries, to Larry Widen of the “Save CRTV” committee:

“Section 73(1) of the Societies Act clearly prohibits a charitable society from distributing assets among its members. This provision is also consistent with section 2(2) of the Act”, which allows a society to carry on a business, trade, industry or profession as an incident to the purposes of the society, provided the society does not distribute any gain, profit or divident or otherwise dispose of its assets to a member of the society.”11

Between April 30 and June 23rd 2008, the CRTV’s board began conducting meetings with Shaw considering a potential sale, overturning its mandate. Its change in attitude appears to be a result both of the monetary offer made to CRTV’s 13,000+ members, as well as to the circulation of misinformation that if Shaw were to compete with CRTV and build its own infrastructure in Campbell River, that it would have the power to deny CRTV access to cable television signals and bandwidth.

In a May 7th 2008 release assessing Shaw’s offer, the Board wrote:

“In light of the fact of increased competition in Campbell River plus the reality that small "Class 1" Cable TV systems have all but disappeared across Canada it is prudent for the Board to consider all options available to CRTV. Factors that the Board are taking into consideration include:
1.Shaw Cable has been given permission to move into Campbell River by installing their own cable system to compete with CRTV….
2.That small independent Cable TV systems in Canada now represent less than 3.5% of the total Cable and Satellite customers in Canada. The cost of sale for programming, materials and labor are considerably higher than the competition.
3.That CRTV purchases all of it's television programming and internet backbone services from its competitors.”

While #2 appears not to have been true, given the comparison of CRTV’s to Shaw’s rates and services, #3 implies that Shaw might have the power to deny CRTV access to services, which contravenes CRTC policy. The “Save CRTV” committee says that this misperception was and is still being widely circulated in Campbell River to scare members into selling.

This decision by board members to ignore the mandate given them at the preceding AGM and to promote an environment of misinformation is the second irregularity.

The third irregularity, is that according to the CRTV’s original constitution, 75% of its total membership of 13,000+ must endorse any decision to sell in writing. This was confirmed publicly in a CRTV October 31, 2007 press release:

Bylaw 106 makes it very clear that a decision to sell CRTV must be supported by a clear process. That process is written authorization by 75% of the members of the society.”12

In making its purchase offer, Shaw was aware that this clause in the CRTV constitution constituted a poison pill to ensure that ownership of the co-operative remained within the community, and that the constitution would have to be changed. Step 8 in Shaw’s Roadmap to Acquisition states:

“The CRTV members would hold a meeting to amend their By-laws and vote on Shaw’s offer.”

At the August 23rd, 2008 meeting of the CRTV membership, two motions were carried, one to change the CRTV’s bylaws such that only 75% of members present at the meeting were sufficient to carry a motion to sell. In the second motion, 93% of members present (fewer than 300 of the total membership of 13,780 members, or less than 1%!!) voted to sell. According to the BC Societies Act, an amendment to a bylaw must be registered with the Societies Registrar before it can be used.

The Registrar has confirmed that it rejected the resolution to amend CRTV’s bylaws as submitted by the Board on August 28th:

“On August 28, the registry rejected an initial request by Campbell River T.V. Association to file a resolution amending the society’s bylaws… The amended working purported to apply retroactively to special resolutions, despite section 23(1)(a) of the Act, which provides that a resolution to change a society’s bylaws is not effective until filed with the registrar.”13

No subsequent vote has been taken by the CRTV membership that would give the Board permission to sell.

48) In light of these irregularities, it would appear that Shaw’s attempt to buy CRTV is invalid. 75% of the CRTV’s total membership did not approve the sale in writing.

49) As a third party concerned about the ability of communities to have access to their own communication systems, CACTUS feels that undue haste and misinformation has informed this process. If more than 75% of the total membership of this community-run cable co-operative really wants to sell its cable infrastructure and management of its community channel along with it, CACTUS, of course, could not oppose it. However, in light of:

the fact that the last AGM of this Society indicated an overwhelming desire on the part of the community to keep its cable service local, and

that the mood and behaviour of the CRTV Board of Directors and of the 1% of the total membership who attended and voted to sell at the August 23rd meeting only changed subsequent to the distribution within the community of misinformation concerning the possibility of a $3,000 cash payout and the potential for Shaw to cut off signals from CRTC,

that there are significant legal irregularities that have not yet been fully investigated by the BC Registrar of Societies.

that the sale of CRTV would result in less competition in service in both Campbell River and the surrounding areas, contrary to the intent of the CRTC’s April 30, 2008 administrative approval to Shaw that it be allowed to extend its service area. (As noted on the CRTV web site, Shaw’s Star Choice rival offering had been performing poorly compared to the CRTV’s home-grown service.) In addition, as already stated (details available in the footnoted documents), Shaw’s cable service offerings in other parts of Vancouver Island are inferior to those offered by CRTV. So, not only would there be less competition, but inferior service, and without competition, no motivation on the part of Shaw to improve service.

and that the future of one of English Canada’s few surviving true community access channels is at stake

CACTUS feels the matter merits a full hearing, with the possibility that members of the community in question could participate fully (i.e. a hearing held in Campbell River). We also feel that the current hearing dates (Nov. 13 for the submission of written comments, and Dec. 8th for the closed hearing in Gatineau) are premature, as the BC Societies Act has not yet rendered a final decision concerning the legality of the sale. Once their ruling is public, if it becomes clear that a $3,000 payout to members is not possible, there’s every reason to think that a second (this time legitimate) vote on a sale by the full membership would not pass.

50) CACTUS would also like to make the following suggestions as possible compromises:

If it is determined (CACTUS has no evidence that it is so, but should it turn it turn out to be so) that CRTV as an organization lacks the access to capital necessary to compete going forward, The CRTV board and/or Shaw might like to consider the precedent set by cable co-operatives in Quebec such as the Cooperative de Cablodistribution de Les Eboulements in Quebec city, in which Dery Telecom leases the cable infrastructure from the co-operative. A similar arrangement in Campbell River would give the Campbell River community control of its communication system and community channel over the long term, continuing its 50-year tradition, as well as on-going revenue. This would in the long term be better financially for the community, than a one-time questionably legal sale. A part of the on-going profits from cable service would stay in the community, the community could continue to operate its own community channel, and Shaw would have an opportunity to offer services.

Given Shaw’s poor history of respecting community access to the community channels within its license areas, if the sale of the cable infrastructure proceeds for whatever reason, 2002-61 provides for the possibility that CRTV could retain ownership of the community channel equipment, facilities, and archives, and continue to operate the community television service using the 5% cable levy from Shaw. With Shaw’s record, CACTUS does not believe it should be allowed to buy and operate Campbell River’s community channel under any circumstances.

These suggestions may or may not fulfill the aspirations of the members of CRTV, who, upon full disclosure of all information, may wish to retain full control and delivery of the cable service in their community as voted at their November 2007 AGM. But either option would at least guarantee autonomy in the running of the Campbell River community TV channel and a continued voice for Campbell River residents.

51) Finally, CACTUS feels that no sales should be approved that might weaken the already beleaguered community-access TV sector, particularly in English Canada, prior to the full sector review that is planned for 2009. We feel that nothing can be gained through a hasty process.

For Shaw, Campbell River is small potatoes and in no way hampers its ability to expand its business in other parts of the country or into other industries. On the contrary, the continued existence of CRTV represents healthy competition for Shaw, and an example of how to run a cheaper and more community-friendly cable service.

For Campbell River, a 50-year cable operation and local access channel is at stake, as well as the potential that revenue from this operation should be lost to the community forever. (We note that several intervening members of CRTV who support the sale, argue for the short-term benefits of the as-yet unapproved distribution of $3,000 per member, which will soon be spent.) The appendices to Geoff Goodship’s intervention provides a detailed breakdown of this long-term loss.

For Canada, one of the few remaining viable models of community-controlled communication will be lost, just at that moment when we have realized what a proud community-access history we have, and that its infrastructure needs to be strengthened. We are pioneers who have been copied world-wide, thanks to CRTC visionaries of the past. Just last week, MJ Kim, a prominent media activist from South Korea told me that the NFB “Challenge for Change” newsletters that outlined the principles of community access in this country continue to inspire those who push for a more democratic, participative media in South Korea.

Catherine Edwards
CACTUS
(The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations)
www.cactusmedia.ca