CRTC Decision on MAtv Doesn't Go Far Enough

Ottawa (February 10, 2015) According to a complaint by Independent Community TV (ICTV) of Montreal, problems with Videotron's Montreal MAtv community channel stretch back over a decade. The CRTC's decision last week (CRTC 2015-31) appeared to agree with ICTV broadly, stating that MAtv “is not respecting the objectives of the Community television policy relating to access programming and local reflection”.

However, the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) doesn't think the CRTC's directive to Videotron to rectify the situation before its cable licence renewal in August of 2015 goes far enough. “Montrealers have gone without access to training, equipment and TV air time to tell their own stories for a decade,” said Catherine Edwards, CACTUS' spokesperson. “The CRTC's decision does not address ICTV's application for approval to operate the community television service in Montreal on a not-for-profit basis. ICTV filed its application following the letter of the CRTC's community channel policy.. The policy states that if a cable company does not comply with CRTC policy, a not-for-profit group within the licence area can run the community channel using the budget collected for this purpose from cable subscribers. This clause has been in CRTC policy since 2002, because Commission audits have shown chronic and systemic abuse of community TV channels by cable companies since the late 1990s.”

Laith Marouf shared ICTV's reaction to the CRTC decision: “We spent four months preparing our application, including canvassing local groups and organizations that could use a genuine community channel to get messages out. We developed a model for a fully multilingual channel that would work with indigenous and multicultural communities, to ensure Montreal would have a genuine platform for citizen dialogue. We will continue our efforts towards this goal.”

Other countries that have enabling legislation for community media recognize the right of the community to manage broadcast licences. In Canada alone, for-profit corporations are expected to offer community media services, instead of communities themselves. Various parties have pointed to the conflict of interest this creates since the introduction of community TV in the 1970s. Edwards continued, "We argued that communities should administer community TV by definition once again at the CRTC's 2010 community TV policy review. The CRTC assured us that if communities could prove one by one that cable companies were not meeting the expectations of the policy, those communities would be empowered to run these channels. This is explicitly provided for in the policy, yet that hasn't happened.”

The onus will again be on the public to prove that Videotron is in non-compliance in August, effectively lumping a cable company's ability to offer community media services in with its ability to offer cable services. Said Edwards, “Videotron owns the cable infrastructure in Montreal. The Commission is not going to take away its right to manage that infrastructure; that's Videotron's core business. Its ability to effectively offer community media services should be dealt with separately—as is provided for under the current policy. It's time to turn the licence over to a community-run entity. This is the way it works everywhere else in the world but here.”

Contact: Catherine Edwards (819) 456-2237.