The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations has asked the CRTC to reconsider its June 15th decision to reallocate funding from community TV to private broadcasters1. The group cites inadequate data about community TV channels operated by large vertically integrated media companies, “the number of false, selective, and erroneous statements” in the decision, as well as “the number of internal contradictions”. The letter also asks the CRTC to create an Ombudsperson or permanent staff position to develop expertise regarding community media.
The CRTC’s decision (CRTC 2023-224) will enable companies such as Bell, Rogers, and Shaw—which control more than 90% of the funding in Canada for “community media” (150 million annually)—to transfer over ¾ of this funding to their private properties, further weakening a beleaguered community TV sector. For more than a decade communities have complained that cable companies have closed the majority of Canada’s more than 300 community TV stations. The loss has been greatest in small communities not served by public and private broadcasters. Complaints have also been levelled at big-city ‘community channels’ because they don’t offer media training and production support to the public under the terms of their license. For example, Videotron’s Matv community channel in Montreal faces a class-action lawsuit.
Catherine Edwards, Executive Director of CACTUS, said CACTUS decided to file the request after widespread shock rippled through the community TV sector following the CRTC’s June 15th announcement. In the decision, the Commission admits that “no private local television station was able to provide estimates of how much money it would need to continue operations” and that “no compelling evidence of imminent station closures was provided on the record”, yet still decided to reallocate most of the budget for community TV to private news stations in about a dozen markets. Edwards said, “The community sector placed unequivocal proof on the public record that cable stewardship of so-called community TV doesn’t work. It hasn’t since the late 1990s, when cable consolidation began. Community ownership of local media is the only cost-effective solution. Canada is too big and sparsely populated for everyone to access a CBC or private news station.” Data posted by the CRTC confirmed that almost all cities that have a CBC or private station (which will benefit from the transfer) have populations over 100,000.
André Desrochers of CSUR La Télé, a community-owned station in Vaudreuil-Soulanges agreed3. “The decision was supposed to increase the amount of local news and information available to Canadians, but the effect will be the reverse. Money contributed by subscribers in small communities for ‘community TV’ will be shifted to a handful of larger markets where there is a private news bureau.”
Other groups also pointed to contradictions. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre highlighted that Canada’s high level of ownership concentration (for example, the purchase of Global by Shaw in 2023 and CTV by Bell in 2023) was allowed because the companies had the deep pockets to finance culturally important genres such as news and drama. Their financial support of community TV was supposed to ensure a diversity of voices would balance this concentration.