The vast majority of cable community TV channels do not meet the minimum criteria for operating a community TV channel under CRTC policy, according to Deepak Sahasrabudhe of Newwest.tv in BC, and a member of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations.
As the CRTC and industry and community stakeholders gear up for a review of the Commission’s local and community TV policy starting on January 25th, CACTUS and various community groups filed complaints of non-compliance with the CRTC’s community TV policy against 47 cable community channels.
Catherine Edwards, spokesperson for CACTUS, said, “Deepak took it upon himself to examine the online programming schedules of 87 different cable license areas in Canada: all those that currently hold cable licenses from the CRTC, as well as many smaller systems that are exempt from licensing, but which are still expected to offer community TV services. He wanted to find out whether they air at least 60% local content and at least 50% ‘access’ contentcreated by ordinary community members, not cable staff.”
Mr. Sahasrabudhe elaborated, “I had noticed that Shaw airs almost nothing local to New Westminster, yet by my calculation, the company collects about $400,000 per year from all of us who live here to provide community TV services. Everything we see is being piped out from downtown Vancouver. I wanted to find out whether the same situation is happening across Canada. Are subscribers getting the services they pay for? In Montreal, citizens have launched a class-action suit against Videotron for a failure to provide them with community TV services. It’s a condition of the license of these companies.”
The CRTC public notice of consultation for the upcoming review of its local and community TV policy notes that “Consolidation within the distribution sector has led BDUs [broadcast distribution undertakings such as cable and satellite companies] to centralize their operations, including community channel production and administration, to realize cost efficiencies.”
Edwards commented, “It hasn’t made sense for a long time for cable companies to offer community TV services. It’s broken. It’s a long time since these companies have had a presence in small communities. Communities need to take over.” At issue at the upcoming hearing is the fate of more than $150 million that is collected from cable subscribers from coast to coast every year to ensure that they have access to training and a platform for free speech in the broadcasting system. According to Mr. Sahasrabudhe’s data (which the public can examine online at www.comtv.org), most of the money has been used to support programs made by cable company staff in big centres, which have very low viewership numbers, according to Numeris: Only 1.5% of Canadians watch cable community channels in any given week.
CACTUS believes the money should be made available to communities to operate multimedia training and production centres, that would teach and distribute traditional media such as TV and radio, but also new media including web design and gaming: “… whatever the community needs to know to function. It’s a digital economy. You won’t even be able to fill out your tax return soon if you don’t have digital media skills. Ploughing all this money into a cable-only platform that many Canadians can’t even see makes no sense”.
CACTUS filed this proposal with the CRTC on January 5th.
If the complaints by CACTUS and the community groups are accepted by the CRTC, the public will have 30 days to comment.