CRTC’s new community TV policy “paternalistic”: CACTUS

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s new community TV policy is little better than the old one and fails to address the real issues facing community programmers, says an industry group that advocates for community TV.

Broadcaster Magazine reports:

“Catherine Edwards, Spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations said, “The Commission ignored the request of the Canadian public-which was made abundantly clear at these hearings-that the time has come for community broadcasting to be in the hands of communities, as it is in all Western countries that have a community sector. This is how it operates here in Canada in the community radio sector. Why not TV?”

“Citing dissenting CRTC Commissioner Michel Morin, CACTUS noted, “The Commission’s ‘paternalistic community model’ leaves community cable channels and the money that is collected from Canadians firmly under the control of cable companies.”

CACTUS says that the new policy denies communities access to several key revenue streams: the Local Programming Initiative Fund (which is available to private broadcasters), commercial advertising and the more than $120 million Canadian taxpayers pay annually for “local expression”, which instead goes to cable companies.

Edwards told Broadcaster: “What’s particularly sad is how outdated the Commission’s model of community TV is. Approximately 40% of Canadians don’t subscribe to cable, so a cable channel as a digital townhall for Canadians just doesn’t work anymore. We also presented data to show that the majority of the more than 300 unique community channels and studios that once existed on cable have already been closed. This evidence appears to have been ignored. The relatively minor tweaks to the existing policy do nothing to address the closures.”

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission issued new broadcast rules earlier this month that say community members must be involved in the creation of at least half of a community TV channel’s programming, in hopes the channels will better reflect locals’ interests and needs.

The CRTC’s website says that the new rules mean that “the original idea for a program must come from members of the community, who must also be involved in some aspect of the production, whether in front or behind the camera.”

The new rules stipulate that community television providers give at least half of their budget to this type of programming, as well as to “community outreach initiatives and the training and development of volunteers.”

“Community channels give Canadians the unique ability to see themselves and their neighbourhoods, towns and cities reflected on television,” said Michel Arpin, the CRTC’s Vice-Chairman of Broadcasting. “This can only be achieved through equal partnerships between cable companies and the communities they serve. Access to the broadcasting system must be as open as possible, especially for people who are new to the production of television programming.”

The new requirements take effect on September 1, 2014, to give providers time to make changes.

Another change, the press release says, is that “The CRTC has also introduced measures to improve the accountability and transparency of the funds cable companies allocate to the operation of their community television channels. Cable companies will have to provide this information on a yearly basis starting in 2012.”