Community TV Hearings in Canada

Rogers’ Testimony at Community TV Hearings Conflicts with Testimony of Ordinary CanadiansOttawa (May 4/2010) In its presentation before the CRTC yesterday as part of the seven-day hearing into the future of community television, Rogers made several key statements that conflict with the testimony of previous witnesses.
Chairman von Finckenstein thanked the Rogers panel for its presentation by saying, "I have heard nothing but good things about Rogers Cable TV during the last week. I congratulate you... At least the people that appeared before us feel that you are meeting the need of community TV."
In fact, many intervenors last week criticized the cable giant for curtailing access by the public to their studios and for closing channels.
Jennifer Mawhinney from Fredericton testified on Friday that, "While the public is permitted to suggest shows for each season, I've only seen series pitched by employees make it to air."
Colette Watson, Vice President for Rogers claimed that "close to 60%" of the programming on Rogers’ Ottawa channel was "access programming" (made by members of the public). Scrutiny of Rogers’ Ottawa schedule posted on-line, however, reveals that almost all the daily shows that fill up the programming schedule list Rogers employees as producers.
Perhaps of more concern are the station closures. While New Brunswick once had almost 30 distinct community TV services, today there is a single provincial English service and a single provincial French service offered by Rogers, with only occasional insertions of local content.
Part of the problem is that the CRTC no longer requires cable companies to license systems with fewer than 20,000 subscribers. On questioning yesterday, Ms. Watson admitted that only 4 of 79 such licence-exempt systems in New Brunswick and Newfoundland offer any community programming. When Commissioner Menzies asked whether there had previously been community programming in these 79 systems, Ms. Watson said "Not while we were operating the system. We bought New Brunswick in 2000."
On Tuesday last week, Patrick Watt, station manager for the community-owned and operated TV channel in St. Andrews, New Brunswick testified that Rogers closed 3 small channels in rural New Brunswick in 2009, including channels in Harvey, McAdam, and Woodstock. Four more communities have been informed by Rogers that they will be cut off this year, including St. George, St. Stephen, Minto and Chipman.
CACTUS spokesperson Cathy Edwards says that Canada has fewer than 1/3 the number of community channels as it once had. CACTUS opened the hearing last Monday with a proposal to redirect the funds currently spent by cable companies on their own "community channels" to community-owned and –operated channels such as the one in St. Andrews. "If communities themselves were in charge, these channels could be kept open and would be genuinely accessible to residents."
Contact: Catherine Edwards, (819) 772-2862

Ottawa (May 6, 2010)  Instead of explaining to Canadians why they have closed community TV channels across the country and converted these public-service channels into branded business divisions, Canada's largest BDUs are subverting Canadians' desire for accountability, said the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS).  
In a recent inteview with The Wire Report, Colette Watson, vice-president of "Rogers TV" (formerly, Rogers' community channels), claimed the CRTC has received "no empirical data that there is a problem" and ignored the CACTUS proposal for a not-for-profit agency that would track the use of every dollar paid by Canadians for original community programming and training.
"Considering that Rogers' 2009 annual report does not even mention the 'community TV' channels on which it says it spends $35 million a year, it's frankly astonishing that Rogers would criticize the Community-Access Media Fund proposal, which is based on published annual audits and more detailed reporting than has ever been conducted by cable companies for community channels," said Catherine Edwards, spokesperson for CACTUS.  "Under our business model, every community and every subscriber would learn for the first time exactly where money earmarked by the CRTC for local expression actually goes, and how much original content and skills training that money generates."
"Just a few years ago, cable companies demanded and obtained a radical restructuring of the Canadian Television Fund with claims that its voluminous reports detailing hours, genres and costs of programs produced were inadequate" pointed out Edwards.  "But when Canadians and the CRTC hold cable companies to the same standards, these corporate giants either will not or cannot show how they spend each community's local programming budget."   
"We're long overdue for a new model," said Edwards. "The track record of cable companies attempting to run 'community channels' on behalf of communities is one of excluding residents from programming decisions, studio closures, and using money earmarked for local expression to promote their own businesses.  Canadians both want and deserve the not-for-profit Fund we have proposed because it is 100% accountable, 100% transparent, and 100% focussed on community service--not on making profits for the private sector.  If they want to do that, they should apply for a separate license." 
The CRTC has invited those who filed comments on community TV to make additional comments before May 17, 2010.  Details are available on the CRTC's website:
Contact:  Catherine Edwards, (819) 772-2862