Cablers out of cable access?

Activist group calls on CRTC to hand control of community TV to the communities

Robin Jackson and Catherine Edwards of CACTUS

Professionally produced shows have no place on community channels, according to activist groups who say control of these services should be given to the communities themselves, and not to the cable companies.

Contrary to the theory on which they were founded, ‘it’s not the average public that is getting on [community] channels now,’ says Catherine Edwards, spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations.

‘They are clearly being positioned as competition to public and private broadcasters,’ she adds, citing inter-provincial hockey, ‘slick breakfast shows’ and Goldhawk Live, a current affairs show seen on Rogers Cable, as examples. Host Dale Goldhawk previously worked for CBC, CTV and Global.

‘It’s not amateur TV, it’s professional TV.’ (What do you think? Email us!)

CACTUS is leading the charge against the cablecos this week during the long-overdue CRTC hearings into community access television policy. (It’s been eight years since a community television review.)

CACTUS says the trend started in the late 1990s when cable-owned community channels began to eliminate volunteers and take control of the production of shows themselves. Edwards says cablecos last year collected about $130 million from Canadians for community access programming, yet the public are not getting on these channels to make their own shows. Cablers are supposed to put 2% of their revenues into community TV.

The Ottawa-based group proposes that a production fund — similar to the Canada Media Fund — be set up, through which communities could elect representative boards and run their own stations. (CACTUS represents small non-profit community-owned and -operated channels and other cultural organizations.)

Meanwhile, cable companies including Rogers and Cogeco defended their community stations during the week-long hearings, arguing that the content is relevant to their customers.

‘Our partners and volunteers from the community have helped produce 54% of our programming, while regulations impose a minimum of 30% of access programming,’ countered Cogeco CEO Louis Audet when he appeared before the CRTC on Wednesday. (Cogeco operates 37 community channels in Quebec and Ontario.)

Cogeco says it received ‘hundreds of letters of support’ that demonstrate its community channels are meeting the needs of the people they serve.

In its appearance earlier this week, Rogers also put forth study results suggesting 70% of its customers ‘strongly value’ their community channel.

‘We are very proud of our track record in our communities,’ added VP of Rogers TV Colette Watson. Rogers owns 34 community television stations.

On Thursday and Friday, the CRTC will hear from groups including Bell TV, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and the Independent Media Arts Alliance.