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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Shaw Continues to Fail Community Television:

    Independent Producers Thrive on Regulatory Entitlement

    Sid Chow Tan

    Independent community television producers have staked their claim on the Shaw cable community channel in the Lower mainland.

    Led by the not-for-profit ICTV Independent Community Television co-operative, a temporary accord for regularly scheduled community-based programs has been reached with Shaw Cablesystems. The continued David versus Goliath battle, first begun for access, now shifts to whether Shaw should continue to administer the funds regulated to the community television public trust. Even as ICTV volunteers moved into the old CFRO co-op radio studio at 337 Carrall Street, they increased the output of programs for broadcast. Meanwhile, Shaw recently cut its "News4" daily news magazine show without any warning or explanation to viewers.

    Citizens gained regulatory access to Shaw's cable community channel via two recent federal government pronouncements. In December 2002, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission affirmed registered community television production co-operatives, such as ICTV, could access up to four hours of program time on cable community channels. In June 2003, the Common's Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage stated it "believes that citizen access to community television facilities should be a CRTC requirement, rather than an expectation." For two years prior to April 2003, Shaw had denied ICTV access to community television broadcasts.

    The sudden demise of "News4,” the Shaw flagship show, came without a public explanation from the company. Shaw TV, as Shaw calls its cable 4 channel, incorrectly interpreted or ignored community television policy expectations. Shaw TV developed, produced and broadcast "News4" with community television money. The inability to meet the new requirements saw workers and the public again pay the price. Shaw will continue to try programming strategies to brand and commercialize this public trust.

    Shaw discontinued "News4" because immense amounts of community channel resources were dedicated to a show that clearly was not community television. Community television should seek and give opportunity for expression to individuals and groups and promote citizen access and training programs. This would engender a high level of citizen participation and community involvement to present innovative ideas and alternate views. "News4" never did meet the regulatory volunteer participation and training expectations. The slick daily newsmagazine did not complement but worse, competed with the public and commercial broadcasters.

    Shaw receives close to $5-million a year through the community channel levy for community television in the Lower mainland. This subscriber- funded money is delivered by the CRTC back into the hands of cable companies, estimated at $80 million in total across Canada last year. For $5-million, Shaw TV gets to showcase its brand of community television featuring constant repeats and promotion of its goods and services, doing little the past two years to promote at large community involvement and volunteer participation.

    In Vancouver, the growth of ICTV has been adapted to the changes in the regulatory environment they have help create. For seven years, ICTV and Community Media Education Society have challenged the proprietary attitude of Rogers and Shaw towards community television. Their success is evident. Community-based programming is now on with a regulatory vengeance on Shaw's cable 4. But the view from the new ICTV studio at Pigeon Park at Hastings and Carrall is a reminder the struggle still continues.

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