Community Television Movement
Media Activists Petition House of
Commons for Resource Sharing
The end of Shaw controlling community
television in Vancouver is near if
Community Media Education Society has its way.
The local not-for-profit is petitioning
the Commons to give community-based television groups at least fifty
percent of the over $75-million cable companies receive yearly from
subscribers to run community television.
In the Lower Mainland, Shaw Cable annually
receives an estimated $5 million community channel levy to showcase its
Shaw TV brand of community television with corporate imperative - the
marketing of its goods and services.
"The Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission has called for licensing community
television independently to broadly representative community groups,"
says Richard Ward, CMES executive director who tallies close to three
decades of community television experience. "In Vancouver that community channel should
be on cable four and be supported by the community channel levy."
With a history of taking on local cable
companies in the regulatory and legislative arena, the CMES mission to
involve citizens and community groups to increase public participation
in and production of media is taking root. The British Columbia registered society began
November 1996 when Rogers Cable closed most of its neighbourhood
television (NTV) production facilities in the Lower Mainland.
The volunteers in the east Vancouver office on Commercial Drive responded by constituting the
society to continue community-based programming. Soon after, CMES
constituted ICTV Independent Community Television Co-operative for
program production and distribution. CMES and ICTV have open membership
and are governed by elected boards of volunteers. In July, ICTV moved into the former Co-op
Radio location at Hastings and Carrall now owned by the Portland Hotel
"What we need is a lawyer. Shaw Cable gets
about $500,000 a month taxed from cable subscribers to spend on
community television," explains Michael Lithgow, a full-time student
and freelance writer who is paid $500 a month to be ICTV executive
director. "That money is a public trust and we say Shaw is abusing that
trust. The way it stands now, Vancouver citizens subsidize a private
channel for Shaw Cable."
The petition builds on comments from a
House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage report about
cable companies and community television. At 872 pages and released in
June 2003, Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian
Broadcasting is instructive to Parliament, the legislator, and the
CRTC, the regulator.
committee was very frustrated by the absence of data on community
television and is dismayed that virtually no information exists on what
happens as a result of cable company expenditures in support of
community television each year.
The petition also builds on the regulatory
access granted by CRTC Broadcasting Public Notice 2002-61 titled
"Policy Framework for Community-based Media." The policy, which has
ICTV's imprint all over it, still leaves cable companies in control the
funds regulated to community television.
It creates a new type of community
television license available to community groups but no access to the
community channel levy. Ironically, community groups would be eligible
for the funds should cable companies like Shaw choose to give up the
community channel. The policy sets seemingly unenforceable requirements
and unfulfilled expectations for cable companies who continue to get
the community channel levy while community groups fundraise to survive.
Without stable funding, ICTV seems unprepared to apply for a television
license though it has completed a $25,000 business plan.
"ICTV's four hours of access programming
per week is a substantial contribution to community television in Vancouver. It is our view there is a
certain unjust enrichment taking place by allowing Shaw to retain the
full cable levy while being relieved of significant access programming
obligations," says Lithgow on the unfairness of the policy. "Like Shaw,
ICTV must have an office, pay rent and undertake the work required in
the administration of volunteers, training and television production.
Like Shaw, ICTV should have the community channel levy pay staff too."
Over the years, the petition, subsequent
interventions by Libby Davies, member of parliament for Vancouver East
where ICTV facilities are located, BC MLA Jenny Kwan and Vancouver city councillors Tim Louis
and Fred Bass have promoted community television as being similar to a
public library in the education, entertainment and building of
The Standing Committee said it is gravely
concerned that the CRTC's post-1997 community television policy has
significantly altered the way community cable stations are operated.
However, it believes that citizen access should remain a fundamental
objective of the Canadian broadcasting system noting it is only through
access that a diversity of voices, views and representations can be
ensured. The Committee observed a clear consensus that the status quo is
unsatisfactory and the federal government must take action.
"Community television encourages people to
seek out events affecting their neighbourhoods. Community organizers
are surprised and delighted to be noticed," states Ward, preparing for
a visit from nine Japanese media researchers and a presentation for the
upcoming Media Democracy Day. "When their neighbours see the event,
interest snowballs. That is how mass media are suppose to work."
The petition calls on Parliament to ensure
community channels are publicly run by non-profit community
organisations and financial support for them be found. It also calls on
the Prime Minister and Parliament to enable the CRTC to immediately
transfer 50 per cent of the community channel levy cable companies
already collect, along with an appropriate amount from satellite
companies, into a fund which community television corporations with a
history of performance can access.
View and sign the petition on-line at
www.vcn.bc.ca/cmes and phone ICTV at 604-254-5844 to volunteer. Go to www.vcn.bc.ca/ictv for ICTV
program schedule and summary.