by Catherine Edwards
Ratna Cable TV arose spontaneously from the efforts of Mahesh and Bouddha
Shakya and the VCR and TV repair shop they have operated for many years
in Tansen, a town in the lower Himalayas. In the early l990s, the Shakyas
started downloading foreign programming from satellites and cabling together
the houses of their neighbours to share the signal. In the absence of formal
legislation concerning cable distribution of satellite signals, many cable
"companies", if they can be called that, began to do the same
thing all over Nepal. Some, as they grew, began to operate as commercial
enterprises and charge subscription fees. A few have considered the idea
of using the cable network to distribute locally produced programming, but
Ratna Cable TV is the only one that has actually done so on a regular basis.
Space Time, a large Kathmandu based commerical cable company, opened
a Tansen office last year offering more channels than Ratna and charging
subscription fees. To protect its existing network and the principle of
local programming, Ratna invested heavily in new decoders to keep pace with
Space Time. Ratna began charging its subscribers for the first time to pay
for them. By 1999. Ratna Cable offered its viewers 13 channels compared
to Space Time's 18, but most viewers remained loyal to Ratna because they
liked Ratna's Saturday local program (called, what else: The Local Program).
Space Time's Tansen agent, frustrated at this situation, collected video
clips from The Local Program and edited them out of context to make them
look as if Ratna was a supporter of Nepal's United Marxist Leninist Party.
Maoist guerrillas have been involved in violent incidents in Western Nepal
for several years, and this was enough to cause Nepal's Ministry of Information
and Communications to fine Ratna 7000 rupees and to suspend their licence.
Mahesh was also threatened with imprisonment. Thanks to Ratna's local protectors,
Mahesh avoided prison and Ratna was able to start up again under the new
name of Shrinagar Cable last August, but their position remains precarious.
Nepal itself has only been a democracy since 1991, so the story of Ratna
Cable is one of a country learning what democracy means. Until a fair and
universal licencing system exists for regional television in the country,
it will be impossible for TV journalists to exercise their right of freedom
of expression. In fact, what I found most interesting in my training sessions
with Shrinagar's volunteers is that they had difficulty with the basic idea
of what it means to "have a voice". Their stories, while beautiful
and creatively shot, tended to be light on message. I determined early-on
that where they needed most work was in scriptwriting. But when I stood
in front of their nine attentive faces and asked them what they were personally
interested in researching and what they thought their neighbours might want
to hear about, they had difficulty coming up with ideas! Unlike their North
American counterparts, who in my experience all seem to walk into access
centres with their own personal axe to grind (that's why they come), these
shy self-deprecating people had trouble knowing what they wanted to say.
They would come up with a general idea like "a story about handicapped
people", but it was hard work to get them to the point that they could
figure out what angle to take.
Shrinagar is located in an extremely beautiful area of Nepal, a half-day's
journey from popular trekking startpoints. The staff welcomes visitors,
especially visitors bearing spare parts or cast-off equipment! (They currently
have two PAL S-VHS players, a couple of PAL S-VHS cameras, and an Amiga
1200 that was donated to them to do graphics last year. If you are interested
in assisting Shrinagar Cable, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
or edwardscatherine @hotmail.com.
by Allan Macgillivray
Imagine a community without libraries, where clients can only purchase services
from foreign owned information companies; where any government that seeks
to foster cultural activities can be challenged and penalized for unfair
trading practices. For those concerned about the public space, as a non-commercial
basis for community, this could be part of a worst-case scenario. Yet the
General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) an agreement administered
by the WTO seeks to do exactly this. Under its "national treatment"
clause the GATS allows for trans-national corporations to challenge any
government's spending in the service sectors as an unfair subsidy, and demand
These topics were discussed in April when the British Columbia Library
Association held its Annual Information Policy Committee Conference. This
year's theme was Globalization, Media, and Cultural Diversity. The presentations
covered international trade & copyright agreements, and included reports
from various library associations' delegates to the WTO Third Ministerial
Conference in Seattle.
Amongst other rallies and teach-ins these delegates were part of an international
NGO contingent that was granted a special session of the WTO to express
concerns over globalization. This proved to be a pointless exercise as corporate
trade and lobby groups qualified as NGO's and proceeded to sing the praises
of the WTO, leaving little time on the agenda for dissenting voices. To
many attendees it was apparent that the WTO had merely staged the event
as a "democratic smoke screen". If the library associations' delegates
had been adequately heard their main concern would have been about the GATS.
The GATS seeks to liberalize trade in 160 service sectors. These include
libraries, educational institutions, and health care services. It is anticipated
that under "national treatment", foreign corporations can come
into the Canadian market and challenge government spending in these areas.
To avoid this, governments would have to cut funding and we would be in
a position of de facto privatization.
Although the WTO was unable to agree on an agenda in Seattle a tentative
draft of the GATS was completed. The language of the agreement seems to
allow for voluntary participation of governments with a deadline of December
15, 2000; but later in the text this is contradicted and the agreement is
binding. One trade official described everything as "being on the table."
Presenters to the BCLA conference were quick to admit that library issues
paled in comparison to some of the life and death issues being discussed
in Seattle. It was also realized that the actions of the library community
to combat the GATS would only be effective when in cooperation with other
members of the public service sectors, like the education and health care
communities, and others seeking to bolster the common good.
Regarding the Rogers-Shaw cable business swap, C.M.E.S. Community Media
Education Society would like to intervene on behalf of the community channel.
While C.M.E.S. does not object to the exchange of business territories,
we do have concerns about community programming policies at both Rogers
and Shaw. Specifically we feel access to the channel is limited, so that
a community group has as much chance of being represented on a commercial
station as it does on the community channel.
Marcel Touchette, Chief Licensing Analyst for Western Canada and Territories,
questions both Rogers and Shaw about the community channel. Rogers emphasizes
that shows are of the highest quality with 13,000 hours produced annually
by 1,700 volunteers. We have to ask about the quality of the volunteer experience.
Do volunteers generate production or do they work under close company supervision?
In other words, is this public access television?
Shaw also emphasizes quality. Viewers are consumers. The community channel
will be "Shaw TV" which will take only the best of current programming
and so, we ask, what is the best? The best is what attracts a high level
of viewing -- exactly what a commercial broadcaster wants to attract.
There's no subterfuge in these answers. The Shaw and Rogers community
channels are designed according to the best interests of Shaw and Rogers
shareholders, which is good management.
The problem is that the community channel was intended to be a public
service, not a business tool. "Shaw TV" should be offered in addition
to a genuine community channel. That channel should be funded by a levy
on basic service as it was up to two years ago.
Rogers is right in pointing out that community programming is Canadian
content. The levy that goes now to support the Canadian Television Fund
came at the expense of community television. It's time for that money to
be shared between commercial Canadian television and Canadian community
We note with interest an address by Jean-Pierre Blais before the Standing
Committee on Canadian Heritage. In particular we agreewith his mention of
the "lack of access to, and limited presence of, community programming
on community channels." We also recognize that problems for Quebec
are problems for all of Canada.
It would be a mistake now for us to fall behind the rest of the world.
Community television has been a Canadian success story.
Macdonald Elementary school students have inked a multi-picture deal
with producer Shelley MacDonald.
The lsland of Dr. Jeckyl has been completed and is already in
general release. A genre flick, the picture is a horror epic about Titanic
survivors encountering a werewolf. Star Natasha Wallace overcomes
the beast, played by the appropriately named Lyonel Montgomery. The
show was directed by Jarvis Wallace. Character roles are ably performed
by Charles Pronteau, Norman Bell, Jasmine Hilton, Leon
Montgomery and Samantha Wilson in a double role both as the Old
Woman and as Dr. Jeckyl. The completed production premiered May 29th on
East Side Story.
Post production is complete on the second show in the package, Alien
Invasion. Geoff Scott has edited another tight thrill-a- minute adventure.
Principal photography wrapped June 4th on the conclusion of the trilogy.
Lensing duties were shared by Pat Harrison and Neil Every
who also directed. Production design is by John R. Taylor.
On August 21, 2000, the Commission, by majority vote, denies the
application by Jan Pachul for a new low-power English-language television
programming undertaking in Toronto. The proposed station would have provided
a service designed for residents of an area of Toronto known as "The
Beaches". The applicant's proposal, however, even as modified at the
hearing, is predicated on the station's signal receiving mandatory cable
carriage in portions of Metropolitan Toronto well beyond the applicant's
intended service area.
(Largely due to) the apparent inconsistency between the intensely local
focus of the proposed programming service and the applicant's business plan,
which is predicated on mandatory cable carriage well beyond the area for
which the service is intended, the Commission has denied the application.
Commissioner David McKendry: I would grant Mr. Jan Pachul a licence...
His proposed station complies with the broadcasting policy set out in the
Broadcasting Act. The policy states that the broadcasting system includes
a community element and that programming should include community programs.
I would allow BDUs to distribute Mr Pachul's service on a basis negotiated
between him and a BDU...
I would require Mr. Pachul to meet his proposed Canadian CONTENT exhibition
and local production percentage undertakings. In other words, I would not
allow Mr. Pachul to convert his station into something other than a predominantly
Canadian community station.
Commissioner Barbara Cram: Because of the increasing demand for local
news and non news programming which we on the Commission hear constantly
and because of the lack of harm to the broadcasting system referred to by
Commissioner McKendry, my choice would have been to grant a licence to Mr.
I believe that the issue of financial viability of any LPTV will be an
issue and on the other side, the obligations which can be reasonably expected
of such undertakings. In terms of financial viability, clearly an undertaking
licenced in one of the most densely populated cities in the country would
have the highest probability of succeeding and if it did not succeed, it
may well be that LPTV in urban areas in Canada is simply not viable. I would
have granted Mr. Pachul a licence."