C.M.E.S. encourages the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Liza Frulla, to implement the recommendations in the report by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage - Our Cultural Sovereignty - also known as the Lincoln Report.
Our particular interest is the section on community television. For most of a decade C.M.E.S. has worked to regain accessibility and volunteer involvement with the community channel.
We were encouraged when the CRTC brought in CRTC PN 2002-61, giving groups across Canada independent access to the channel for the first time. We agree with the Standing Committee that the CRTC policy is too little too late.
We appreciate that Parliament hesitates to interfere with the CRTC. The CRTC is a quasi- judicial body and political interference destroys the credibility of its decisions. On the other hand, the technical nature of the industry means that commissioners often come from the companies they regulate, and return to those companies when they leave the Commission. The inevitable conflicts of interest are evident to anyone who has more than casual dealings with the CRTC and in fact were the main source of complaints about the CRTC heard by the Standing Committee.1
The Standing Committee has two main recommendations affecting community television that we think deserve attention from Canada's Heritage Ministry. First, Recommendation
19:17 extends the Auditor General's authority to companies regulated under the Broadcasting Act.
Currently, community channel spending (which is public money collected through a cable tax levy) amounts to $80 million a year. The Standing 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 (approximately $75 to $80 million) in support of community television each year".2
In the seven years C.M.E.S. has been protesting the redirection of this money to cable company promotion and advertising, half a billion dollars has been taken away from the public service goals defined in the Broadcasting Act and CRTC policies. Media companies have been understandably reluctant to cover this story, though they pay close attention to any other misdirection of public funds.
Secondly, recommendation 9.1 causes the CRTC to require public access to the community channel, rather than simply recommending access for community groups and volunteers.3
Thirdly, recommendation 9.8 creates funding for independent groups delivering community programming.4 The Canadian Television Fund specifically excludes community programming from funding eligibility. However an anomaly exists in that commercial programs are shown on the community channel, while local independent programs are denied any public money in spite of being the only producers who comply with CRTC PN 2002-61 program guidelines.5 These groups survive only through volunteer support, yet the local demand is so great that volunteers keep coming.
We've brought up these issues at all-candidates meetings with Vancouver MP's, and in those meetings all candidates supported implementation of the Standing Committee recommendations. We believe that would be a wise decision, and a popular one.
website: Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting http://www.parl.gc.ca/mfoComDoc/37/2/HERFSmdies/Reports/herirp02-e.htm
Write to your Member of Parliament at the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, ON, K1A OA6 (postage free), or visit your local constituency office.
1 Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting, page 591
2 ibid., page 368
3 ibid., page 361
4 ibid., page 367
5 Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2002-61, Role and Objectives, page 23 of 34