Canadian Community Television; Local Production Squeezed Out

Community Television in Cape Breton

The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) says that so-called "community" TV channels have been transformed into regional TV networks across the country.

With the excepetion of Quebec, smaller communities have lost their local TV channels because of more concentrated cable ownership, said CACTUS' spokesperson Cathy Edwards. "New Brunswick used to have more than 30 separate and distinct community TV channels - but now has just one service in English and one in French, with local content inserted only occasionally."

CACTUS says it will present additional information when it participates in hearings into community TV in late April, conducted by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

The CRTC first released a list of Canada's 139 community TV channels at the end of January, which CACTUS used to analyze the channels' schedules. "Since cable subscribers are paying more than $100 million a year for the right to create and produce programs for their own communities, we had hoped to find many diverse and distinct types of programs produced in and by Canadian communities for themselves," explained Edwards.

CACTUS says that in English Canada there are only 19 distinct programming services, in which at least half of the programming schedule is produced locally. The rest replay programming produced primarily in larger centres.

Even when a service is "distinct" and more than 50% of the programming is local, the vast majority is not made by the community, but by cable company staff. Cable company reports released by the CRTC substantiate this research, the Association notes.

In 2009, just 27% of programs were reported made by communities themselves, and CACTUS believes this figure is high. "We have heard widespread reports that cable companies report as 'access programming' any program that invites the public on for interviews, not programs actually produced by the public," Edwards said.

CACTUS says that province-wide cable-system interconnection explains the shift from community to regional programming. "Lack of diversity is a major problem for the community TV sector. How can these channels reflect the country's diversity," she asked, "when five cable companies control 90% of them and cut costs by replaying the same staff-produced programs across provinces?"

CACTUS has proposed that the CRTC adopt a community-based model for multi-media training and production that would bring local and user generated content back to more than 250 communities across Canada, at no new cost to subscribers.

"Since most of the productions on cable community channels are made by staff, it's too expensive to produce for every little community. A community-owned and operated model that welcomes community producers is the only model that can fill this growing void of local programming in Canada, as well as the thirst for new media training and access."

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