Posted in Media

Montreal Gazette loses veteran reporters, Pierre Foglia retires from La Presse

While students in Quebec were heading out on spring break last Friday, veteran journalists in two newsrooms were packing their boxes.

Friday was the last day on the job for five journalists and one administrative assistant at the Montreal Gazette. They leave as part of the latest wave of buyouts meant to reduce operating costs at the newspaper, which means they won’t be replaced. Instead, other staff’s responsibilities will be shifted to cover their work.

Sue Montgomery was the Gazette’s justice reporter. She covered the trial of Luka Magnotta and many other lowlifes before him. Reviews of her career inevitably bring up her trip to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, her coverage of the sexual abuse at Les Frères Ste-Croix at Collège Notre Dame, and her work with Antonia Zerbisias to create the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported in the aftermath of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.

She was also very outspoken, sometimes to the displeasure of her employer.

In her farewell column, she writes:

I became a journalist almost 30 years ago, not so much because I loved the craft of writing, but more to give a voice to those who aren’t otherwise heard. I wasn’t interested in the politicians, who never seem to say anything meaningful, or the boring businessmen, incomprehensible sports stars or fake celebrities. None seemed real.

I was drawn to and intrigued by the everyday people like you and me who experience extraordinary loss, suffering and injustice and still manage to somehow carry on. We can all learn from such stories — about the resilience of the human spirit, empathy and strength.

You can read some of her work here. She also did an interview with CBC’s Daybreak.

Peggy Curran was the Gazette’s city columnist, returning to a writing job after a brief stint as city editor. Curran wrote in an almost poetic manner about the city and its problems (if I was nearly as good, I could have described her style better), and like Montgomery she preferred the stories about real people.

She has a wicked sense of humour, too. Along a wall of portraits of journalists past and present who have received awards for their work, there’s a photo of Curran leaning on the wall of her cubicle. Below her is a cutout of what looks like a tabloid headline she cut out and posted on her wall: “PSYCHO IRISH BITCH”.

In her farewell column, she worries about the future of the industry she’s leaving:

Being a journalist is a job of great intensity, more so as deadlines have multiplied. The daily miracle is now measured in minutes since the last update.

To do this right requires abundant energy and unconditional love.

Curran has compiled her five favourite stories here.

Pat Donnelly was the Gazette’s theatre critic (sandwiching a brief time as literary columnist), spending her evenings attending previews and performances, some of which were very good and many of which were very bad. Though in her farewell column, she focuses on the good:

As a theatre critic, I was privileged to witness one of the most exciting periods in Quebec theatre history, when Robert Lepage was first making waves, the Montreal Fringe Festival was born and Montreal’s bilingual Les Misérables won the admiration of the world. Sylvie Drapeau starred in all the best French plays. The Cirque du Soleil went from one triumph to another. Montrealer Richard Monette ruled the Stratford Festival. The biennial Festival TransAmériques, founded by the indomitable Marie-Hélène Falcon, expanded to became an annual hybrid of theatre and dance. And La Licorne, my favourite francophone theatre, began to lead the way with English surtitles.

Though theatre tends not to be on the radar of most people, Donnelly did manage to stir up some controversy, when she highlighted the use of blackface at a year-end review show at Théâtre du Rideau Vert. The story spread for more than a month afterward as people (mostly white) debated how offensive it is for white actors to put on dark makeup in Quebec.

Donnelly has compiled some highlights from her career here.

Lynn Moore was a journalist in the Gazette’s business department. She specialized in natural resources until she became the coordinator of the business section, tasked with the thankless job of putting together a section with few journalists and lots of news. She was also responsible for commissioning freelance pieces, including many from me.

You can read a small selection of her stories (including several Jazz Festival reviews) here.

François Shalom also worked in business, where he specialized in aerospace, an important beat in the city that is not only home to big industry players like Bombardier, Air Transat, CAE and Héroux-Devtek, but also the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Air Transport Association.

His last day as an employee came on the same day that Bombardier did its first flight test of its CS300 aircraft, though he didn’t get a chance to cover it.

You can read some of Shalom’s stories here.

These five people were colleagues, and I could probably write a lot of the same things about all of them: they had a good sense of humour, they cared about their work, they cared about the organization they worked for and the damage it has taken from its reductions in staff and quality, and they were kind people who nevertheless had little tolerance for bullshit.

And the Gazette will be worse off for having let them go. (Matthew Hays articulates part of what the paper is losing in this piece for Rover.)

The Gazette also lost a member of its support staff: Helen Ciampini had the title of “executive assistant” but was effectively responsible, with newsroom manager June Thompson, for all the little things that kept the operation running. The Gazette has lost almost all of the administrative staff it had when I was first hired, and has struggled to cope as a result.

None of the departing staff have indicated any future plans other than vacation.

« Ceci n’est pas une chronique d’adieu »

On the same day the Gazette lost staff with a combined experience of more than 100 years, La Presse lost a columnist who just about matches that by himself. Pierre Foglia announced in his Saturday column that he’s retiring, though he plans to contribute occasional stories about books.

Foglia, who has been with La Presse since 1972, according to Presse Canadienne, has been described as a unique columnist with a poetic style and wisdom that made him the envy of his colleagues.

Journal de Montréal blogger Marie-Claude Ducas writes a piece appreciating Foglia.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

TVA Sports to expand to three feeds during NHL playoffs

tvasports3

When TVA Sports launched, people wondered if it could fill 24 hours. When it acquired NHL rights, it had to expand to two channels even though it only really had scheduling conflicts on Saturday nights.

Now, with the NHL playoffs coming, and TVA having rights to all playoff games, Quebecor has decided to add a third feed to the service.

TVA Sports 3 will come online on April 15 on Videotron, Rogers, Bell Fibe/satellite and Telus Optik TV. It will be free to all subscribers who have TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 in their packages. (Some subscribers have TVA Sports but not TVA Sports 2, and probably won’t get this new channel.)

In the two weeks leading up to that, from April 2 to 14, TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 will have a free preview. (There’s only one Saturday night Canadiens game in that span, the season finale against the Maple Leafs.)

The most interesting thing about TVA Sports 3 is that it’s a temporary channel, and will be removed at the end of May, when the first two (three?) playoff rounds are over and there aren’t any more scheduling conflicts. That doesn’t mean it can’t return in the future, though. There’s a lot of sports out there.

If you only have TVA Sports, by the way, there’s probably no need to worry. They haven’t put any Canadiens games on TVA Sports 2, and there’s no reason they would start now. (RDS only moved a regular-season Canadiens game to RDS2 once, and that was during the World Series.)

Yes, it’s necessary

TVA Sports 3 is needed because there are situations, especially in the first round of the NHL playoffs, where two channels isn’t enough. Last year, TSN had to give away a playoff game to Sportsnet because it had the Raptors on the main network and it couldn’t put two simultaneous games on TSN2. (Now that TSN has five channels, that’s no longer a problem.)

The NHL tries to schedule the playoffs so there is as little overlap as possible, but when western conference teams play 8pm or 9pm starts (because many teams are in Central or Mountain time zones), you can have three going at once.

And jokes aside, TVA Sports does have rights to other sports. It has some Impact games, some Blue Jays games, some NFL games and some tennis events. It still has a long way to go to catch up to RDS, but it’s working on it.

Some context

Three channels might seem like a lot, but there’s a long list of sports channels in Canada owned by Bell and Rogers:

Bell (English): TSN1-5, ESPN Classic, plus minority stakes in NHL Network, Leafs TV, GOL TV, NBA TV, and CTV and CTV Two can air sports programming

Bell (French): RDS, RDS2, RDS Info

Rogers (English): Sportsnet East/Ontario/West/Pacific, Sportsnet 360, Sportsnet One/Vancouver/Oilers/Flames, Sportsnet World, OLN, plus minority stakes in Leafs TV, GOL TV, NBA TV, and City, OMNI and FX Canada can air sports programming, plus its deal with CBC for hockey

And on top of that there’s NFL Network, MLB Network, Golf Channel and others with English programming that TVA could pick up the French rights to.

Don’t expect Canadiens on TVA

Since the TVA NHL deal was first announced, people have been asking about Canadiens games on the main TVA network. Rogers even assumed it would happen in some early schedule mockups, and TVA never ruled out the possibility.

The press release isn’t clear, but seems to imply Canadiens playoff games will be on TVA Sports. Remember that Quebecor spent a lot of money securing these rights, and no NHL team draws francophone audiences nearly as much as the Canadiens. If they’d gotten all 82 Canadiens games, then a Saturday night free-to-air game might have made sense, but as it stands it needs Canadiens fans to subscribe to the sports channel.

Things might change if the Canadiens go deep in the playoffs. Most if not all Canadiens playoff games should be available for free in English on CBC or City, so casual fans jumping on the bandwagon might decide to forgo a TVA Sports subscription and just watch the games in English. If the Canadiens make the Stanley Cup final, TVA might decide that advertising revenue for such a huge audience outweighs the potential gains in temporary TVA Sports subscriptions.

Posted in TV

CBC greenlights English adaptation of Radio-Canada’s Nouvelle adresse

On the same day it holds a public consultation in Montreal asking its audience how it can best represent English-speaking Quebec in its programming, CBC announced it has green-lit an English-language drama set in Montreal.

The new series is an English adaptation of Nouvelle adresse, the Radio-Canada drama written by Richard Blaimert and starring Macha Grenon as a journalist whose extended family is turned upside down after she learns that she has an incurable cancer. The series, which began last fall, is already in its second season, and though it faces tough competition from TVA’s Lance et compte in the Monday 9pm timeslot, it’s seen its audience steadily grow over the past few weeks.

New Address, for which Blaimert will be a consultant but not the writer, will begin production this summer and could be on air as early as this fall, CBC says. We don’t have too much detail (no cast announcement yet), but we know that the series will be set in Montreal, and that the family name is being changed from Lapointe in the French version to Lawson in the English.

Both the French series and its English adaptation are produced by Sphère Média Plus, which is responsible for several attempts to turn its French-language hits into English versions, with mixed success:

  • Sophie, the English adaptation of the comedy Les hauts et les bas de Sophie Paquin, about a talent agent whose life goes nuts, which lasted two seasons and 32 episodes on CBC before being cancelled because of poor ratings. (That series was also written by Blaimert, though he defends it a bit to La Presse.)
  • Rumours, the adaptation of the half-hour comedy Rumeurs about a group of magazine employees, which lasted 20 episodes on CBC.
  • And, of course, 19-2, the adaptation of the Radio-Canada cop drama of the same name, which is now in its second season on Bravo, where it is both a critical and popular success. It landed there after CBC passed on the chance to pick up the series.

The company was also commissioned by NBC to create a pilot that adapted the dramatic comedy Le monde de Charlotte. It never got picked up.

UPDATE (Feb. 26): Now comes news that it’s going to adapt Mémoires vives in English for Rogers, which could put it on City or FX Canada.

Can this be the one that works?

The success of 19-2 compared to the lack of same from Sophie and Rumours probably leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the programming decision-makers at CBC Television. But it doesn’t change the fact that these Sphère Média Plus adaptations are more likely to fail than succeed.

Nouvelle adresse is a good series, well-written, well-acted, and will probably pick up several awards come awards season. But then again Sophie and Rumours were based on series that picked up more than a dozen Gémeaux awards, so that’s not a guarantee of anything.

I’m a fan of Nouvelle adresse, even though it, like 19-2, is pretty heavy. But while 19-2 has police officers with guns patrolling gritty streets, Nouvelle adresse is about middle-class families dealing with disease, divorce and drama. I’m not sure how well that will translate.

A big difference will probably be the cast chosen for the English version. Though I doubt it would happen, Grenon is bilingual and could theoretically reprise her role in the language of Shakespeare. Among anglo Quebecers, she’s still remembered best as the lady from the Pharmaprix commercials of the 90s:

On jase, as they say in French. Sphère Média Plus’s success with 19-2 has earned it another chance at turning a Radio-Canada hit into a CBC one. Let’s be cautiously hopeful that it succeeds, if only because it’s nice to see another series set in Montreal on English-language television in Canada.

No Unité 9 en anglais

Richard Therrien at Le Soleil tells us that CBC couldn’t come to an agreement to adapt the Quebec mega-hit Unité 9 into an English series. Apparently the CBC’s desire to cut down on the number of episodes was a problem for author/producer Fabienne Larouche.

Posted in Media, My articles, Radio, TV

CBC holding its first public consultation for English-language minority in Quebec

The CBC wants to hear from you, not just because it wants to, but because it’s required to by a condition of licence.

In fact, it’s the very first condition of licence for CBC’s English and French-language services in a new CRTC licence approved in May 2013: The public broadcaster has to consult with minority-language communities: Francophones in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Western Canada and the North, and anglophones in Quebec. It has to happen once every two years and it has to be reported to the CRTC.

As CBC Quebec Managing Director Shelagh Kinch explains in this story I wrote for the Montreal Gazette, this is merely a formalizing of regular consultations the CBC did with anglophone community groups in Quebec and collection of audience feedback.

The consultation takes place Tuesday (Feb. 24) from 6:30pm to 8pm at Salle Raymond David of the Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal. You can also tune in via live webcast and participate on Twitter using the hashtag #CBCconsults.

In addition to Kinch and a panel of local journalists (All in a Weekend/Our Montreal host Sonali Karnick, C’est la vie host and political columnist Bernard St-Laurent, Shari Okeke and Raffy Boudjikanian, plus travelling journalist Marika Wheeler), there will also be two bigwigs from CBC who can make a real difference: Jennifer McGuire, editor-in-chief of CBC News (who is also responsible for local radio across the country) and Sally Catto, general manager of programming for CBC Television. (Sadly, there isn’t anyone from national CBC radio, nor is CEO Hubert Lacroix on the panel.)

The CRTC imposed this condition of licence among several changes in the last licence renewal to ensure CBC is fulfilling its mandate toward minority language communities that aren’t large enough to have commercial broadcasters catering to them. And while Montreal is big enough that we have four English TV stations and several commercial radio stations, the rest of Quebec is pretty underserved. The only major broadcaster catering to them directly is the CBC Radio One station in Quebec City.

So if you have some beef with CBC’s programming, or feel as though it needs to better reflect your reality, whether you live on the Plateau or in Gaspé, this is your chance to make yourself heard.

And yeah, the just-shut-down-the-CBC suggestion has already been made.

The Facebook event for the discussion is here.

I can’t make it because of a meeting I have to be at, so I won’t get a chance to ask why our public broadcaster took a pass on the only English-language Canadian scripted drama series that’s actually set in Montreal.

Posted in My articles, Radio

The Jewel in Hudson hires Ted Bird as morning show host

Ted Bird

Ted Bird

Three months after it began on-air testing, The Jewel 106.7 (CHSV-FM) in Hudson/St-Lazare is getting ready for a launch in early March and has hired its morning man: Ted Bird.

I have some details in this story in the Montreal Gazette’s Off-Island section.

With the hire, Bird gains his fifth employer and fifth station in five years. He left CHOM in 2010 over “creative differences” with management and months later landed at community station K103 in Kahnawake. In 2012, he left K103 and joined what was then TSN 990. In the fall of 2013, after the Bell/Astral merger put his old CHOM bosses in charge of TSN, he was let go, and joined KIC Country 89.9 in Kahnawake. His last shift at that station was on Friday.

Bird also freelances as a sports commentator. He had a regular segment on CTV Montreal, and recently started doing the same thing for City’s Sportsnet Central Montreal.

Evanov Radio, which owns The Jewel, confirms that it has hired Bird as the morning show host.

“We have also hired a sales team which consists of three representatives to start and are looking to add our sales manager shortly,” says Evanov vice-president Carmela Laurignano.

There’s no word yet on other talent, but we’ll know that in the coming weeks. I’ve heard of a few names familiar to Montreal radio listeners that have tried out.

The Jewel is licensed to serve Hudson and St-Lazare, and its signal also covers Vaudreuil, Rigaud, Oka, Île Perrot and the western part of the West Island. Its programming will be mainly easy-listening music, but will have news and information specific for the Hudson/St-Lazare community (its application promised four hours and 22 minutes a week of news, of which half would be local to that community). Evanov told the CRTC in applying for the licence to the station that this community of should be considered a separate market from Montreal. (According to the CRTC’s measure, Hudson and St-Lazare alone have about 22,000 anglophone residents.)

Posted in TV

CRTC finds MAtv failed to fulfill its community TV mandate, denies additional funding for English-language channel

In a victory for those who feel community TV channels run by cable companies are using loopholes to get around the spirit of the rules, the CRTC has ruled that Videotron’s MAtv community television channel has not complied with its obligations, but will be given a chance to do so.

In short, the CRTC agreed with the complaint by Independent Community TV, an independent group that wants to replace MAtv with its own grass-roots service, that MAtv isn’t providing enough community access programming, and instead counting shows created and hosted by professionals as access programs.

It also found some programs MAtv counted as “local” aren’t specific enough to Montreal.

The regulations require community channels to be 45% access and 60% local, but found MAtv was, during a sample week studied, only 30% access and 39% local.

The CRTC held up an application for an English-language version of MAtv in Montreal as it dealt with this complaint. That decision was also released today, and it allows Videotron to start up the service but denies the additional funding necessary to do so.

Cable companies start community channels because the CRTC allows them to deduct that funding from the 5% of gross revenues that they must spend on Canadian programming (mainly contributions to the Canada Media Fund). The rules allow up to 2% of gross revenues to be used for a community channel. But recently the CRTC has been allowing some companies to deduct a further 2% to create a second channel in another language — Rogers has this in Ottawa, Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John, while Bell has this for its Bell Local service in Montreal.

But because of the non-compliance, and because it felt MAtv already had enough funding, the CRTC says Videotron must start this new service without any additional funding. That severely lessens the chances of it happening.

In addition to a general requirement to come into compliance by the time its licence is up for renewal in August, Videotron must establish a citizen advisory board for MAtv by March 15.

The commission notes that the community TV policy will be reviewed in the coming year, and presumably the discrepancy between Videotron and Bell will be addressed through that.

I have reaction from the parties in a story in the Gazette. La Presse also has a story, as does Le Devoir, with commentary from ICTV.

You can read more background on this issue here and here.

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Posted in Montreal, Radio

Radio Fierté is now officially broadcasting

As of 6am today, a little over three months after it began on-air testing, CHRF Radio Fierté 980 is officially on the air, the first French-language LGBT radio station in North America according to their promo ads.

You can listen to the first four minutes of the first morning show here:

We now have a full idea of the programming schedule and on-air personalities. For a station that’s supposed to blend music and talk, it’s pretty light on the talk with only five hosts announced:

  • Michel Duchesne and Sylvain Verstricht host the morning show Les Barbus from 6am to 9am weekdays. Duchesne is an author and television writer who worked at Radio-Canada for 14 years (La Presse recently profiled him). Verstricht comes from CIBL 101.5 FM and writes the bilingual culture blog Local Gestures.
  • Marie-Noëlle (Marino) Gagnon hosts Marino et ses Diamants from 1 to 3pm and La Chansonnette avec Marino from 9 to 11am on Sundays, and serves as the station’s music director. She comes from RNC Media where she worked at Radio X 91.9 in Montreal.
  • Joe Bocan and Miguel Doucet host Les Pétards from 5 to 6pm weekdays (Bocan as of Feb. 9). Bocan is a singer who was very successful in the 1980s and early 90s, but withdrew from the public view to raise her children. La Presse profiled her desire to return to her career last year. Doucet is an aspiring actor. Doucet also hosts Ta Playlist from 6:30 to 7pm weekdays.

Weekends also include Le Top 10 Franco with Duchesne, Verstricht and Doucet at 11am Saturdays and Le Top Anglo at noon.

If you missed any of that, Joe Bocan can repeat it for you:

Radio Fierté can be streamed from its website or its mobile app. It’s also on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted in Opinion, TV

CRTC says Canadians will get to watch U.S. Super Bowl ads as of 2017

It’s a decision that surprises me somewhat, though it’s consistent with the more populist pro-consumer approach taken by chairman Jean-Pierre Blais: simultaneous substitution, the rule that allows Canadian TV stations to force cable companies to replace U.S. network feeds with their own when they air the same program simultaneously, will be eliminated — only for the Super Bowl, and only as of 2017.

It’s weird to make an exception for a specific event, but the Super Bowl really is an exception. It’s the only time during the year when people actually want to watch the U.S. ads, and every year it’s the most common complaint the commission gets from consumers.

But this decision comes at a cost. Bell Media pays big money for NFL rights. We don’t know how much, or how long those rights are for (it was a “multi-year” deal signed in 2013), but we do know that the Super Bowl had 7.3 million viewers on CTV last year, and the Globe and Mail says the network can charge up to $200,000 for a 30-second spot during the game. With about 50 minutes of commercial time available, that’s several million dollars in revenue at stake. (UPDATE: Bell puts it at about $20 million for each year until its contract runs out in 2019.)

It’s hard to say what the fallout of this will be. Bell Media buys NFL rights as a package, so it’s not as simple as saying they’ll just give up rights to the Super Bowl. And the rest of the season, including the January playoffs, are still subject to substitution, and that still means a lot of money for the network.

Some people have suggested that CTV could get creative as a way of keeping viewers. Offering value-added content, or getting Canadian advertisers to improve their ads. The network has certainly tried the latter, but the economics just don’t work in its favour. A national Super Bowl ad in the U.S. costs 20 times as much as it does in Canada, which means advertisers’ budgets are 20 times higher. And as for value-added content, CTV can’t compete with the big U.S. networks. Plus, this whole exemption is so that we can watch the U.S. ads. How does CTV show the game and the U.S. ads and find space for its own advertising without cutting anything off?

Medium-term, it will be interesting to see how this changes the economics of NFL rights. Will Bell get a discount on its next deal (or does it have a clause that gives it a discount on this deal if it extends beyond 2016)? Will the U.S. network broadcasting future Super Bowls have to pay more to the NFL because their ads make it into Canada now? And will that result in higher rates on the U.S. broadcast?

Or will any of this even matter in a few years when we stop watching linear TV the way we used to?

Quality control — and red tape

For the rest of the year, the CRTC decided it would put in place measures to punish broadcasters and providers who screw up substitution, resulting in Canadians missing programming. We don’t care about the U.S. ads during these times, but we do care if Saturday Night Live comes back late or the Oscars cut out early.

Blais said the commission would adopt “a zero-tolerance approach to substantial mistakes” which sounds like an oxymoron. Broadcasters who make mistakes could lose the rights to substitute programs in the future. Distributors who make mistakes would be forced to provide rebates to customers.

Those both sound great, but how do you manage such a system? The CRTC suggests it would be done through its usual complaint resolution process:

To ensure procedural fairness to all broadcasters and BDUs, the Commission’s findings on such matters will be determined on a case-by-case basis and in the context of a process during which parties will have an opportunity to present any explanation for the errors, including whether the errors occurred despite the exercising of due diligence by a broadcasting undertaking.

In other words, if you lose 30 seconds of a Saturday Night Live sketch, you’ll have to complain to the CRTC, who will then launch a proceeding asking the two sides for comment. The broadcaster and the distributor will proceed to blame each other, and a few months later issue a decision that might result in three cents getting deducted from your next cable bill.

This sounds like an awful lot of red tape and extra work for everyone involved.

OTA stays

In its other decision on local television today, the CRTC said it would not allow local TV stations to shut down their over-the-air transmitters while retaining all the privileges of local stations, such as simultaneous substitution and local advertising. To emphasize the point, Blais gave his speech in front of large TV receiving antennas that consumers can use (but most are unaware of) to get local stations for free.

Beyond a takedown of arguments by Bell and the CBC, there isn’t much to this decision. It essentially keeps the status quo intact. But the CRTC says it will look more closely at the issue of local programming when it reviews its community television policy in the 2015-16 year. The scope of this review will be expanded to look at local TV in general, and the implication is that the commission may get more serious about forcing local TV stations to be more local.

More coverage of today’s decisions from the Globe and Mail and Cartt.ca. You can also watch the livestream of Blais’s speech here.

Reaction

Kevin O’Leary says this decision is “completely insane”, for what it’s worth, saying the CRTC is working against Canadians and Canada is like North Korea or Cuba. You know, his usual understated style.

Michael Hennessy of the Canadian Media Production Association looks at the downside of this decision for the industry, both directly and indirectly.

Diane Wild of TV Eh? says the CRTC should eliminate simsub entirely so Canadian broadcasters are encouraged to create their own content.

Michael Geist defends the decision, pointing out that simultaneous substitution is on the out anyway and the Canadian television industry is already too reliant on the government.

Meanwhile, Bell apparently sought a private meeting with the commissionners to get them to reverse their decision, a request the CRTC turned down.

And at Cartt.ca, suggestions that this could be the beginning of the end of vertical integration in Canada.

Posted in My articles, Radio

CRTC denies CJLO transmitter at 107.9 FM

Vermont Public Radio fans in Montreal can exhale. At least for now.

On Monday, the CRTC denied an application from Concordia’s CJLO to add an FM retransmitter at 107.9 FM, which would block out VPR in downtown Montreal and an arguable radius around it.

But the commission makes it clear that objections from VPR and its fans had nothing to do with the decision: “because VPR operates a U.S. station, its station was not considered in the examination of this application.”

This is consistent with a previous decision allowing CHLT-FM in Sherbrooke to move to 107.7 FM despite interference problems it might cause VPR listeners in the townships.

Instead, the CRTC determined that CJLO had not presented a compelling technical need to get the new allocation, particularly since 107.9 would be one of the last frequencies available for a station in Montreal.

More about this decision below and in this story in the Montreal Gazette.

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Posted in Media, Opinion

Nobody is above conflict of interest — but everyone thinks they are

What is a conflict of interest?

Simply put, it’s a situation where one person’s duty to an organization, a cause, a person or something else is in conflict with that person’s relationship to some other organization, person or cause, where the best interests of one might not be in the best interests of another.

It sounds a bit vague, but conflicts can be all sorts of things. You could sit on the boards of two companies doing business with each other. You could be in a relationship with your supervisor. You could be a police officer arresting a family member. Or you could be a journalist whose reporting might affect a company that is earning you income on the side.

This past week, two examples have come up of high-profile journalists being in potential conflicts of interest because of their side jobs, and of failing to disclose such conflicts to their audience. And in each case, the mentality of the person at the centre of it all seems to have been that since they would never allow themselves to be corrupted by money, they’re not in a conflict of interest.

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Posted in My articles, Opinion, Public transit

Crunching the numbers in the STM’s budget

A week ago, the STM hiked its fares yet again, making it more expensive to take public transit in Montreal. The hikes represent about a 50% increase over a decade, well above the rate of inflation.

Politicians, social activists and regular transit users complained, as they do every year, that this is unacceptable, making it harder for those who don’t have money to get to and from work. The STM and its defenders point to the fact that public transit in Montreal is still much cheaper than Toronto and other comparable cities. The other side comes back with the argument that income and costs of living are lower in Montreal, so you can’t compare cities like that.

A few weeks ago, I started wondering whether the STM’s rate increases were truly reasonable, so I started going through its budgets and plugging numbers into a spreadsheet. I also got some numbers from Statistics Canada, such as the consumer price index in Montreal, the population of the city, the median family income.

The result is a story published in Thursday’s Gazette that tries to give a quantitative picture of the situation. The headline is that the increase in fares, at least for the years 2005-2013 (we don’t have figures for 2014 yet), corresponds to an increase in service in both métro and bus service, all going up about 30% over that period.

But is that the proper way to measure whether it’s reasonable? The increased service came with an increase in the number of users, which means more fare revenues. Should that be taken into account? What about our ability to pay?

With the help of the Gazette’s data guru Roberto Rocha, we put together an interactive chart with the story that allows you to make comparisons for yourself of how things have changed since 2005. Fare price versus total trips. Total salaries and benefits vs. total bus service. Revenue per trip versus total passes sold. Total revenue versus population.

But even that’s only a subset of the data analysis that can be done. So I invite you to do your own: Download this spreadsheet and compare numbers to write your own story.

STM fares in context (.xls, 42kb)

The figures don’t all look good for the STM. Salaries and benefits are going up higher than the amount of work done to justify them. And the amount of subsidies from the Quebec government has gone up more than 200%.

But before you blame the unions or some other invented bogeyman, consider that the cost per hour worked at the STM went gone up about the same as the median family income in Montreal.

Missing numbers

There were some comparisons I wanted to make that I couldn’t. Reading the comments below the Gazette piece, people point to executive salaries. I wanted to include that, but it’s hard to quantify because of the changes in executive pay. For example, I could put in the salary for the director-general of the STM. But that salary went down significantly when Carl Desrosiers took over the position, and in the latest numbers were still lower than his predecessor (though not much).

Another is the price of oil. Including its value could easily give the impression that the fare hikes are more than reasonable. But the price of crude has plummeted in recent months, which would not be reflected on these charts because they end in 2013. So I asked Jeanine Lee, our graphic artist, to take it out of one of the charts we were using.

And there are numbers that can’t be easily calculated, like the number of overall users. Or numbers that are subjective, like customer satisfaction.

What metrics would you use to judge the STM’s performance? And what do those numbers show?

Posted in Media, Opinion

Logical arguments for and against publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons

I woke up yesterday to horribleness. My Twitter feed was filled with people tweeting and retweeting breaking news about an attack on a publication in France that left many people dead. It didn’t take long to conclude that these people died because of things they drew.

Later, and again this morning, there was a lot of debate over whether other media should republish the cartoons that Charlie Hebdo created that so offended Muslims, particularly those that depicted the prophet Muhammad. Depicting the most revered figure in Muslim history is forbidden by many in that religion, because it could lead to idolatry.

In the case of Charlie Hebdo in particular, many of its cartoons have been denounced as racist toward Arabs and other races associated with Muslim countries. The publication regularly pushed the boundaries of good taste and respect, sometimes intentionally just for its own sake.

So is it appropriate to republish them? Arguments have been made on both sides. French newspapers in Quebec generally republished them out of solidarity with the people who lost their lives for the sake of satire. Media pundit Jeff Jarvis makes a passionate argument in favour. CBC’s Neil MacDonald makes a more eloquent argument:

English media, including my employer the Montreal Gazette, chose not to out of respect for Muslims who had nothing to do with this attack. The Globe and Mail’s editor-in-chief explained the decision, so did the New York Times and CBC, and the Gazette’s editor-in-chief has been doing the media rounds explaining its decision.

The rhetoric on social media has been particularly vitriolic, accusing those who published the cartoons of being racist, and accusing those who didn’t of caving to terrorists.

I’m not here to cast judgment, merely to lay out the arguments on either side. But before I do that, let’s lay down some things we all agree on:

  • No one deserves to die for making fun of someone else, for saying something discriminatory, or for offending anyone or anything.
  • Freedom of expression means the freedom to decide for yourself whether you will or will not publish something.
  • Denouncing a decision related to freedom of speech is an exercise of that same freedom of speech unless it somehow prevents the other person from expressing him or herself.

Now, onto the arguments. If you come up with good ones that aren’t on these lists, put them below in the comments and I’ll add them.

Arguments in favour of publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons

  • This is what these people died for. Continuing self-censorship does a disservice to their memories.
  • The public can’t get a complete idea of the story without seeing the cartoons at the centre of it.
  • What about non-offensive cartoons depicting Muhammad? This isn’t about racism, this is about being scared of religious backlash.
  • Where does it end? If a religion finds the colour red to be offensive, would we be obligated to refuse to use that colour out of respect?
  • We talk about and publish all sorts of things that offend people, while explaining that they’re offensive. People are smart enough to understand that it’s not an endorsement.
  • Because regardless of everything else, we must stand on the side of free speech.

Arguments against publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons

  • If publishing the cartoons would have been offensive before, that shouldn’t change because some people died.
  • The story can be explained without having to show the cartoons.
  • We don’t know which cartoons (if any) are the cause of this attack.
  • The cartoons are racist, and we should not propagate hate speech out of a sense of solidarity.
  • If this had been a similar story, but the offending images were signs that said “kill all [N-word]s”, would we be obligated to publish them uncensored or would simply describing them have been sufficient?
  • We could publish the less offensive cartoons, but that would be misleading, because it’s the most offensive ones that led to the attack.
  • The media routinely censor disturbing imagery, including video of a police officer being shot dead in this very story. How is that different?
  • Because Ezra Levant. (Seriously, what’s changed since the Jyllands-Posten affair that he’s no longer the only one who wants to republish the cartoons?)
Posted in Media

Questions that remain unanswered as we enter 2015

As I write this we’re a week into the new year. I’d do a recap of 2014, but I figure you’re tired of reading those by now, and it would be redundant. If you’re interested, spend a few hours reading old posts.

But it is easy to forget a lot of the stuff that happened, and in particular a lot of the stuff that hasn’t resolved itself yet. So here are some questions that haven’t been answered yet, and may or may not be by the time this calendar year finishes.

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