Media News Digest: Lockout threat at Ottawa Citizen/Sun, strike threat at TVA, more hires at The Athletic

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Media News Digest: CRTC boosts TV quotas, more newspapers close, Postmedia buyouts

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CRTC renews all mandatory TV subscription orders

If the CRTC is trying to wean the broadcasting system off of free money, it hasn’t been showing it in the past couple of weeks as it has renewed mandatory distribution orders for most services that have that special status requiring all cable, satellite and IPTV subscribers to subscribe to those services.

Every service whose status was up for renewal on Aug. 31 was renewed, with three getting an increase in their per-subscriber fee and one getting a decrease. Overall, the total goes up by seven cents a month per subscriber.

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What to expect from CityNews Montreal, which launches Monday

Gazette photographer Dave Sidaway composes a photo of CityNews Montreal journalists Andrew Brennan, Akil Alleyne, Emily Campbell, Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed and Giordano Cescutti at the Citytv Montreal studio on Friday.

A handful of young journalists have been spending a couple of weeks rehearsing for the launch of Montreal’s fourth English-language daily evening local newscast. On Labour Day, ready or not, it goes live.

CityNews Montreal is part of the second half of five local City stations that have decided to join Toronto in having local news at 6 and 11pm. Rogers has determined that these evening newscasts are worth investing in as part of meeting their new requirements for “locally reflective news” established by the CRTC as of last year.

To get an idea what we can expect from this newscast, I watched the existing ones in Edmonton and Winnipeg, and talked with Dave Budge, VP of news and information at Rogers, plus briefly with Melanie Porco, supervising producer in Montreal.

The result is this Montreal Gazette story, published in Saturday’s paper. It explains how the anchorless newscast works. But for the TV and policy nerds, a few extra tidbits here.

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RNC Media agrees to sell CHOI Radio X and 91,9 Sports

In August, as RNC Media announced the sale of 10 of its 15 radio stations in Quebec to Cogeco, the chair of its board said the remaining stations were “not on the market.”

Four months later, two of those stations — the most prominent, arguably — have been sold.

CHOI Radio X, the most famous of the Quebec City populist talk radio stations, as well as Montreal’s 91.9 Sports, are being sold to Leclerc Communication, for a price that hasn’t been disclosed.

If both transactions — which require CRTC approval — go through, RNC Media would be left with three stations that don’t form much of a network anymore:

  • CHXX-FM (Pop 100.9) in Donnacona (serving Quebec City, repeater at 105.5 Lotbinière)
  • CFTX-FM (Pop 96.5) In Gatineau (repeater at 107.5 Buckingham)
  • CHLX-FM (Wow 97.1) in Gatineau

You would have to think those are also for sale for the right bidder.

The Leclerc transaction would face a major hurdle at the CRTC: Its common ownership policy says a single owner can have no more than two radio stations in the same market in the same language on the same band. Leclerc already owns WKND 91,9 (CJEC-FM) and BLVD 102,1 (CFEL-FM), so adding Radio X would put them over this limit. RNC’s press release says an exception will be requested.

Exceptions have been made (notably for Cogeco to allow it to own Rythme FM, CKOI and 98.5 in Montreal), but a strong case — and some serious commitments — would have to be made to get the CRTC to accept. Cogeco committed to establishing a news network across its stations to be able to keep 98.5.

And it’s not like CHOI has demonstrated a great deal of respect for the broadcasting system lately. There will also be concerns that BLVD, which got into the talk business with shows by Nathalie Normandeau and (until recently) André Arthur, would have the same owner as a direct competitor.

Ironically, Leclerc Communication was formed in 2012 and bought its two Quebec City stations out of required divestments from the Cogeco purchase of Corus’s Quebec stations. Corus at the time owned CFEL and CFOM-FM (M102.9) and Cogeco owned CJEC and CJMF-FM (FM93).

The CRTC is holding a hearing (as a formality — there won’t be any oral presentations) on Sept. 6 to consider the Cogeco-RNC deal. The CRTC request for the Leclerc purchase will be filed “in the coming weeks.”

UPDATE: The Journal de Montréal has some reaction from on-air personalities at CHOI and BLVD.

Media News Digest: Quebecor sues press council, lots of licence renewals, strike threats at TVA and Postmedia

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Media News Digest: Bell/Vice deal, John Bartlett jumps back to Sportsnet, Rogers wants to sell magazines

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Media News Digest: Supreme Court takes sources case, Attraction Radio sold, Saroja Coelho leaves CBC Quebec

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At the CRTC

  • There was no public process, but the CRTC has approved the acquisition of Attraction Radio and its 14 radio stations for $21 million. The new owner is Sylvain Chamberland, who already leads the group and co-founded it with Attraction Media owner Richard Speer. He has 50.25% of the stake in the new group, with the rest going to the CSN’s Fondaction fund. The deal was announced in March, and means Speer’s Attraction Media will no longer have radio assets. (It also means Attraction Radio will need a new name and identity.) The CRTC had some issues with the agreement between Chamberland and Fondaction, and they agreed to changes in wording to ensure that Chamberland remains the person in effective control of the radio licenses.

Ethical reviews

Another dump of Quebec press council decisions:

  • A 2016 decision about a series of 2015 columns by La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé was appealed and then sent back to be reconsidered after the appeals committee found that they should be analyzed as factual journalism rather than opinion journalism. The review nevertheless maintained that as a columnist Lagacé is not bound by the same rules about balance and has leeway in his writing. This is a problem that I think needs further study. As newsrooms and particularly newspapers cut back on staff, we often see columnists doing original reporting, and newspapers doing away with companion factual news stories because they’re seen as redundant. In other words, they’re trying to have their cake and eat it, too. Columnists are considered journalists and their reporting treated as front-page scoops, but when they’re called out for any bias in their stories, they hide behind their columnist logo. (I’m not speaking about Lagacé here — I haven’t read the stories and have no opinion on their potential bias.) We need new rules to reflect this new reality.
  • Stéphane Thibodeau vs. Le Soleil: A complaint about a story on the ridiculous pseudoscience of “electromagnetic hygiene” was dismissed because the story was found not to be a de facto advertisement for the company mentioned in the story, and the complaints about impartiality were not specific enough. The story is single-source and presents absolutely no skepticism about the idea that electromagnetism is dangerous to your health, that fluorescent light bulbs pose a risk of mercury poisoning or that LED light bulbs create “dirty electricity”, whatever that is.
  • Union des producteurs agricoles vs. La terre de chez nous: A complaint about a story critical of the UPA was judged to be outside the press council’s jurisdiction because it was in the form of an opinion piece submitted by the public.
  • Jimmy Girard vs. La Presse: A story about an investigation into a man who allegedly encouraged people to not pay taxes based its reporting on information submitted to court to obtain a warrant, and made that clear in a story that accurately reflected its contents, and so Girard’s complaints as to accuracy were dismissed.
  • Autobus Dufresne vs. Le Soleil de Châteauguay: The bus company subcontracted by the Conseil intermunicipal de transport du Haut-Saint-Laurent (CITHSL) complained about the Soleil story about a lawsuit because it believed the word “transporteur” could have been construed to refer to it rather than the transit agency. The council found that was not the case, because, among other things, Autobus Dufresne is never mentioned in the article. Dufresne also complained about the photo used, because it shows a bus with the word “Dufresne” clearly visible. The council was split on this, with 4/5 finding no fault in presenting a story about a transit agency with a photo of a bus being used on one of that agency’s routes.
  • Josée Couture vs. Le Soleil: A François Bourque column about Frédérick Tétu, who resigned from his teaching job after a radio appearance as a CHOI-FM contributor sounded like he was drunk on-air (he said he was just extremely tired) found no fault, and the complaint that bringing up his teaching job was an invasion of privacy was dismissed because it’s relevant, he’s a public figure, and he himself had brought that up publicly in the past.
  • Marc Plamondon vs. 24/60: A TV interview with far-right French party leader Marine Le Pen was not unfair or unduly hostile to her.
  • Julie Lévesque vs. La Presse: A François Cardinal editorial that mentioned an attack on Khan Shaykhun in Syria was based on reliable sources and, while it could have been less firm about assigning responsibility for the attack, did not violate the ethics code.
  • Huguette Poitras vs. La Presse and Le Soleil: A story about disputes between neighbours was criticized by Poitras for not getting her side of the story after speaking with the neighbour she was in conflict with. The story did not name Poitras, but she said people close to her recognized her from the description in the story. La Presse had already apologized for not getting the neighbour’s side of the story. The council said it’s not enough that people close to you recognize you, but strangers must be able to easily identify you based on what’s in the story for it to violate your privacy. As for the lack of balance, 4/6 panel members dismissed that complaint because that particular conflict was not the focus of the article.

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“Expert reacts” videos and accuracy in TV and movies

I’ve recently stumbled on a new trend in YouTube videos: experts taking popular movies and TV shows and reviewing scenes from them for accuracy. Wired and Vulture have done several of them, and some educational YouTube channels have found that they’re very popular with viewers.

I’ve watched dozens of them over the past few weeks, and many of them are fascinating, not only for people who like to nitpick about fiction as presented on screen, but because they demonstrate how hard it can be to get things right, and how great it is to see when they do.

If this kind of thing interests you as well, I’ve compiled the ones I’ve found below, grouped by topic. Enjoy.

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Major cable TV companies’ licences renewed: What the CRTC decided

On Aug. 2, the CRTC renewed the broadcasting licences of most of Canada’s major cable TV companies, including Videotron, Cogeco, Rogers, Shaw, SaskTel, Eastlink, Telus, VMedia and Bell MTS.

Though it wasn’t technically a policy proceeding, the omnibus licence renewals allowed the commission to impose a bunch of de facto policies, or clarify existing ones, on everyone at the same time. (Licenses for Bell’s Fibe TV operations, Bell satellite TV, Shaw Direct and some other distributors weren’t part of this proceeding, and smaller distributors who are exempt from licensing aren’t affected.)

Here’s what was decided:

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Atikamekw communities have no use for CBC North’s Cree programming

CBC and Radio-Canada have radio transmitters across the country, but most of them don’t have original programming. So often the question has to be asked: which local station should they retransmit? In some cases it’s easy — just pick the closest one — but in others it’s more complicated.

In the Atikamekw communities of central Quebec — roughly halfway between Lac Saint-Jean and Val-d’Or — there isn’t a Radio-Canada Première originating station anywhere close. Between Saguenay, Rouyn-Noranda, Trois-Rivières and Quebec City, the distance is about the same.

But these stations aren’t serving francophone Québécois audiences, they’re serving First Nations communities. So it made sense that the station it would retransmit would be none of these. Instead, Wemotaci (Weymontachie), Manouane (Manawan) and Obedjiwan retransmit CBFG-FM in Chisasibi, a community along James Bay that is the base for stations in northern Quebec. That station mainly rebroadcasts CBF-FM Montreal, but broadcasts three one-hour shows a day in the Cree language, produced by CBC North.

A recent consultation with the Atikamekw communities showed that there’s little interest from their members in that programming. In an application to the CRTC, Radio-Canada says it’s because there is a negligible number of Cree-language speakers in those communities. Atikamekw (which is well spoken in the region) is considered a Cree language, but is a different dialect from the James Bay Cree spoken in Chisasibi.

A letter from Constant Awashish, Grand Chief of the Atikamekw council, says only that the communities felt that the Mauricie station would be a more appropriate source of programming, without explaining why.

So the CRTC has approved the application (without a public comment period) and transferred the retransmitters to the Mauricie station CBF-FM-8 Trois-Rivières — between 200 and 315km away. The change reduces the network of CBFG-FM from ten stations to seven, the furthest south being Waswanipi, 135 kilometres northwest of Obedjiwan.

Media News Digest: Press council reverses Homolka blame, the Roast of Tony Marinaro, Celine Cooper ends Gazette column

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At the CRTC

  • The commission has published the applications for the acquisition of Évasion and Zeste by Quebecor and Newcap by Stingray. The deadline for comments is Sept. 4.
  • Looks like no public comments were filed with the CRTC about the proposed licence renewal of CFNV 940.
  • The proposed acquisition of RNC Media radio stations by Cogeco prompted only two comments, one by ADISQ questioning Cogeco’s plans for expanding the Rythme FM network and suggesting closer monitoring of licence compliance, and one by District Média seeking assurances that Cogeco won’t abandon its affiliation agreement for Rythme FM in Saguenay now that it will own stations in that market.
  • The commission has denied an application by Bell Media to boost the power of CKKW-FM (KFUN 99.5) in Kitchener. Bell argued that thermal ducting was causing interference to the signal and that people in Kitchener were getting the HD Radio signal of WDCX-FM Buffalo. The CRTC said CKKW adding HD Radio to its own signal would probably solve the HD Radio interference, and analog interference problems it reported were not from people in its primary service area.

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CHOC-FM in St-Rémi to shut down

After 19 years on the air, and only months after a $220,000 upgrade to boost the power of its transmitter, community station CHOC-FM 104.9, which serves the MRC des Jardins de Napierville, announced on Friday that it is shutting down on Monday.

The station had exhausted both human and financial resources, leading to the decision, the announcement said.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. After about a decade of trying solutions including adding two retransmitters, the station had finally succeeded in getting a power boost that allowed it to be received through its licensed area. The boost, approved in 2016, allowed the station to increase its maximum power from 250W to 1,714W (though in reality the previous transmitter was putting out much less power than that because of technical issues).

The station also worked on the marketing side, organizing a “Tournée CHOC” in 2016 with 50 events over 50 weeks.

And it was also getting its regulatory affairs in order, after the CRTC called it to a hearing to deal with issues of licence compliance. It hired a new general manager, Serge Paquin (who spent 17 years at the Alliance des radios communautaires), to put its administrative affairs in order. In June, he appeared before the CRTC to try to reassure commissioners that the station was on the right track.

Though he didn’t give any hint that shutting down was a possibility, Paquin did foreshadow one of CHOC-FM’s major mistakes: a single-minded focus on dealing with its signal problems, saying it was their “absolute priority.”

Friday’s announcement called this project, which was finally completed in February, its “swan song” and said the many delays and costs associated with it had a major impact on its finances and pushed back other projects that could have helped financially, such as the launch of a radio bingo program and local ad sales.

The station told the CRTC it cost $220,000 to implement the transmitter upgrade.

And now, mere months later, that transmitter is being shut down.

Three permanent employees will lose their jobs as a result of this, including Paquin. The station had about 50 members, of which about half were considered active volunteers.

Highlights, strange sights and crazy nights at Just For Laughs, Off-JFL and Zoofest 2018

54 shows, 21 nights, 15 venues, 144 artists (for a grand total of $190 plus tax, not including drinks). I made a lot of use out of my Just For Laughs and Zoofest/Off-JFL passes in July. And I saw a lot of comedy. Not all of it was fantastic. A lot of it wasn’t even that great. But I can’t complain that I didn’t get a lot of value for my money.

For the benefit of those who couldn’t get out, or even those who did but couldn’t see the same shows — the peak of the festival had almost 100 shows a day including outdoor events — I’ve compiled a list of memories that stuck out below. I can’t remember every joke or even every comedian, but I do remember how I felt leaving their shows.

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Should the CRTC allow an English-language commercial radio station in Quebec City?

For at least the third time, the CRTC is about to make a call on whether Quebec City should be allowed to have an English-language commercial radio station.

An application by Evanov Radio subsidiary Dufferin Communications, which also owns stations running the Jewel format (including 106.7 in Hudson), plus CFMB 1280 and CHRF 980 in Montreal, prompted a request for comment by the commission in 2016 about whether a general call for applications should be issued. So far two applications (the other one for a French station) have been filed for the use of 105.7 MHz, considered one of the last available usable frequencies in the city.

On Wednesday, the CRTC issued another notice of consultation, effectively reopening the file. It never came to a decision in the case, ironically because of a lack of francophone commissioners. With recent appointments that problem has been solved.

This is Evanov’s second attempt to do this. In 2010, the CRTC denied a previous application by the company, ruling by majority vote that because the English-speaking population of Quebec is so small (1.1% speak it most often at home), “for all practical purposes there is virtually no advertising market in Québec for an English-language station” and “its service is almost entirely dependent on Québec’s French-language audience.”

In 2006, the CRTC similarly denied an application by Standard Radio (which at the time owned Mix 96, CHOM and CJAD, before it was bought by Astral Media the next year).

Why does it matter that an English station would attract a francophone audience? (After all, Montreal’s English-language music stations have larger francophone audiences than anglophone ones.)

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