The battle over Videotron’s community TV channel

It was supposed to be simple and non-controversial: An application by Videotron to create a second community television channel in Montreal to serve the anglophone community.

Anglophones had long complained that since Videotron bought CF Cable TV, they have not had a proper voice in community television. The CRTC even asked Videotron to do something about it. Just months before the announcement, the English Language Arts Network publicly called on Videotron to restore English community programming.

So when Videotron made its big splash about starting MYtv, the reaction seemed to be positive, at least at first. ELAN hosted a meeting in September to get input from the community, and though there were few people present, there were some tough questions for Videotron’s representatives.

Now, those questions have been formalized in a complaint to the CRTC.

The complaint, filed by a group calling itself Independent Community Television Montreal (ICTV), includes an 86-page document meticulously arguing that the programming that airs on MAtv does not meet CRTC requirements for a community channel. It argues that the CRTC should declare that MAtv is not complying with its licence conditions, and instead grand a licence to ICTV to operate a multilingual community channel that would replace both MAtv and MYtv.

I summarize the complaint in this story, which appears in Monday’s Gazette.

But as long as the story is, there’s still so much detail I had to leave out.

The group

ICTV doesn’t have a licence, but it does have a website, where it lays out its plans. It is not yet incorporated, but it already has both a founding board and a steering committee.

The committee gives an idea of where the group comes from:

  • Sabine Friesinger (the name under which the complaint was filed) and Laith Marouf are left-wing activists and former administrators at Concordia University Television and its parent the Concordia Student Broadcasting Corporation. They were instrumental in CUTV’s coverage of the student strike in 2012. Previously, they were heavily involved in student politics at Concordia. Friesinger is a former president of the Concordia Student Union and Marouf is a former vice-president — and this dates back more than a decade.
  • Gretchen King (who I spoke with for the article) and Stephane Bertrand are active at CKUT, where Bertrand hosts a radio show and King, who worked at the station for more than a decade, including as news director, is on the board of directors. (Marouf also contributes to CKUT.)
  • Abby Lippman and Yakov Rabkin are professors. Lippman is on sabbatical retired from the faculty of medicine at McGill and is a research associate at Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute. She’s a self-described feminist and an activist on women’s health issues. Rabkin is Professor of Contemporary History at Université de Montréal, and an expert on Zionism (which, based on his writings, he’s pretty well against).
  • Jooneed Jeeroburkhan is a retired La Presse journalist and a human rights activist who has been accused of pushing at least one anti-Israel conspiracy theory.

Cathy Edwards, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), would be an advisor to the group, according to some documents.

The company would be run by its board of directors, composed of 19 people, broken down as follows:

  • 9 nominated or elected by “organizational members representing the following sectors” (selected by an umbrella organization or, if none exists, any organization within the sector):
    • Municipalities or public libraries
    • Educational institutions and organizations
    • Artistic and cultural organizations
    • Community service organizations
    • Independent and community media
    • Labour unions and service organizations
    • The disabilities community
    • Third-language communities and ethnic minorities
    • First Nations communities and service organizations
  • 6 elected by “members that are active in the giving programming or calendar year”
  • 3 elected by viewers

Math whizzes out there might note that the numbers add up to 18, not 19. They should probably fix that before incorporating.

The complaints

The group has a series of issues with MAtv, mostly related to aspects of the CRTC’s community television policy that it has failed to meet.

Complaint 1: Access programming

CRTC policy requires that community channels like MAtv ensure that at least 45% of programming aired be “access” programming. On Sept. 1, that rises to 50%.

It defines “access programming” using two criteria:

  1. The idea for an access program must originate from a community member not employed by a BDU (broadcast distribution undertaking, i.e. the cable company); and
  2. The community member must be involved in the production team:
    1. in an on-camera role (e.g., a personality or actor that appears in a predominant portion of the production); and/or
    2. as a creative member of the production crew (e.g., directing, producing, writing).

“Videotron fails to meet its minimum requirement for access programming within the Greater Montreal licence area” ICTV says. In fact, it says, its analysis of a week of broadcasting last fall shows MAtv didn’t air a single program that qualifies as “access”.

Videotron says that’s nonsense, and its own analysis shows the same week had 59% of the programming qualify as access under the CRTC’s guidelines, slightly higher than its average for the broadcast year of 57%.

So who’s right? Well, the CRTC gets to decide that, of course. But ICTV’s analysis shows where the two seem to disagree. The group disqualifies as “access programming” any show that has ties to any commercial entity or is produced by MAtv, neither of which would seem to disqualify it under the CRTC’s criteria.

Specifically:

  • Exercise shows like Absolument Yoga, Pilates and Bébé Cardio are not access programs because they’re hosted by people who run private fitness centres. ICTV considers that to mean their relationships with MAtv are commercial.
  • Selon l’opinion comique, the comic talk show produced by Juste Pour Rire TV, is commercial, employs unionized on-air personalities and receives government production tax credits, which disqualifies the show from being considered as an access program.
  • All other programs in Montreal are produced by MAtv and carry MAtv copyright, suggesting the shows are “under the creative control of Videotron staffers” and so do not qualify as access programs.

It bases these analyses off of nothing more than watching the shows and their credits, which could possibly be leading them to incorrect assumptions.

For Videotron, it’s clear: the idea for these shows come from the community, and the people from the community are involved in them, so they’re access programs. It lists the following as access shows on the island of Montreal for the week of Nov. 25 to Dec. 1, 2013, along with the people in the community they came from and are involved in them:

  • À la page (host Éric Bédard)
  • Absolument Yoga (host Sylvie Tremblay)
  • Bébé Cardio (host Gabrielle Chapdelaine)
  • Catherine et Laurent (producer Gilles Labelle)
  • Couleurs d’ici (host/producer Akos Baktai)
  • GROStitres (host/producer Xavier Beauchemin-Rondeau)
  • Le confident (host Louise Deschâtelets)
  • Les Soirées Juste pour rire (producer André “Junior” Girardeau)
  • Mémoire de Proulx (host Gilles Proulx)
  • Open Télé (host Sophie Durocher, though the idea was adapted from an earlier version of the show)
  • Pilates (host Stéphanie Poulain)
  • Premières vues (host Frédéric Corbet)
  • Selon l’opinion comique (producer Martin Roy)
  • Tout le monde tout lu! (host Jean Barbe)

The CRTC’s rules say there can be no advertising on community television channels. But shows can be sponsored. “Sometimes people bring us projects that involve a lot of advertising and we refuse them,” said Steve Desgagné, general manager of MAtv.

Complaint 2: Volunteers

The CRTC’s community television policy mentions the word “volunteer” 16 times. It’s clear that volunteer involvement is a key part of the policy, in spirit if not in rules.

But at least in Montreal, MAtv doesn’t have much in the way of volunteering going on. ICTV’s back-of-the-envelope calculations based on numbers Videotron submitted for MAtv (showing 103 volunteers contributing 4606 hours of work) suggest that very few volunteer-hours are going into each of the channel’s programs. “The ratio of volunteers and their hours worked is extremely low for the number of programs taped,” ICTV’s complaint says.

In particular, ICTV looks at the behind-the-camera people, noting that it’s the same people technically producing each show. These are paid staff of Videotron, not volunteers.

Desgagné didn’t deny that there aren’t a lot of volunteers at MAtv in Montreal on the technical side, though he pointed out that the show Catherine et Laurent, produced by community radio station CIBL, has “about 20 volunteers” working for it.

Instead, Desgagné said MAtv provides training opportunities to the community through internships.

Complaint 3: Lack of representation

MAtv currently airs no programming at all in any language other than French. It has no programming targetting the aboriginal community (Videotron supplied a list of only a handful of programs over the past four years that even included a segment dealing with aboriginal issues). And other than Couleurs d’ici, has nothing reflecting various cultural communities.

ICTV wants to have one channel that reflects the entire community, rather than, as Gretchen King put it, “silo the language groups into channels.”

Not only does having one French channel and one English channel fail to factor in all the communities of people who speak different languages, but it needlessly separates those communities apart.

Here, ICTV is on the same wavelength as CACTUS, which has opposed the creation of multiple community channels to separate programming into two languages.

Videotron doesn’t argue that it has failed to represent the anglophone community. But the application to create MYtv was supposed to be the solution to that problem. Once it gets off the ground, there will be plenty of English community programming in Montreal.

“Last year, we committed to make our programming more accessible to anglo community,” said Desgagné. “We looked at two options: one, have an anglo programming time period, and two, start MYtv.”

He said the anglo time block on MAtv didn’t satisfy either language group, and so Videotron decided to go the MYtv route.

Complaint 4: Feedback

CRTC policy says that community channels “should” provide, among other things, “feedback mechanisms, such as advisory boards, to encourage viewer response to the range and types of programs aired.”

ICTV points out, and Videotron confirms, that no such advisory board exists for MAtv. Videotron has proposed one for MYtv, though members of the community were skeptical about this at a meeting in September because the advisory board would have no actual power over programming.

Desgagné said Videotron has committed to creating an advisory board for MAtv by Dec. 31.

Complaint 5: Promotion

Opportunities are useless if you don’t know about them, and ICTV has expressed concern that Videotron is not doing enough to promote the access opportunities afforded by MAtv, essentially selling it as a regular television channel.

Community channels are expected to promote their access opportunities through various ways, including “billing inserts, website, on-air announcements, participation at community events, visits to schools/colleges/universities, social media.”

Specifically: “All terrestrial licensees are expected to distribute a billing insert describing the availability of access programming and methods by which proposals can be made. Such billing inserts should be distributed annually. The Commission will review the efforts of licensees in this regard as part of the licence renewal process.”

I get my Videotron bills electronically, so I don’t get inserts. I certainly haven’t seen one promoting community access on MAtv.

Videotron bill

But a notice started appearing on Videotron bills in February, saying the following:

Got a good idea for a TV show? A program that would be useful, informative, educational, interactive? Submit your project to MAtv! http://matv.ca/page/matv-proposals

Clearly Videotron has taken note of the complaint here.

Videotron notes that it also promotes MAtv through social media, using Facebook and Twitter, and promotes access opportunities through on-air promos. And when they go to events, “we always take advantage to promote MAtv as community access programming,” Desgagné said.

But the biggest way is through the MAtv website, because that’s where most of the proposals for programs come from.

Complaint 6: Ignoring proposals

To make its case that Videotron is failing to represent the anglophone community, ICTV’s complaint includes reference to a complaint written by Jason Gondziola of CUTV in 2009, saying he made proposals to Vox/MAtv that were ignored.

Desgagné said he’s been in office two years and can’t speak to what happened before he got there, but he hasn’t received any proposals from CUTV or ICTV since he started working in his job. He said he’s open to receiving them, despite the heated rhetoric in front of the CRTC.

“We’re very open. The door will never be closed to any community group.”

The CRTC asked Videotron to compile a list of all proposals made from Sept. 1, 2013 to Feb. 14, 2014, and say what happened to them, giving reasons for those that were rejected.

The list provided included 37 projects submitted for the island of Montreal. Of them, four were accepted, four others were marked “to be developed”, and five were to be combined with other proposals or with existing programs.

Seven others had not yet been evaluated.

Of the remaining 17 that were rejected, the reasons for doing so matched what Desgagné told me: Either they duplicate existing shows, they don’t fit the mandate or they’re too expensive or impractical to produce.

We shouldn’t read anything statistically into the rejections. But they’re interesting from a qualitative perspective. Among the series rejected are a documentary series about family life (more suited to Canal Vie, MAtv said), a documentary about aging in Quebec, France and Switzerland (not local and too expensive), a trade-places-with-a-celebrity-for-a-day show (not a community show, too expensive), and shows that MAtv deemed beyond its technical capacity to produce: a show about cultural personalities sitting down to dinner together, an interview show featuring where-are-they-now celebrities, and a vegetarian recipes show. The devil may be in the details about why they can’t be produced by MAtv.

Other complaints

  • ICTV’s calculation of MAtv’s budget suggests it spends far more on programming per hour than it should
  • MAtv doesn’t cover Montreal city council meetings, as community channels normally would

ICTV’s plan

Ambitious is putting it mildly. ICTV will commit to a community channel that provides live coverage of events, representation from every community, and 70 hours per week of original programming (more than three times what we see on MAtv). And it would expect to be on the air nine months after getting CRTC approval and funding.

I won’t get into too much detail because a lot of it is vague and so much of it seems unlikely to make it to air. But the group is definitely committed to the community programming spirit.

The plan will have to wait, though. Videotron’s public process is about the complaint against MAtv, not ICTV’s application for a new licence. The course of the latter will undoubtedly be affected by the decision on the former.

Money

Videotron won’t say what MAtv’s budget is for Montreal. ICTV estimated it at $23 million a year using a very general (and very flawed) calculation based on average cable bills and the population of Montreal. Desgagné said this isn’t even close to the real figure.

But we can infer the amount of money involved. Quebecor’s report to the CRTC shows $23,371,000 in contributions to its community television channel throughout Quebec. If we assume that, with 23% of the population of Quebec living on the island of Montreal, that 23% of MAtv funding goes to its Montreal channel, that would work out to about $5.4 million.

More telling, at the meeting with ELAN in September, Videotron said the budget for MYtv, which would also operate in he Montreal area, would be about $6 million a year. So it’s safe to say that we’re talking about a number that is around this figure for each of MAtv and MYtv in Montreal. That number would get bigger if ICTV wants to take over community channels in neighbouring communities like the south shore, Laval, Terrebonne and Châteauguay, though these areas have community television groups operating in them.

What about Bell?

One thing I wondered about this group is why it hasn’t gone after Bell, which has also proposed a community television service in each language for its Bell Fibe subscribers in Montreal.

Unlike Videotron, Bell’s community channel isn’t a linear channel. Instead, it’s a series of videos made available on its video-on-demand service. The CRTC deemed it acceptable to do it this way, even though not finding a channel on the channel grid will likely mean much less viewership.

ICTV didn’t really have an answer to that question. I suspect they haven’t really looked into it much yet, having focused so much on Videotron. If this complaint is successful, Bell could easily be their next target.

Working together?

It seems like a long shot to think that the CRTC will just yank Videotron’s licence for MAtv. A more realistic scenario is that the CRTC imposes new conditions on Videotron, or clarifies rules about community television.

ICTV and CACTUS have also left open the possibility of a compromise whereby MAtv would be allowed to continue but ICTV would replace MYtv and get its funding.

But even if the complaint is rejected, it doesn’t mean the end of ICTV. They could still produce programs for MAtv or MYtv (assuming the latter is accepted). And Videotron would be required to air it, because that’s a clause in the community television policy:

Where there is one or more local not-for-profit community television corporations (TVCs) in a given licensed area, up to 20% of the programming aired during each broadcast week by licensees shall be made available for access programs from these TVCs. Where more than one TVC is in operation in a licensed area, each must be guaranteed a minimum of four hours of access programs per broadcast week, upon request. This 20% is considered part of the access program requirements set out above.

So ICTV would be given up to three and a half hours a day (assuming an 18-hour broadcast day) of programming on MAtv.

Funding isn’t as clearly spelled out. Rules require at least half of programming expenditures be given to access programming, but it’s not made clear that the funding for independent community television corporations should be proportional to their airtime. I would suspect that it would be, though, and another complaint would be forthcoming if Videotron tried to discriminate in its funding allocation. Its report to the CRTC suggests that funding is about proportional to airtime.

MAtv’s Desgagné has made it clear he’s willing to work together, and said they even approached CUTV to get them involved.

ICTV’s willingness to work together this way is unclear, but King said “we would still be interested in pursuing community television licensing for Montreal” even if the complaint is rejected.

What is community TV about?

Reading all these documents, it seems clear to me that this is an argument about the fundamentals of community television. ICTV and CACTUS don’t seem to like the rules as they’re written now, and have complained even though Videotron is following the letter of those rules.

It’s a big question: Is community television about service to a community, providing local information in a professional way with the help of money from cable TV distributors? Or is it about access, giving any guy off the street half an hour a week to talk about whatever he wants?

It’s a question I don’t have an answer to. But the CRTC is in the process of a wide-ranging review of television policy, and this could be one of the issues it decides to tackle, especially if it finds that cable companies are following the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit.

The CRTC is accepting comments on the ICTV complaint against MAtv (which you can download here) until April 10 April 22. (ICTV had asked for an extension to April 17, since Videotron got a one-week extension on submitting information, but that request was denied. The CRTC later extended the deadline anyway when it decided to seek more information from Videotron, to be submitted by April 7.) The file number is 2013-1746-2. You can submit comments online here. Remember that all information submitted goes on the public record.

ICTV’s website is tele1.ca. It includes the individual files submitted to the CRTC as part of the complaint.

Further reading

13 thoughts on “The battle over Videotron’s community TV channel

  1. XIII

    I’ve heard talk alluding to Anglos dumping their Videotron subscriptions in favor of Bell since PKP has joined the Provincial race. Have you heard anything to that?!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I’ve heard talk alluding to Anglos dumping their Videotron subscriptions in favor of Bell since PKP has joined the Provincial race. Have you heard anything to that?!

      At this point there’s only anecdotal evidence of this. There would need to be 20,000 people doing this to result in even a 1% drop in Videotron subscriptions.

      Reply
  2. Marc

    I get my Videotron bills electronically, so I don’t get inserts. I certainly haven’t seen one promoting community access on MAtv.

    I get paper statements, and I’ve never seen an insert.

    Reply
  3. Dilbert

    The real issue here is that a resource that is suppose to be about and for the community looks like more and more it’s becoming a profit center for the distribution companies. Basically, they take funds that would be given to others (Canadian production fund) and turn it into internal funds. At bare minimum, it means that 50% of the funds end up back in the company to produce shows inside rather than outside. As this report suggests, the rules from the CRTC do seem to let that number slip even further.

    If community TV was a big money loser (and technically it should be), neither Bell nor Videotron would be working to add community programming. When everyone is heading that way, you know there is a bottom line concept in play.

    The CRTC could solve this problem outright, with what would be a fairly simple solution:

    1) have a community programming organization (non-profit) created in each part of the country, generally by city. That group would be funded by funds from distributors and other local stations.

    2) This independent group would produce at least 1 channel, and possibly 2 channels of programming. In Montreal, example, they might produce 2 channels, one rooted in english, one rooted in french, with other languages thrown in.

    3) Mandate the two largest broadcasters (CTV and TVA) to provide a digital sub-channel each for this service on their broadcast antennas, assuring good coverage to both cable and non-cable users.

    4) Make carrying these now broadcast channels mandatory for all distributors, as local OTA services

    5) Free Bell, Videotron, and others from the responsiblity to operate a community channel of their own. They can still do so at their cost, but they can no longer divert funds from other commitments to support it.

    End issue.

    The problem we face right now is that the community channels are splintered by distributor, and again by language, which means that at best these channels will get very low viewership each. Moreover, with no OTA presence, these channels are essentially unknown beyond their cable systems, and generally not promoted unless forced by the CRTC.

    it’s time for the CRTC to serious look at mandating certain public service uses for sub-channels on major broadcasters. The technology exists to give Canadians much more, time to move forward if you want to keep OTA relevant and keep community channels actually serving the community.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      If community TV was a big money loser (and technically it should be), neither Bell nor Videotron would be working to add community programming. When everyone is heading that way, you know there is a bottom line concept in play.

      It’s not that community TV makes money for them, it’s that they have to spend the money anyway, and they prefer to keep it in-house and give their customers some added value than simply hand over the money to the Canada Media Fund.

      have a community programming organization (non-profit) created in each part of the country, generally by city. That group would be funded by funds from distributors and other local stations.

      CACTUS certainly leans in that direction, and wants non-profit independent community TV producers. But what about cities where you can’t find someone to run a community TV station? What do you do about the inevitable loss of quality or failure to meet regulatory obligations because the station employs volunteers instead of professionals?

      Mandate the two largest broadcasters (CTV and TVA) to provide a digital sub-channel each for this service on their broadcast antennas, assuring good coverage to both cable and non-cable users.

      Both CTV and TVA would strongly object to such an imposition. Plus, the signals would only be available in Canada’s largest cities, which already have a local TV station. Community television is more important in smaller regions than big cities. Considering 90% of Canadians have a TV subscription, I think the current system works pretty well.

      Reply
  4. Dilbert

    “It’s not that community TV makes money for them, it’s that they have to spend the money anyway, and they prefer to keep it in-house and give their customers some added value than simply hand over the money to the Canada Media Fund.”

    Did you have a straight face when you said that? It read like a press release.

    It’s all about keeping control of the money, and having it “leak” to the bottom line. Keeping it in house has significant enough impact for larger cable companies that they are tripping over themselves to find ways to double their community channels.

    “Both CTV and TVA would strongly object to such an imposition. Plus, the signals would only be available in Canada’s largest cities, which already have a local TV station. Community television is more important in smaller regions than big cities. ”

    For those places where there is no OTA broadcaster, the “community” aspect is pretty weak anyway. Bell isn’t going to make a new community channel for each berg in Canada, are they? They would make a limited number to cover large areas. Also, many of the small cable systems are exempt from community channel requirements anyway, and generally don’t have them.

    “I think the current system works pretty well.”

    yes, it works very well. The average person doesn’t know about the community channels, won’t know what’s on, and is equally likely not to have the right system (Bell, Videotron) to view a specific program. Massive fragmentation, 100% duplication of efforts… basically twice the staff for half the coverage. If by “working well” you mean “totally obscure and unwatched” then you are about right. Does Montreal really need 4 different community channels on two different distribution systems that aren’t shared? Would it not be better at bare minimum for Bell and Videotron to share the community channels so that the programming gets a wider audience?

    Nahh, we don’t want people watching commuinity programming, we just want to go through the motions and keep the money in house.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      It’s all about keeping control of the money, and having it “leak” to the bottom line.

      MAtv lost money last year. I don’t see how that improves Videotron’s bottom line.

      Keeping it in house has significant enough impact for larger cable companies that they are tripping over themselves to find ways to double their community channels.

      Well, not exactly tripping over themselves. They’ve done it in Montreal and Ottawa, and Rogers has done it in Moncton. These are the country’s most bilingual areas. If this was really some super-evil secret slush fund as you’re implying, we’d probably see Rogers with a French channel in Toronto, or Shaw with a French channel in B.C. and Alberta.

      There’s obviously an incentive to keep community television in-house, but there isn’t yet any incentive to provide community television service to communities without enough population to supply programming.

      For those places where there is no OTA broadcaster, the “community” aspect is pretty weak anyway. Bell isn’t going to make a new community channel for each berg in Canada, are they?

      Bell is starting with Canada’s largest cities in rolling out its Fibe network, so it’s not going to have community channels in small cities yet. But Videotron, Cogeco and Rogers have plenty of community channels in small areas. Videotron alone has 35 community channels.

      If by “working well” you mean “totally obscure and unwatched” then you are about right.

      Show me somewhere where a public-access community television channel is popular.

      Does Montreal really need 4 different community channels on two different distribution systems that aren’t shared? Would it not be better at bare minimum for Bell and Videotron to share the community channels so that the programming gets a wider audience?

      Probably. CACTUS has argued to the CRTC that we shouldn’t have community channels run by cable companies for that reason. We’ll see if the CRTC looks into that in its review of the television system.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        “Show me somewhere where a public-access community television channel is popular.”

        If by popular you mean “pulls like CSI or Greys Anatomy” then no, they aren’t popular. However, taking a small audience and making the channels unavailable to more than half of the people up front is pretty much a way to assure that your audience is small. Give it no promotion, give it no exposure, and yup, few people watch.

        “MAtv lost money last year.”

        Well, it depends on the scope of how you look at it. You always have the question of what proportion of shared expenses (studio space, office space, etc) are pushed onto the stations from the parent. It’s a pretty big issue, because a community channel saving pennies might not be located in prime real estate, whereas Videotron may be just that. It’s hard to break down because you would have to look at each line expense to see how much ends up back in the pocket of Videotron to pay for overall operating expenses. Is MaTV an actually seperate company, or just part of the whole? Do they actually report their individual line item expenses, or is it just rolled up into Videotron itself?

        Reply
  5. Cathy Edwards

    I really appreciate the coverage that Steve has provided to this important issue in the Montreal Gazette, as well as the thorough consideration he has given to TVCI-ICTV’s application.

    I would, however, take issue with a couple of elements of his analysis:

    1) Videotron is not just in violation of the “spirit” of community TV policy, but the “letter” too. Make no mistake. Virtually every program in the week examined by TVCI-ICTV gives a Videotron’s staffer’s name as the producer, OR the name of a Union des Artiste or Fédération des Journalistes de Québec member with a long history of work in broadcasting as the host, and is surely paid. The CRTC’s community TV policy is very clear that it is the ordinary citizen’s participation on the channel that makes ‘community TV’ what it is, and that creative control is to be in the hands of community members who are VOLUNTEERS. If a program host merely being resident in the city (aka a “community member”) were the criterion for access, every program locally produced on most stations (e.g. news) would be “community programming” and that is just not so.

    Furthermore, the Code of Access Best Practices that governs the CRTC’s community channel policy states the community producer for each “access” program retains control of the program’s copyright. As Steve acknowledges, almost every single program aired on MAtv ends with the MAtv logo, with a couple of exceptions, such as the Just for Laughs-produced program, which is produced by a fully professional entity and an all-paid staff.

    Aside from the requirement that at east 45% of MAtv’s programming be genuinely be under the creative control of volunteers, MAtv is also supposed to reflect the multicultural and multilingual character of the licence area, giving special consideration to Aboriginal programming (an explicit CRTC request at the time of MAtv’s last licence renewal in 2006). The fact that it does not do so (as Steve acknowledges) also puts Videotron in non-compliance with the conditions of its licence.

    2) Steve appears to be calling into question the professionalism of the ICTV-TVCI team and its proposal. He says that the proposal is “ambitious” and concludes by saying “Is community television about service to a community, providing local information in a professional way with the help of money from cable TV distributors? Or is it about access, giving any guy off the street half an hour a week to talk about whatever he wants?” The implication is that if you let “any guy off the street” have “have an hour to talk about whatever he wants” that the results won’t be professional (and furthermore, that this is what ICTV-TVCI is proposing).

    In fact, if you compare ICTV-TVCI’s detailed supplementary brief (with 25 pages about how it would handle everything from language, to volunteers, training, and programming) to Videotron’s four-page proposal for an English clone of MAtv (with no description of training, volunteerism, nor programming plan), ICTV-TVCI looks by far the more professional of the two. In fact, there’s no comparison.

    Many people seem to think that ‘community TV’ means amateur. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s a highly skilled sector where the employees of a community TV channel have the challenge of taking the raw ideas of the public, and helping that public develop those ideas and make them accessible for TV. Cable companies over the last decade have been showing that they’re not very good at doing that, and seem to have no confidence that it can even be done, which is why they have systematically taken over control of these branded, sponsorship-riddled platforms. What community programming practitioners from around the globe know (you can take advanced degrees in how to promote and manage citizen media) is that it can be done, to the benefit of both audiences and to the enormous and lasting benefit of all parts of the community involved in the process. It’s not about entertainment as a deliverable, it’s about dialogue as a process. This is what cable companies have forgotten. The TVCI-ICTV team are full professional in this field, with many combined years of both practical and theoretical experience. They’re the right team to fulfill this important mandate in Montreal and the city is very lucky to have them in my view.

    If community TV were managed by communities themselves, they would be accountable and answerable to their own boards of directors, which by CRTC mandate, would be open to all. This is how community radio works in Canada, and how community TV works in every other developed and developing country that has it. The transition to this model should have happened in 1991 when the Broadcasting Act was written. It’s a change that’s long overdue, and then we wouldn’t have to be spending taxpayer and subscriber dollars squabbling about. We could just get on with letting ordinary citizens participate meaningfully in public discourse. Don’t we deserve it?

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    1. Fagstein Post author

      Videotron is not just in violation of the “spirit” of community TV policy, but the “letter” too. Make no mistake. Virtually every program in the week examined by TVCI-ICTV gives a Videotron’s staffer’s name as the producer, OR the name of a Union des Artiste or Fédération des Journalistes de Québec member with a long history of work in broadcasting as the host, and is surely paid.

      I’ve read the CRTC community television policy a few times, and can’t find anywhere where it says that people can’t be paid for community access programming, or that such programming can’t come from people who are professional artists.

      The CRTC’s community TV policy is very clear that it is the ordinary citizen’s participation on the channel that makes ‘community TV’ what it is, and that creative control is to be in the hands of community members who are VOLUNTEERS.

      It is indeed very clear on the first part. It is not clear on the second. I can’t find a regulation that requires that the people with creative control over access programs must all be volunteers, only that they come from the community and are not employed by the distributor.

      Furthermore, the Code of Access Best Practices that governs the CRTC’s community channel policy states the community producer for each “access” program retains control of the program’s copyright.

      Indeed. MAtv confirmed to me today that the creators of MAtv’s access shows retain copyright to them.

      As Steve acknowledges, almost every single program aired on MAtv ends with the MAtv logo

      That could mean a lot of things though. MAtv tells me that they will be making changes to their end-of-show credits to make things clearer.

      MAtv is also supposed to reflect the multicultural and multilingual character of the licence area, giving special consideration to Aboriginal programming (an explicit CRTC request at the time of MAtv’s last licence renewal in 2006). The fact that it does not do so (as Steve acknowledges) also puts Videotron in non-compliance with the conditions of its licence.

      Since the CRTC doesn’t set any quantitative measure for this, it will be up to the commission to decide if MAtv is in non-compliance. Its case is certainly somewhat weak in this regard based on what I’ve seen so far.

      Steve appears to be calling into question the professionalism of the ICTV-TVCI team and its proposal. He says that the proposal is “ambitious” and concludes by saying “Is community television about service to a community, providing local information in a professional way with the help of money from cable TV distributors? Or is it about access, giving any guy off the street half an hour a week to talk about whatever he wants?” The implication is that if you let “any guy off the street” have “have an hour to talk about whatever he wants” that the results won’t be professional (and furthermore, that this is what ICTV-TVCI is proposing).

      The basis for ICTV’s complaint is that Videotron is not providing access programming and is run by professionals. Presumably this means that ICTV’s programming will be produced by non-professionals.

      I’m not saying that ICTV’s programs will be of poor quality. I’m asking what barrier we should set to access programming. Should we set it high, requiring a high quality of production, or low, ensuring as much access as possible? There are arguments for both.

      Many people seem to think that ‘community TV’ means amateur. It doesn’t.

      I think the very definition of amateur references the fact that it means non-professional and unpaid. Since ICTV says community television shouldn’t be done by professionals and shouldn’t be paid, how is that wrong?

      Maybe there’s some distinction to be made between the ICTV team itself and the community it serves. But since ICTV wants community volunteers to be involved in all aspects of the organization, from being on the board of directors to working technical jobs, I don’t see where I can draw a line here.

      Reply
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