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MAtv launches fall season with new show on indigenous culture

Lachlan Madill, host of Urban Nations on MAtv

Lachlan Madill, host of Urban Nations on MAtv

It was more than a year and a half ago that the CRTC found Videotron’s MAtv community channel in Montreal was not meeting its mandate because of a lack of representation from various communities, including notably the indigenous community. The company promised to do better, and went out looking for a show that would be devoted to telling local stories about indigenous people. It wasn’t an easy task, but they got lucky when Lachlan Madill proposed a show.

Madill moved with his wife to Montreal from Saskatchewan, where he worked for seven years for CBC and then doing communications for the North American Indigenous Games in Regina.

In an interview last week, he told me that he approached MAtv about a year ago after hearing that they were looking for a show about the indigenous community, and after meetings, brainstorming and pre-production, the show finally began filming in May.

It’s called Urban Nations, and it debuts on Tuesday at 6:30pm (though the first airing is actually 10:30am). It’s 10 half-hour episodes featuring 10 people from 10 different nations.

“They all have different backgrounds and different ways of preserving and promoting their culture,” Madill said. “There’s also underlying themes we’re trying to get at as opposed to hard news stories. We’re trying to educate people about these big issues without hitting them over the head.”

Identity, he said, is a big theme. Language, history, culture. He wants to build awareness of these things, because us non-indigenous people aren’t very exposed to it.

flag-of-montreal

“If you look at the city flag, there’s no acknowledgment of first peoples,” he notes. (The symbols represent four European nations that settled in the city — French, English, Scottish and Irish.)

Madill said one thing that struck him moving from Saskatchewan to Montreal (his wife is from here) was how much less visible the indigenous community is around here.

“There’s way more awareness, it’s a different demographic out there,” he said. “Here, people don’t seem to know much. People don’t really have that contact that they do out west.”

The reason is mainly statistical. There are about as many indigenous people in Montreal as in Regina, in a city more than five times as large.

That’s actually not quite right, but the demographics really do tell a story. In Regina, indigenous people represent by far the largest non-white ethnic group, at 8.7% of the population. In Montreal, it’s 2.5%, and well down the list past southeast Asian, Arab and Caribbean origins.

 

But don’t expect this show to be some sort of talking-down lecture. Instead, its goal is to offer a new perspective on the lives of local indigenous people that goes beyond what you see in the news.

“There’s been a lot of focus in negativity, and we want to … not brush it a way, but show the positive too,” Madill said. “They’re all positive stories that are about hope and looking to the future while preserving their identity.”

Each episode features some information about the subject’s community and where that person is from.

Madill noted that even the MAtv production crew he worked with to film the series seemed to come out of the experience enlightened. “The crew that we worked with knew nothing,” he said. “You’d see after they’re all excited. They had lots of questions, they were really engaged.”

He also had nothing but kind words for MAtv itself, which he said gave him creative freedom and assistance.

Talking to him, Madill seems like an optimistic person, in general but also about the future of indigenous peoples in Canada. “I think you have to be (optimistic),” he said. “It can’t get worse.

“We’re becoming more assertive, I think. I think more people are aware of the issues, I know the issues are not going to be solved any time soon, but the more we’re aware of it things can change. There’s 100 times more positive stories. I think we’re moving ahead as a people and getting a stronger voice.”

No word yet on whether Urban Nations will go beyond 10 episodes. Madill certainly isn’t lacking for stories, but “I’m not really thinking about the future,” he said. “I’d like to see more, but I’m kind of focused on now and making sure we do a good job.

“I want people to enjoy it, I want people to learn something from it. I think that’s the most important thing.”

For the full broadcast schedule of Urban Nations, visit its website.

Host shuffle in English shows

Urban Nations is the only new English-language show on MAtv this fall. But other changes are happening to other shows. The biggest is a shuffling of on-air talent:

  • Kim Sullivan takes over as host of Montreal Billboard, a show about community organizations and Montrealers making a difference
  • Richard Dagenais moves from Montreal Billboard to City Life, the weekly current affairs show
  • Tina Tenneriello moves behind the scenes, producing both shows, though she’ll also be contributing regularly to Montreal Billboard on the air

Meanwhile, The Street Speaks, a soapbox man-on-the-street interview show hosted by Paul Shore, comes back with new episodes.

MAtv’s press release about the new season is here.

Kim Sullivan’s post-Beat career begins with The Checklist

Kim Sullivan hosts The Checklist

Kim Sullivan hosts The Checklist

It was a little more than 10 years ago, and Kimberley Sullivan, a kid from Sorel with degrees in psychology and education, wanted to do something that had nothing to do with either of those things: Be a broadcaster.

“I wanted to do media, and my father said if you’re not going to do it now, when are you going to do it?” she explained to me in an interview.

So she got a job doing traffic reports for the Astral Media radio stations in Montreal, and hosted a show on Virgin Radio. She quit her job, taking a severe pay cut, to follow her dream. Her career later took her to Winnipeg, then Ottawa, and back to Montreal, where three years ago she was hired at 92.5 The Beat, first doing evenings, then co-hosting afternoon drive with Cousin Vinny.

That gig ended this month when she was let go due to budget cuts.

But rather than spending her days shoving her face in a bucket of Häagen Dazs (though I suppose she could do that too if she wanted), Sullivan is busy promoting her new show on MAtv, about people trying things they’ve never done before but always wanted to.

It’s called The Checklist, and its official premiere is tonight at 9:30pm (though the first episode has already aired in other time slots). The 10-episode half-hour show invites a guest from the public (from among submissions sent through social media) to do something interesting, exciting and, above all, that looks good on television.

The show is similar to one she did for Rogers TV in Ottawa called “Before I Kick The…”, with the big difference being that she’ll experience these activities with someone else rather than by herself. “I wanted it to be other people, not just about me,” she said. “What I loved most about this show is seeing the emotions of others.”

Kim Sullivan jet-boating on the St. Lawrence with participant Michael Saragossi in the first episode of The Checklist.

Kim Sullivan jet-boating on the St. Lawrence with participant Michael Saragossi in the first episode of The Checklist.

Among those activities: jet boating, glass making, skydiving, riding in a helicopter, and having tea at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. There are 18 activities in all in those 10 episodes.

Sullivan said she intentionally avoided calling the show The Bucket List, partly to get away from the whole death thing (for the record, Sullivan has no plans to die any time soon, and neither do her guests), and partly because the things they’re doing in this show aren’t really “bucket list” items. “Bucket list is Taj Mahal,” she said. But this show is more about getting people to experience things around town they wouldn’t have done otherwise.

“Everybody has something they want to do and haven’t taken the time to do it,” she explained. Even her. “I live two streets down from Moishe’s, and I’ve never been. I totally thought i was the type of person who did everything I want to do, and obviously I don’t.”

The Checklist got the green light last July and started filming in August. It was too late for the fall 2015 schedule, when MAtv first launched anglo programming. The plan was to launch the show in January, but Sullivan said that was a bit silly considering how many of these activities are outdoors in the summer. So they waited until May.

Because the show is on MAtv, it’s only available to people who subscribe to Videotron cable or Videotron’s Illico Club Unlimited streaming service.

It’s uncertain if this project will go beyond these 10 episodes. Sullivan noted that she’s a “media professional”, and it’s unclear if that means she can propose and host a TV show on MAtv and have it considered as “access programming” under the CRTC’s definition. When the CRTC came down against MAtv last year, it discounted some shows hosted by professional media personalities, many of them associated with Videotron parent company Quebecor. The commission’s decision doesn’t give clear guidelines for determining whether the person proposing a show is really from “the community” instead of the industry.

The Checklist airs:

  • Mondays 3pm
  • Wednesdays 11am
  • Thursdays 9:30pm
  • Fridays 3:30am
  • Saturdays 3:30pm
  • Sundays 1:30pm and 7:30pm

Also new: Black Wealth Matters

Also debuting tonight, half an hour before The Checklist, is Black Wealth Matters, a documentary series about economic matters in the black community. It’s produced by Henri Pardo, who was also behind StartLine, a show about local businesses in food, arts and multimedia.

Black Wealth Matters airs:

  • Mondays 11:30am
  • Tuesdays 3pm
  • Wednesdays 8am
  • Thursdays 9pm
  • Fridays 3am
  • Sundays 12:30am and 7pm

Further reading

ICTV files new CRTC complaint against MAtv

In February, following a complaint by an independent group that wanted to start up their own community TV station in Montreal, the CRTC gave Videotron a deadline of Aug. 31 to put MAtv in compliance with its conditions of licence.

According to the group that filed the original complaint, Videotron has failed to do so. And so it has filed another complaint.

Dated Nov. 5 and posted today, the complaint by ICTV (Independent Community Television) alleges that MAtv fails to meet the requirement of 50% community access programming, and not just in Montreal but in eight of nine zones that MAtv operates in. It also notes that Videotron has no programming for an aboriginal audience, which is expected of community services (though there’s no quantitative quota for it).

It also cites the lack of advisory boards outside of Montreal, and the fact that the Montreal advisory board does not include any representatives of ICTV. (“This exclusionary behaviour by Videotron crossed the line when MAtv General Manager we quoted by the press to have implied his station is at war with ICTV, and by extension the communities we represent,” the application states, without giving a source. While it’s true that Videotron has made no effort to approach ICTV, I am unaware of any effort from ICTV to approach MAtv in a constructive way either.)

ICTV comes to its conclusions by studying the program grids posted online over a sample week (Oct. 8-15 for Montreal, Oct. 21-27 for the other eight zones). By looking at where the program was produced, and by whom, it calculates the amount of access programming per region. According to its analysis, these are the levels of access programming for the various regions:

Montreal: 36.61%
Bas-Saint-Laurent: 35.41%
Cap-de-la-Madeleine: 11.89%
Granby: 50.51%
Outaouais: 15.78%
Quebec City: 27.98%
Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean: 45.98%
Sherbrooke: 38.89%
Sorel-Tracy: 9.03%

Only Granby meets the 50% minimum, and even then only barely, ICTV says.

The complaint includes a spreadsheet showing the number of hours devoted to each program and how ICTV has categorized it. No doubt Videotron will take issue with some programs being categorized as not being public access.

ICTV asked the CRTC to seek logs from MAtv to confirm its accounting, and the CRTC has in turn asked Videotron to supply those logs.

If the CRTC confirms what ICTV has claimed, it could take serious measures against Videotron, including revoking the licence for MAtv. At that point, an independent community TV service operating in the same region could replace it and get access to its funding. ICTV wants to be that service, though there is also Télévision communautaire Frontenac, which also operates in Montreal and unlike ICTV has a licence.

The CRTC gave Videotron an August deadline because that was when Videotron’s distribution licence was to expire. In July, the commission renewed that licence for a year to give it more time to deal with it.

You can download the application here (.zip file). Comments from the public are being accepted until Dec. 17. You can file comments online here. Note that all information provided, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

A community television renaissance in Montreal

You ever tried pitching a local TV show to a local commercial station?

Don’t bother.

It’s not that they wouldn’t love the idea. But over-the-air television isn’t what it used to be. Their audience isn’t as captive, their advertising revenue not as robust. Their owners keep them going by centralizing as much as possible, including programming, to keep costs down.

But there is a place that might accept your proposal. In fact, there are two. Both Videotron and Bell now run bilingual community television services in Montreal, offering money and resources to people who want to create shows that reflect the city and its various communities. A third independent community TV service was recently given a licence by the CRTC to operate on independent providers, and its plan is to offer some English programming too in a couple of years.

I wrote about these community TV services and the issue in general in a recent story for the Montreal Gazette. But I collected far more information than I could cram into that article, so here are some additional things I’ve learned.

MAtv (Videotron Channel 9/609)

Those of you following the MAtv saga might remember that it had planned to launch a separate English channel, and Videotron asked the CRTC to double the money it could deduct from its required payments for Canadian programming and redirect to community television. The CRTC said OK to the second channel, but no to the additional money (even though it said yes to a similar request from Bell). So Videotron decided to just add English programming to MAtv.

In September, it launched that programming: Five shows, of which two are English versions of MAtv-produced French shows (Montreal Billboard, hosted by former Global anchor Richard Dagenais, consists of interviews with people from local organizations, and is a French version of Montréalité; and City Life, hosted by former CJAD staffer Tina Tenneriello, is a current affairs show modelled after Mise à jour).

Of the other three shows, two are actually from the same group, though that fact is disguised a bit in the promotional material. There’s Living 2 Gether, a series hosted by Vahid Vidah that lets amateur filmmakers explore the social fabric of the city, and StartLine, hosted (kinda) by Henri Pardo, that profiles small businesses. StartLine was submitted by Gregory Vidah, Vahid’s brother.

To understand how they got involved in this, you have to learn about a guy I didn’t have room to talk about in the Gazette article: Ely Bonder.

Bonder worked at CFCF-12/CTV Montreal for 35 years as a video editor until he retired in January. But he’s had projects on the side for most of that time. In 1984, he was part of a group headed by Roger Price that proposed a youth-oriented television channel to the CRTC. It was later withdrawn because of a lack of funding, the CRTC decision says. In 1987, the commission would finally give a licence to a new specialty programming service called YTV.

Bonder went on to create an organization called Youth eMage Jeunesse, which helped young people, particularly those who are disadvantaged, get access to video equipment to create their own productions. It was one of several organizations to get financial benefits — $200,000 — from the transaction that saw Quebecor buy TVA in 2001.

Fast-forward to last year, and Bonder is at an event called Je vois MTL, which is designed to get people involved in proposing and launching innovative projects that make Montreal a better city. “There I met Vahid, who was coming up with a concept of empowering artists,” he said. “We put our heads together and talked.”

This is where I appear in the story. They came across articles I’d written about Videotron’s MYtv project. “Lo and behold the opportunity fell from the sky to do TV,” he said. They met with MAtv people, and “they suggested that we pitch a couple of shows.”

They came prepared, more so than MAtv anticipated. With the help of Collective Community Services, they reached out to volunteers, and got so many people interested they had to turn many of them away.

“You could tell there was a real sense of community that needed to be fulfilled,” Bonder said.

“We walked into the office of the general manager of MAtv and we wowed them,” Vidah explained. “They ate us like cupcakes.”

As a result, this group has two shows on the air, with a third slated for winter.

“I’m not a TV producer, I’m a musician and a social activist,” Vidah says. “I see myself as a social aggregator.”

Vidah, the son of an African father and French-Canadian mother, has a kind of hippie look at society, but that isn’t in any way insincere.

“We have so much things in common, that it’s kind of useless for us to focus on differences,” he says.

Bonder was so impressed by Vidah that he decided to give him the company. “I felt that he should actually own the entity that he was working for for free,” he said. “I got my freedom and he got the company.”

Vidah is resurrecting it as Zenzoo.TV.

The other independent production is The Street Speaks by Paul Shore. It’s an extension of a project he started online called Quelque Show (he changed the name Quelque Show was used by CBC Montreal back in the day and “I didn’t want the CBC to send me a cease and desist order”).

Ask him about the show and he’ll tell you that when he asked people on the street when was the last time a journalist asked their opinion about something, “97 out of 100 said never.”

The Street Speaks is a kind of everyman’s soapbox, in which people on the street give their opinions about issues. But unlike the man-on-the-street interviews you see on the nightly news, these discussions are more open-ended, about bigger issues than the divisive political issue of the day. “I don’t talk to people about news or pop culture, ever,” he explains. “I don’t have canned questions. I’m not looking for sound bites, I’m looking for people to have the opportunity to express themselves.”

Shore conducted long interviews with his subjects, and broke up their responses into themes to create 12 episodes of 28 minutes, with two themes per episode.

“It wasn’t that hard to get people to talk to me,” he explained. “I gave people the opportunity to express themselves even though they didn’t know they wanted one. Everyone has such rich stories to share.”

He does the interviews himself, without a production team. “It’s much easier for me to get really authentic interviews when I’m one on one with them,” he explains. The professional help comes in the postproduction process, particularly editing.

MAtv has changed a lot since the slap on the wrist from the CRTC. It makes much clearer now that it’s a place for people from the community to pitch programming, and airs a short intro before each episode of an access program pointing out where it came from. It has also launched a programming advisory committee, with input from many communities.

“I’m impressed with what we did over the past few months,” said Steve Desgagné, MAtv’s general manager, at the September programming launch. “We did the job and we’re really happy with the result.”

But there’s still a long way to go. The CRTC highlighted MAtv’s deficiency in presenting programming for an aboriginal audience. Desgagné said a project is in the works, but “we don’t know if it’s going to happen” yet. It all depends on the group that proposed it.

Even English programming was a bit hard to attract. He said they got “maybe 20 or so” submissions for English shows, while there are hundreds of proposals for French shows every year.

“We have to make more of an effort. The response was not what we expected,” he said. But “the projects we got are quality projects.”

The issues aren’t limited to programming, though. Videotron still faces a lawsuit from a group called ICTV that proposed its own grassroots community TV station to replace MAtv, which it successfully argued to the CRTC wasn’t respecting its mandate. In the meantime, ICTV isn’t proposing projects to MAtv, and MAtv hasn’t reached out to ICTV.

TV1 (Bell Channel 1)

Bell beat Videotron to the punch on English programming, mainly because Videotron’s application was stalled for a year by ICTV’s complaint.

Unlike MAtv, TV1, launched as Bell Local, is a video-on-demand channel instead of a linear one. Since Bell Fibe has no analog subscribers or other legacy issues to deal with, it can exploit the system’s technology to its full potential. This also means that episodes don’t have to fit into half-hour blocks.

Some of the shows it’s produced so far:

TV1 also has shows with obvious Bell Media tie-ins. A show about Amazing Race Canada auditions, an eTalk TIFF special, and a 24CH quiz show. Those don’t count as community access.

Discussing with Nicolas Poitras, VP Residential Services at Bell, who’s the big boss of TV1, the word “quality” came up a lot.

“There’s a perception that community TV is of lower quality,” he said. “Our desire was really quality. Our first preoccupation was to make sure that the quality was there.”

Poitras said Bell surveyed its customers and determined four broad themes that they wanted programming on: food, people, places and events. But if there’s quality stuff that doesn’t fit into those categories, they’ll still go for it.

“The only criteria is: Is it going to make interesting TV?”

While MAtv prefers series with 10 or 12 episodes, TV1 is much more flexible. Some are one-offs, some have just a few episodes, and others already have multiple seasons done. And because there’s no weekly schedule, deadlines aren’t as tight.

“We load assets when they’re ready, and people can consume them when they want,” Poitras said.

Another difference between Bell and Videotron is that the former gives more freedom to the producer to do what they want with the content. “We pay for the production and once we’ve aired it, the content is theirs, so they can broadcast the content on other channels,” Poitras said. Many producers have taken advantage of that to put their shows on YouTube (TV1 also puts stuff on YouTube, but it’s segments, not complete episodes.) MAtv, meanwhile, demands exclusivity for two years.

Both TV1 and MAtv are exclusive to their subscribers, and don’t offer full episodes online. That means for someone without a cable TV subscription, it’s easier to watch the latest episode of a hit U.S. drama than a community television show.

Télévision Communautaire Frontenac

There’s a third player in town. In August, Télévision Communautaire Frontenac was approved as Montreal’s first independent community television service. According to CRTC rules, all licensed terrestrial TV providers (cable or IPTV) must now offer TCF unless they have their own community channel.

So far this means only two small providers: Colba.Net and Distributel (Zazeen), both telecom companies that have recently added IPTV service in some areas of the city.

TCF dates back to 1995, and its home is in an office that was very clearly designed to be an apartment on the ground floor of the Tours Frontenac, a nonprofit housing complex across the street from the Frontenac metro station. It’s as bootstrappy low-budget as you can get, with only seven people on salary (not all of them full-time) but producing 200 hours a year of original content, soon going up to 300.

“We put money on the screen,” explains program director Louis-Martin McArdle.

Recently, an empty commercial space was given to the station to use as a studio, but before then it shot all its studio programs inside its cramped offices. For much of its life, TCF served only the towers of the complex, though that’s still about 800 units, or 2,000 people.

“There are community television services in Gaspésie that have fewer subscribers than there are people here,” McArdle said.

TCF eventually became the official community channel of VDN, a cable provider specializing in large apartment complexes. When VDN was bought by Bell, that came to an end, though there was an arrangement to share programming with Bell’s community channel.

TCF is distributed as an analog service inside the building (it’s watchable through cable boxes by choosing the channel reserved for building cameras), though it produces content in high definition and recently updated its editing equipment. It also posts content online.

McArdle said they hope to be running on Colba.Net and Zazeen in the coming weeks. The plan is to add English programming in the third year of operation, 2017-18.

A change in policy?

The fact that Videotron and Bell subscribers can’t access each other’s community programming is one of the things about the CRTC’s community television policy that irk independents.

Soon they’ll have an opportunity to change that. The CRTC is in the process of reviewing its community television policy, in a hearing to take place in January. Community TV, and certain aspects of local TV, were carved out of the recent Let’s Talk TV process so they could be dealt with separately.

Though the fact that community and local TV are being lumped in together also irks Cathy Edwards, executive director of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS). She’s worried that community TV concerns will be overshadowed by debates over local commercial TV.

Edwards wants to take community TV away from the cable companies and give it to independent groups.

“Canada is the only country in the world that recognizes a community media sector where it’s not defined automatically by nonprofit citizen media ownership,” she told me earlier this year.

“I get complaints all across the country we can’t get on our community channel or our community channel is closed.”

The fact that community channels are tied to cable companies is more historical than anything else. Back when cable was analog and there was only one cable company for every region, that was the only technical way that made sense.

But now, distribution isn’t the problem. People can use YouTube for that. What matters more is access to equipment and funding. And besides, the introduction of new competitors to cable means there isn’t just one company offering pay TV anymore.

A grassroots system like Edwards has in mind would be a challenge to set up. Not every community has a group ready to take the reins of a TV station. And even with money from cable companies, it still requires a lot of volunteer work. But the CRTC could start by requiring community TV services in a local area be carried by all providers in that area, and breaking down the silos that limit community programs to the cable company that funded them.

Comments on the CRTC’s local and community television review are due by 8pm ET Nov. 5 Nov. 6 (it was extended again). More than 1,100 comments have already been filed. Comments can be filed here. Note that all information submitted, including contact info, will be made public.

Submissions for new programs on MAtv and TV1 are welcome. Start by going to their website and filling out a form.

MAtv begins English programming with five shows

Two years after Videotron first proposed creating an English-language community channel for its Montreal-area subscribers, the first English programs on MAtv began airing today, making the service bilingual (about 20% English, which represents about the proportion of the area that speaks English at home).

Over the next two weeks, MAtv launches five new shows in English. Another eight are set to air later in the year, and of the 13 total series, Videotron says 10 were submitted by the public.

The five English shows MAtv starts now are three community-submitted shows and two local shows that MAtv put together.

Community access programs

Street Speaks host Paul Shore

Street Speaks host Paul Shore

The Street Speaks: Submitted and hosted by Paul Shore, this “speaker’s corner” type series features interviews with “everyday” people on the street, which are then cut up and edited into shows on specific themes. Shore notes in his introduction that most people have never been asked their opinions on issues, and this is his attempt to bring their opinions to light.

Living 2 Gether host Vahid Vidah, left, with first filmmaker Andrew Andreoli

Living 2 Gether host Vahid Vidah, left, with first filmmaker Andrew Andreoli

Living 2 Gether: Submitted by Vahid Vidah, each episode of this half-hour series hands the camera over to an amateur filmmaker and has them explore some aspect of the social fabric of the city.

StartLine: Submitted by Gregory Fortin-Vidah, this series doesn’t have a host, but is a documentary-style series about local businesses in the food, arts, multimedia and entrepreneurial sectors.

MAtv local programs

Montreal Billboard is basically Montréalité in English, right down to the weird leave-the-first-guest-sitting-alone-while-you-talk-to-the-next-guest thing.

Montreal Billboard is basically Montréalité in English, right down to the weird leave-the-first-guest-sitting-alone-while-you-talk-to-the-next-guest thing.

Montreal Billboard: Hosted by Richard Dagenais, who was let go from Global Montreal earlier this year, this series features interviews with people who are involved with local community organizations. It’s similar in style (and uses the same set) as Montréalité, hosted by Katerine-Lune Rollet, and is basically an English version of that program. Regular contributors include Amie Watson.

Anyone who watched Dagenais hosting Focus Montreal on Global will find this pretty familiar. In fact, both Montreal Billboard and Focus Montreal this week started their shows with interviews with people from the N.D.G. Food Depot.

CityLife host Tina Tenneriello

CityLife host Tina Tenneriello

CityLife: Hosted by Tina Tenneriello, formerly of CJAD, this show is a weekly current affairs talk show about Montreal, and is basically an English version of Mise à Jour. Contributors include Martin Patriquin on politics, Toula Drimonis on women’s issues, and Egbert Gaye on social and minority issues.

I haven’t listed times for these shows because each one is in about a dozen spots on the schedule. You can look for them here.

I’ll have more on these series and the state of community television in an upcoming feature. In the meantime, enjoy the shows. And if you have an idea for your own, MAtv is eager to hear it.

Videotron appoints advisory council for MAtv

Two weeks after the fact, Videotron announced today that it has met the March 15 deadline set by the CRTC in February to set up an advisory committee for community channel MAtv in Montreal. The commission made the requirement in response to a complaint that MAtv was not properly representing the community it serves.

The nine-person committee, which will serve in an advisory capacity but won’t be making the decisions about what goes on air, is composed of members of the arts, business and cultural communities, as well as a member of the English-speaking community, which presumably means we should start seeing English programming on the channel some time soon.

The members are as follows:

  • Fortner Anderson, English-Language ARTS Network (ELAN)
  • Éric Lefebvre, Director of Development, Quartier des spectacles Partnership
  • Annie Billington, Coordinator, Communications and Community Relations, Culture Montréal
  • Martin Frappier, Director of Communications, Chantier de l’économie sociale
  • Marie-Pier Veilleux, Director, Strategic Forums, International Leaders, and Special Projects, Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal
  • Cathy Wong, President, Conseil des Montréalaises (consultative body on gender equality)
  • Philippe Meilleur, Executive Director, Montreal Native Community Development Centre
  • Aïda Kamar, CEO, Vision Diversité
  • Vanessa Destiné, student, Université de Montréal; regional coordinator, Communautique; volunteer, MAtv

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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ICTV vs. MYtv: Taking sides in the fight over Videotron’s community television channel

A complaint by a group of Montreal activists against Videotron is taking on a greater significance as groups are lining up on both sides of a battle for control over Videotron’s community television service.

Last month, I wrote about ICTV, a group headed by people associated with CKUT Radio McGill and others formerly associated with Concordia’s CUTV.

After that article appeared, I was contacted by someone who wanted to set up a meeting with Isabelle Dessureault, the president of MAtv, who wanted to clear up any misconc… let’s just call a spade a spade, wanted to drive the discussion a bit more to Videotron’s favour.

Dessureault confirmed that the CRTC is not moving forward with the Videotron application for an English-language version of the MAtv community television channel, and that this process could delay the launch of that channel by a year or more. MYtv on ice became the basis for another story in The Gazette.

There was also the matter of a lawyer’s letter to ICTV from Videotron ordering it to retract statements about the company that it considered defamatory. (It doesn’t directly threaten legal action, but certainly suggests that would be the next step. Videotron confirmed the letter was sent but said “Quebecor Media is studying its options.”) ICTV refused, saying the CRTC process was the place to settle their differences of opinion.

Since then, two important organizations have backed the two sides of this battle.

ELAN backs MYtv

The English Language Arts Network, a group that supports anglophone artists in Quebec, has decided to back Videotron instead of ICTV. Executive Director Guy Rodgers and President Peter MacGibbon lay out their argument in this opinion piece published last week in The Gazette. The arguments boil down to two main points:

  1. ELAN prefers a more professional, high-quality model of community television in which artists are paid for their work instead of volunteers working for free. It believes Videotron’s model is better than ICTV’s in this regard
  2. ELAN believes that ICTV’s proposal for a single multilingual television channel would not be as good as Videotron’s proposal for two channels, one in each language.

The ICTV folks took ELAN’s stance in the measured, respectful way one expects from Montreal’s activist community: Writing an open letter with the headline “ELAN betrayed our communities by selling out community TV to PKP’s Vidéotron.” It accuses ELAN of being intentionally misleading and of supporting a “segregationist” idea of community television.

ELAN’s opinion makes sense when you consider that it represents artists, such as independent television producers, rather than the community at large. Its view has to be taken in that context. It doesn’t make them evil, and I got no impression whatsoever during their community meetings over this issue that they discouraged other people from expressing their views on the matter, nor do I think they’ve sold out to Videotron.

CACTUS backs ICTV

The other voice to take a stand here is CACTUS, the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations. The group’s executive director, Catherine Edwards, presents her group’s views in this Gazette opinion piece, which was published alongside ELAN’s.

CACTUS believes in general that community television should be taken out of the hands of cable companies, and that even if there was once a reason for cable to control community television channels, technology has made that reason obsolete.

Edwards argues that community television should be in the hands of the community, not the cable companies.

CACTUS also opposes dividing community channels by language. Among the reasons for being against this are that doing this divides the two communities, leaves no place for third languages, and allows cable companies to double the amount of money they can keep in house rather than give over to Canadian content funds.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting also has a page with one-sided information collecting comments in favour of ICTV.

The case vs. the policy

One important thing to consider in this whole affair is the difference between whether Videotron is properly following the CRTC’s community television policy and whether that community television policy is properly written to begin with.

The policy has been revised numerous times, the latest in 2010. But there’s a lot of ambiguity there. For example, the key part of community television is community access programming, but the CRTC sets only two criteria for such programming: That the idea come from a member of the community not employed by a cable company, and that this person be involved with the programming in a significant on-camera or off-camera role.

That leaves a lot of loopholes. What if the person is an employee of a company related to a cable company? Can the cable company claim copyright over the programming produced this way?

CACTUS, ICTV and others take exception to the fact that community TV channels run by cable companies are exclusive to customers of those companies. But the CRTC has chosen not to require open distribution of such community channels.

The community television policy could change soon. The CRTC has begun a year-long process of reviewing television policy, and the cable companies and CACTUS will undoubtedly be lending their voices to that process. Until then, though, the ICTV vs. Videotron complaint will be judged on existing policy.

Videotron wants to change … kinda

In my discussions with MAtv president Isabelle Dessureault and general manager Steve Desgagné, they have been trying their best to appear reasonable about this issue. They say Videotron is trying its best to be representative of the community, that it doesn’t reject proposals for community TV programs unless they fail to meet the criteria, and that despite this dispute they are open to proposals from ICTV members. (They note that they have yet to receive any.)

Videotron admits it has gotten some things wrong, most significantly its failure to properly represent the anglophone community in Montreal (an error it is trying to fix with the MYtv application). Dessureault also says MAtv will reform some of the ways it presents information to the public, by changing its end-of-show credits to emphasize the contributions from the community and by volunteers. It also plans to create an annual report for the public that outlines their accomplishments for the year.

And Videotron plans to, by the end of the year, set up an advisory committee for MAtv that would provide feedback on programming. (It had already planned to set up such a committee for MYtv once it was approved.)

Dessureault also said MAtv will be launching a new project in June that will facilitate community contributions to television. The concept is a bit fuzzy to me, but involves a website where people can contribute ideas and content, which will then be given to someone to turn into TV shows or documentaries. The purpose is to allow people to contribute without having to commit to running a weekly show.

But on the fundamentals, there are no changes planned. Most programs are still being produced by Videotron, and Videotron retains control over programming.

Community programming isn’t easy

Dessureault stresses that getting communities involved with community TV isn’t easy, though they’re trying.

ICTV, however, argues that it has the resources to make it work. It points to CKUT, a radio station where volunteers fill an entire week’s worth of airtime without the need for repeats. It believes it can do the same on television.

The money issue

The big issue here, of course, isn’t access, it’s money. ICTV could produce hours of video and post it to YouTube. But unless it wins its battle at the CRTC, it won’t get the millions of free cable money needed to pay for it.

Cable companies have community TV channels because they’d have to spend the money anyway, and otherwise it would be outside of their control.

There’s a conspiracy theory floating around (and has been expressed by commenters on this blog) that Videotron and others use community TV for monetary profit, by charging their own community TV channels for technical services.

Dessureault says MAtv’s finances are audited, both internally and by the CRTC, and attempts to cook the books wouldn’t succeed. But she does admit that MAtv does use some of its money to pay for things provided by Quebecor. MAtv shares human resources staff with Videotron, for example, to reduce costs. It also pays rent to TVA for production space (though at “well below market rates,” Dessureault said). Dessureault said these things are a very small portion of MAtv’s budget, which she said goes mainly to programming.

The CRTC has access to MAtv’s finances, and its experts are sticklers for attempts by big companies to take liberties with finances in order to reduce their obligations. So I seriously doubt that Videotron would get away with, say, overcharging MAtv for Internet access or rent in order to suck away some of its budget.

But there’s a legitimate question to be raised over whether such expenses should be paid for by the cable company, separate from the 2% of revenues it can allocate to community programming.

That, too, may be an issue if the CRTC decides to review its community television policy.

Until then, it will be judging Videotron based on its compliance with the current policy, and that policy leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

The CRTC is accepting comments on ICTV’s complaint against Videotron until 8pm ET on April 22. You can file comments using this form. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

Further reading

Note: A slightly edited version of this post was published on the opinion page of The Gazette on April 23.

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.

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