Monthly Archives: January 2009

We must do something about the poor reporters

Despite the dire warnings of cold snaps, the depressing weather forecasts that call for highs in the range of -20 and wind chills that drop right off the scale, there are professionals out there ready, willing and able to brave those awful conditions unnecessarily for the sake of their jobs.

I’m speaking, of course, about television reporters.

Every day, dozens of them roam the city, looking for a suitable backdrop for their story about health care or education or politics, and for many the ideal spot for a stand-up report is standing on a street corner. It’s active, it’s bright, in some cases it might even be relevant to the story.

But in most cases, they’re patently unnecessary.

Something must be done.

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CRTC Roundup: No Super Bowl loopholes this year

For the latest on Super Bowl ads on Canadian cable and satellite, click here.

Note: This post has been corrected. I originally confused the two rulings for satellite companies as being the same. In fact, the Commission ruled in different ways for the two. Thanks to Patrick for pointing out the error.

Catching up on some CRTC broadcasting news over the holidays:

A complaint filed by CTV against Bell and Shaw, which run our two national satellite TV providers, has resulted in an order from the broadcast regulator forcing the two providers to close loopholes allowing Canadian viewers to see U.S. commercials during the Super Bowl.

Last year, both Bell TV (formerly Bell ExpressVu) and Shaw’s StarChoice concocted a scheme whose logic was something like this:

  1. The CRTC requires broadcast distributors (i.e. cable and satellite companies) to use “simultaneous substitution” to replace U.S. channels with Canadian ones when both are airing the same show. This is so that Canadian networks get all the advertising money. Normally nobody cares that they’re seeing Canadian commercials instead of American ones, but the Super Bowl is the one time of the year when people want to watch the commercials. Canadian Super Bowl commercials just don’t measure up.
  2. The CRTC rules have some loopholes. The substitution is only done when requested by the Canadian network, it’s only done when the Canadian signal is of equal or better quality than the U.S. one (which caused some issues in the early days of HD), and it’s only done in markets that have a Canadian over-the-air broadcaster.
  3. CTV had high-definition broadcasters only in Toronto and Vancouver, so simultaneous substitution of the Fox HD signal is only necessary in those two markets
  4. Bell and StarChoice developed a way to substitute the signal only for Toronto and Vancouver markets, and kept the Fox HD signals unsubstituted outside those markets for the benefit of Canadians wanting to watch the U.S. Super Bowl commercials. Viewers outside those markets would be given a choice of watching a substituted signal or an unsubstituted one.

CTV complained, and the CRTC agreed, that Bell TV is required to substitute those channels nationally, even for customers in markets where there is no Canadian broadcaster carrying the HD signal, because that is the method of substitution they currently use. The company, it said, can’t decide to use one method or the other depending on which is more convenient.

It dismissed Bell’s suggestion that the Super Bowl is an exception because it’s a “pop culture phenomenon”. CTV’s response to that:

CTV added that those viewers who really want to see the U.S. commercials can download them from the Internet within minutes after their being broadcast during the game.

The result is that Bell has to assure CTV in advance that simultaneous substitution will in fact take place for SD and HD signals nationally, and that Canadian subscribers not be given access to the U.S. commercials. Period.

In the case of StarChoice, the CRTC took a different tact. Unlike Bell TV, StarChoice substitutes channels locally through the receiver. They receive the U.S. signals, but are programmed to substitute them based on local requirements. This is the CRTC’s preferred method of substitution, as it protects local broadcasters. Since StarChoice didn’t deviate from their normal practice when they allowed subscribers outside of Toronto to view the U.S. Super Bowl feed, the CRTC ruled they are in compliance.

The CRTC did slap Shaw on the wrist about its cable TV service, which it said did not properly substitute the HD signal in 2008, but accepted the explanation that there were “technical difficulties” because Shaw had only started substitution for HD signals a month before the broadcast. They’re on a form of probation for the 2009 Super Bowl, with orders to take special steps to ensure substitution takes place as required.

The Super Bowl, which I think is a game of rugby or something, airs on Feb. 1 on NBC and CTV.

More commercial substitution

An unrelated issue, which the CRTC will debate next month, concerns “local availabilities of non-Canadian services

If you’ve ever watched CNN and noticed commercials for Viewer’s Choice Pay-per-view or some other Canadian channel, this is what they’re talking about. Canadian broadcast distributors are allowed to override commercials on U.S. networks, but only to put in programming ads. They can’t put in their own commercial advertisements. At least, not yet. They’re arguing to get that privilege.

Personally, so long as the advertising substitution is negotiated with the U.S. network, and it doesn’t disrupt service, I don’t see a problem letting this happen.


LCN has received approval to increase the amount of opinion and analysis programming during its broadcast day from 12% to 19%. CBC argued against the change, saying it would reduce the amount of news programming, which would hurt francophones outside of Quebec.

(As an aside, has anyone watched RDI and LCN and noticed how much local Montreal news and how little local news from outside Quebec are on those channels? It makes sense – that’s where their audience is – but neither is really a national news channel)

LCN argued it needs to adapt to a quickly changing media environment, which I’m sure you know favours opinionated blowhards shouting their mouths off in prime time over any sort of actual news gathering.


Astral Media has received approval to add sitcom and drama programming to its MPix service, which used to be about movies. It’s limited to 15% of its content coming from those categories, and they have to be at least five years old, but I still find it kind of silly that they want to add sitcoms to a movie channel.

They’ve also gotten a reduction in the lead time between a movie’s release and the time they can start airing it, from five years to three years.


SuperChannel, a pay TV network which wants to compete with The Movie Network and Movie Central, is still trying to get carried on some cable providers, including Videotron, despite an order from the CRTC that gives it “must carry” status.

Videotron has refused, citing some minority language rule that I don’t quite understand and probably doesn’t make any sense.

SuperChannel notes that Quebecor applied for a similar service and was turned down in favour of SuperChannel, and this might be payback for that rejection.

De-CanConing The Movie Network

The Movie Network has gotten approval to reduce its Canadian content requirements by getting extra credit for priority programming. This extra credit system came after the CRTC and media watchdogs noticed that Canadian broadcasters preferred certain cheap kinds of programming (like reality shows) over more expensive dramas. So the CRTC decided it would let broadcasters claim 150% credit for dramas and other expensive programming, to encourage them to create more of it.

Digital Home calls this a “weakening of Canadian content regulations“, though it’s entirely consistent with CRTC policy, as flawed as that may be.

Montreal wants to remove your right to bundle up

Two guys at an anti-FTAA protest in 2003: Should they be arrested for covering their mouths?

Two guys at an anti-FTAA protest in 2003: Should they be arrested for covering their mouths?

In one of those stories that sound like they should be on The Onion, Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay is asking City Council to approve a rule that would make it illegal for protesters to wear masks.

Don’t get me wrong. The vast majority of protesters who wear ski masks to protect their faces do so because they know they will do something illegal and they don’t want to be identified.

But that doesn’t make this any less of a gross attack on freedom of expression.

The press release makes mention of an exception for “valid reasons”, which I would imagine includes “it’s freezing outside” and “I’m a Muslim woman” but not “I’m shy” or “I just don’t want people taking pictures of me”.

But the validity of those reasons would be up to police officers to judge (and maybe, if you have enough money, a court to overturn later). It gives them more power to harass or detain people who haven’t done anything wrong.

If I were more confident in our legal system, I would just laugh this off as something that would immediately get overturned by a court. But I’m not that confident anymore.

Arrest people who do things that are illegal, and charge them for doing those illegal things. Don’t start systematically removing people’s rights because statistics show it will help keep the peace better.

UPDATE (Jan. 28): No surprise, there was a protest to protest against the protest law.

Bell answers to no one

A standards body that Bell Canada doesn’t belong to has reached a decision in a case that Bell refused to participate in, where the only evidence was heard by Bell’s chief rival (Rogers), and has ruled against Bell, only to have Bell outright reject the ruling and do nothing about it.

Doesn’t that make you feel better?

Now Bell can continue to claim to be Canada’s fastest network, even though a ridiculously one-sided decision has said that’s not true.

Hudson plane crash proved nothing about Twitter

Mere hours after a U.S. Airways jet crash-landed in the Hudson River next to New York City, stories about the influence of Twitter were being ejaculated left and right. They were all fawning over how news of the crash hit Twitter minutes before the big media outlets, and one person even posted a picture of the downed plane which got heavily circulated. This was described as a “scoop” for “citizen journalism”.

Don’t get me wrong, Twitter is a powerful tool, despite its really stupid self-imposed limitations. They will break these kinds of stories first and traditional news outlets should mine it for information (which they can then use for free!). But all it was were some eye-witness reports, in a city that has no lack for actual journalists. All we learned from Twitter was that a plane had landed on the Hudson River and that people were standing on its wing.

(Mind you, listening to CNN’s mindless filler yesterday afternoon, it was clear they didn’t know much more than that either).

But the rest of the story didn’t break on on Twitter. It broke through CNN or the New York Times or other outlets that could assign a journalist to chase the story.

Phil Carpenter, a Gazette photographer who recently started his own blog, points out that journalists who just repeat something they’ve heard (say, by rewriting a press release) don’t earn bylines because what they’re doing isn’t really journalism.

Perhaps we should consider that when we compare an eyewitness account to the work of a professional journalist.

UPDATE: J.F. Codère and I are happy to have found someone else who feels the same way.

Time to remember the number for EI

Some Canadian media companies reported earnings this week, but everyone’s eyes were on my parent company Canwest. And by “everyone” I mean “The Globe and Mail, the CBC and the Toronto Star”, and by “eyes” I mean “daggers of hate”.

Canwest’s earnings report showed some bad numbers, made worse by both the current economic situation (which doesn’t look highly upon companies with a lot of debt) and the newspaper crisis. There are suggestions that the company might have problems making its debt payments and may be forced to sell assets, though upper management is forever optimistic (at least in its intracorporate literature). A bright spot apparently is that the National Post showed a profit for the first time, making the free-market economists they have as columnists seem slightly less hypocritical.

Unsurprisingly, the Globe had fun at Canwest’s expense, with a couple of pieces lamenting the company’s impending doom.

Quebec’s Most-of-the-press Council

The Association québécoise des télédiffuseurs et radiodiffuseurs, which represents private French-language broadcasters in Quebec (namely, TVA, TQS, Astral, Corus, RDS, Radio-Nord and MétéoMédia), has pulled out of the Quebec Press Council en masse.

Their reasoning: They’re already forced to belong to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, so it’s a waste of money to belong to two organizations that dictate how they should run their news affairs.

The Council has decided not to fight the matter, but it puts the group in an odd position when it comes to complaints about these broadcasters (and certainly TVA will come up often as it still does news). They could still hold hearings about them, but the broadcasters aren’t going to cooperate, nor are they going to listen to the Council’s decisions, as toothless as they already are.

UPDATE: The Council responds with an open letter which is, frankly, unconvincing. See also a post about this at Les 7 du Québec.

ProjetJ has an audio interview with Thérèse David, former TQS VP and journalism professor, who defends the press council.

UPDATE (Jan. 23): ProjetJ interviews Corus to get their take on the matter.

Live Toronto fire info on Twitter

In my suggestions for 2009 in Hour, I included a request for emergency services and public transit to have live information online, which would democratize police-blotter reporting and free reporters to write about more important stories:

[…That] Montreal police and other emergency services post their breaking news about car accidents, fires and murders online so that curious Montrealers can check for themselves what’s going on instead of having to wait for one of the media outlets to take dictation from the PR guy

Just recently I’ve learned that the Toronto Fire Department is doing exactly that, and this guy has already turned that into a Twitter feed.

When is Montreal going to follow in its footsteps?

I love you too, smoke-free TV people

CFCF's Rob Lurie, at his most smokalicious

CFCF's Rob Lurie, at his most smokalicious

A smorgasbord of government organizations and nonprofits is sponsoring Quebec’s anti-smoking week next week, and part of the campaign features videos with TV personalities giving heart-felt thank-yous to loved ones who helped them quit smoking, while sitting on the floor of the same living room. Each video ends with “je t’aime” (or “I love you”) in a serious, look-you-in-the-eyes way that seems to walk the line between tear-inducing and creepy (though maybe I’m overly sensitive in this regard).

Included in that list is token anglo CFCF’s Rob Lurie (above), TVA’s Dominic Arpin (who writes a blog post about the experience shooting this piece), RDS’s Pierre Houde and Jacques Demers, and a bunch of other people equally split between the media partners (they even got the two guys left at TQS).

Kidding aside, they’re pretty gut-wrenching videos, designed to make people uncomfortable and get them to talk to their parents, kids, siblings, spouses and other loved ones about quitting smoking.

It’s a failure; let’s double it!

The Chicago Tribune, apparently keenly aware of the current newspaper economic crisis, has decided to print two versions of its paper: a broadsheet version for home delivery and a tabloid version for newsstands. Both will have the same content, just formatted differently.

Does this sound excessively stupid to anyone else? They’re going to have to use valuable resources to edit and layout two newspapers (and unless they’ve outsourced it to India, this is an expensive proposition), with editors doing two sets of layouts with different headlines, photos, captions and story lengths.

The Tribune says it has no plans to force home subscribers to switch to tabloid, but I can’t imagine one of the two not being forced to close and replaced with the other down the road to save costs.

Le Devoir bucks trend, gets better

After writing what is essentially an obit of its former printing plant, Le Devoir looks to the future, and lists some improvements that are coming with is new Quebecor-owned presses. Many of them are the opposite of what you’d expect from a newspaper in this economy:

  • First edition deadline is now 10:30pm instead of 8:30pm, allowing the paper to have election results, sports results (including most Canadiens games) and concert reviews in the paper the next day.
  • A larger paper (though this part is a bit vague) “en haute saison”
  • An increase in the point size of text
  • More use of full-colour inside the paper
  • Weekly Agenda section printed using a heat set process, which means the ink won’t rub off on your hands
  • Reduction in the top and bottom margins, meaning the paper will be 4cm shorter without losing any content

What do you do with a B.A. in communications?

I’m on a mailing list for job postings related to editing, you know, for when that six-figure executive position comes up with the corporate jet. I just haven’t bothered unsubscribing.

Even though I’m not looking for a job, I read the emails out of curiosity.

One I’ve seen a few times is from a trade magazine publisher. Trade magazines are usually high-budget affairs because they’re sent to highly-paid professionals and a lot of money is spent on advertising and otherwise communicating things between people in this industry.

The position is a “junior editor”, who is responsible for editing and proofreading, assigning material to freelancers, deciding on editorial coverage, “managing multiple projects simultaneously” and working on the design.

Doesn’t sound particularly “junior” to me, but maybe some of those things are exaggerated.

The position requires a B.A. in communications (or equivalent) and professional editing skills. Knowledge of Quark Xpress and bilingualism are listed as “assets”

It’s entry-level, but professional.

The starting salary? $13/hour

And yet for some reason I keep seeing this position posted every month or two. It’s almost as if the salary is so insultingly low that the people who apply are all horrendously unqualified.

Sadder still, I’m sure you can come up with even worse examples.

$662.50 for cops to tell you who they tasered

Every year, the Canadian Newspaper Association coordinates a “freedom of information audit” by getting its members to anonymously issue standard freedom-of-information requests to local government agencies and report the results.

Journalists employ FOI requests on a regular basis (and usually slap an “EXCLUSIVE” label on whatever juicy stuff the government agency has helpfully compiled for them). The difference here is that the audit’s test pretend to be from average citizens, who may be less (or more) likely to get information from the government in line with the law.

The fourth annual audit, which was featured in an article in The Gazette on Saturday and the Journal on Sunday, focuses, naturally, on all the ones that caused problems instead of the ones that were answered quickly and painlessly. Among the main highlights is the CBC’s refusal to give information on the salaries of its  top employees.

The audit ranks individual cities, provinces and federal institutions. The City of Saskatoon and the Province of Saskatchewan had the highest marks, while the lowest, an F, went to Quebec City. Montreal and Quebec were in the middle.

The Gazette describes Montreal’s performance as mediocre, with none of the requests being released in full without fee. Two of them the City said there were no records to offer. One of them was denied in full. The remaining two cases (one for the city and the other Montreal Police) requested fees for the information. The police wanted $662.50 to compile reports of incidents involving Tasers.