Monthly Archives: July 2009

Quebec Press Council roundup: Police, Palestinians and the poor

The Quebec Press Council rejects most of the complaints it gets, judging them to be unfounded (usually because the complainants – which include no-hope politicians and conspiracy theorists – have no case and just want to punish a journalist whose facts or opinions they don’t like). You can read those cases on the QPC’s website or see summaries in their press release.

I will highlight one rejected complaint though:

  • Paul Chablo (SPVM) v. Radio-Canada: Chablo, who acts as a media representative for the Montreal police, complained that an Enquête report on Fredy Villanueva was unfair to the officers involved, used young photos of Villanueva to mislead viewers into thinking he was younger than he actually was when he was killed, and showed the faces and names of the two officers involved as if they were criminals. The Council rejected all of these complaints. ProjetJ also looks at this.

Among the complaints they upheld:

  • Dimitri Roussopoulos v. La Presse: Roussopoulos wrote a letter to La Presse to refute another letter that had factual errors concerning the Plateau’s participatory budget process. His letter was not published, and after months of delays (and pestering), he was eventually told it would never be published. The Council agreed that since there were factual errors in the letter that were not corrected, Roussopoulos had a right of reply that was denied to him.
  • Matthew Trowell v. The Suburban: Trowell complained about The Suburban’s biased views on anti-Israeli protesters, specifically a cover article from editor Beryl Wajsman which called them “purveyors of hate” after they took to the streets to denounce Israeli military action in Gaza. It also complained about articles in the next week’s issue from Wajsman, Joel Goldenberg and P.A. Sevigny that painted all Palestinians as child-killers and Jew-haters. The Council, taking pains to note that it isn’t taking a stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, upheld a complaint against Wajsman and Sevigny for having exaggerated in their pieces, pretending that the protest was made up mostly or exclusively of Hamas supporters. But it ruled that the Suburban did not incite violence, that quoting a rabbi who was in turn quoting inflamatory things at a public gathering was not inappropriate, and that an editorial cartoon in the paper did not cross the line.
  • Front commun des personnes assistées sociales du Québec v. Sylvain Bouchard and CJMF: Bouchard said on his radio show that people living on social assistance in Quebec were “quêteux” that get free food and lodging from the government (this, during a discussion about whether such people should be denied the right to vote). The Council ruled that Bouchard was disrespectful, prejudicial and discriminatory toward those on social assistance with his comments. This item got a brief in Le Devoir.

The Council has also rejected an appeal from The Gazette concerning a ruling it had made about the paper’s coverage of the Bouchard-Taylor reasonable accommodation report. Though the Council rejected most of the complaints against The Gazette (whose reporter Jeff Heinrich broke the news of the report’s final draft), it upheld one that the paper was misleading about the importance of certain parts of the report’s findings.

I can feel it coming in the air: t.o.night (UPDATED)

Note: This post has been updated with clarifications and a correction from a blogTO comment below.

t.o.night newspaper mockup from Blog.TO

t.o.night newspaper mockup from BlogTO

It’s being compared to Dose because it’s new, hip and aimed at a younger audience. The comparison is perhaps more apt because it’s a cheap junk rag in an over-saturated market that’s doomed to inevitable failure within two years.

It’s called “t.o.night“, it’s a free, advertising-supported newspaper which will be distributed in Toronto in the fall. It will contain mostly wire copy and wire images with a minimum of local content and no original journalism, and will be handed out to transit users.

Now, you ask, how is this different from Metro or 24 Hours, which have that exact same business model (ditto for Dose)? Well, t.o.night will be an afternoon paper, and will be printed on glossy paper. Ta-Da!

The brainchild behind this newspaper launch in quite possibly the worst market for newspaper launches ever is a 24-year-old business school graduate who saw a similar thing in Melbourne, Australia, and thought it could work here.

Of course, there are differences between Melbourne and Toronto. Melbourne only has two major dailies, and no freesheet competition. Toronto is home to two major local dailies (the Star and Sun), two freesheets (Metro and 24 Hours) and two “national” newspapers that obsess about everything Toronto (the National Post and Globe and Mail). Metro, the Globe reports, has tried afternoon papers and failed for various logistical reasons.

Part of me kind of likes the idea of an afternoon paper which can set itself apart by at least having different news than the morning papers. But afternoon papers died off for good reasons, and coming out at a different time isn’t going to be enough for t.o.night to separate itself from the other freesheets.

One thing that t.o.night is doing different is getting content from blogs. It has reached a “partnership” with blogTO (the sister publication of Montreal’s Midnight Poutine) to use its content, similar I suppose to the deal its competitor Torontoist has with the Globe and Mail (UPDATE: Except as blogTO’s Tim clarified below, that the Torontoist/Globe deal involves website links, and the blogTO deal involves actual syndication of content in the printed paper).

The hitch, of course, is that blogTO doesn’t pay its contributors (UPDATE: Though it does pay its regular editorial staff). So t.o.night is trying to take the blog’s idea of making money off the free work of others (oh but don’t worry, they’ll get a byline!) Tim says that unpaid “community contributions” won’t appear in t.o.night, only the work of paid writers. He wouldn’t say how much blogTO’s writers are paid.

As much as I like seeing a new voice in the newspaper scene, I have to agree with Torontoist’s skepticism here (even though it can’t really criticize blogTO without being hypocritical): the paper will offer little of value (basically anything that breaks after the morning papers go to press and that Canadian Press can publish before 11am), and will only serve to dilute the market for advertising at a time when the other papers can least handle a drop in ad revenue.

Then again, maybe it will finally make commuters realize that a free newspaper with nothing but wire copy and advertising isn’t worth even that price.

UPDATE: A quick hit from the New York Times’ media blog.

CRTC Roundup: Details on CJNT/CHCH sale

The CRTC has called a hearing for Aug. 24 to hear Channel Zero’s proposal to buy CJNT Montreal and CHCH Hamilton. The application includes some goodies we didn’t hear about in the announcement in June.

The purchase price for both stations is $12, specifically:

  • Land $3.00
  • Buildings $3.00
  • Other Fixed Assets $3.00
  • Goodwill $3.00

The stations would be financed through a loan of $4 million from CIBC and Brian C. Hurlburt, and $3 million from Channel Eleven. That would go to increasing the size of CHCH’s newsroom and creating a new production facility at CJNT, plus eventually changing both stations to digital.

Canwest can pull out of the deal if CRTC approval is not given by Aug. 31. Channel Zero expects the CRTC will make a decision on the same day as the hearing, I guess.

The proposed programming grid for CHCH would be as follows:

  • Weekdays: News and local progamming from 5:30am to 7pm, followed by two movies, news from 11-12, a repeat of the prime-time movies and a really-late-night movie from 4am to 5:30am
  • Weekends: News and local programming from 6am to 1pm, followed by two movies, a one-hour 6pm newscast, two more movies, a one-hour 11pm newscast, and then three repeats of movies shown that day

The proposed programming grid for CJNT would look like this:

  • Local ethnic programming in the morning and during the evening supper hours (four hours a day total)
  • Music videos during the day
  • International ethnic movies during prime time
  • Movies (it’s not clear if this would be ethnic or not) overnight

On how they’ll bring the stations to get rich quick modest profit:

A short answer is that we will, if the application is approved, focus each of these stations on their core competency; news and local programming at CHCH and relevant and local multi-cultural programming at CJNT. We will not be relying on expensive first run U.S. programming and therefore we can bring the stations to modest profitability in a relatively short time frame.

A table of financial projections optimistically shows CJNT showing a profit as early as fiscal 2011, mainly due to the assumption that local advertising sales will have more than tripled by then, from $1.2 million a year to $4.3 million, despite the fact that they’re replacing first-run U.S. shows by less-expensive movies in prime-time.

Similarly, ad sales at CHCH are expected to recover to $43 million a year (on par with pre-recession levels, optimistic since more than 80% of that advertising came from non-news programming which Channel Zero would be getting rid of), which combined with spending $30 million a year less on programming expenses, and the CRTC’s new taxes on cable companies, would result in seven-figure profits beginning in fiscal 2012. Without its projected $4 million a year from fee for carriage (it predicts a “75% likelihood” for that “by 2011”), the station would stay in the red until 2014.

Channel Zero is also asking for changes to the licenses for CHCH and CJNT. Among them:

  • Deletion of a requirement for CHCH to have a minimum level of “priority programming” (things like Canadian dramas and news magazines). It argues such requirements are not asked of small stations, only of large broadcast groups.
  • Deletion of a requirement at CHCH for an independent monitoring committee, since these are related to Canwest’s cross-ownership of various media which Channel Zero does not have
  • Deletion of a requirement for CHCH to air four hours a week of described video (with the understanding that the station would use described video where available)
  • Removal of a requirement for CHCH to have distinct programming from Global’s CIII-TV Toronto, which becomes moot if CHCH isn’t owned by Canwest.
  • Deletion of a requirement for CJNT to make sure 25% of its films are Canadian (Channel Zero argues there aren’t enough foreign-language Canadian films to make that feasible – and it will abide by other Canadian content requirements)
  • Deletion of a requirement for French-language non-ethnic programming. Canwest twice asked to be relieved of this requirement, and was turned down twice by the CRTC. Channel Zero argues the station must focus on one market for non-ethnic programming, and the French market is already saturated here. It’s hard not to agree with that logic.
  • Increase in minimum requirements for local ethnic programming from 13.5 hours to 14 hours per week

The Canadian Media Guild’s Lise Lareau looks a bit skeptically at Channel Zero’s plans for CHCH in Hamilton, notably the requested license amendment to remove the requirement to air Canadian dramas and movies in prime time.

UPDATE: The CHCH union, which has agreed to support the sale in principle, is grieving Canwest’s plan to wind up its pension plan before the sale.

Campus/community radio review

The CRTC is undergoing a broad-based review of its policies for campus and community-based radio stations. Among the questions it’s asking:

  • Should campus and community stations be treated differently?
  • Should high school stations be licensed?
  • What kind of programming requirements should they have?
  • Should low-power “micro” radio stations be licensed or exempt from license?
  • How much advertising should they be limited to?

The deadline for comments is Sept. 11. The hearing is Nov. 30 in Gatineau.

Not so bold

After being slapped on the wrist for violating terms of license, the CBC has made good on its promise to request an amendment to change the nature of its specialty channel known as Bold. Formerly called Country Canada, the channel was licensed as a network for rural Canadians from a “rural perspective”, but since its transformation into bold (they don’t capitalize the B, so as to remain edgy or something) it’s basically been a network to throw leftovers at. It airs everything from drama reruns to soccer games.

The CBC’s argument for the change boils down to this:

There is insufficient programming from a “rural perspective” to program the service.

Sorry farm people, but you’re just not interesting enough for a whole channel, even with Heartland and Corner Gas.

New programming categories

Since the CRTC announced that it would allow specialty networks access to all programming categories when asked, they’ve gotten some requests for exactly that.

Astral Media is asking for access to all programming categories for Canal Vie, Canal D, Historia, MusiMax,, Ztélé and MusiquePlus

TVA has received approval for Les idées de ma maison to air up to 10% animated programming. Argent and Mystère have access to a slew of new programming categories, everything from religious programming to feature films and music videos, so long as they fit with the channels’ themes and don’t compete with other networks and don’t go above 10% of the broadcast day. Prise 2 also gets categories added (see below)

Prise 2 must keep its CanCon

Prise 2 can now air TV programs that are as little as 10 years old (the previous minimum was 15) and movies as little as 15 years old (previously it was 25), as well as access more programming categories (documentaries and live sports, limited to 10% of the broadcast day). A request to reduce their CanCon requirement from 35% to 30% was denied.

Télé-Québec, Canal Savoir stay on the air

While the major networks (TVA, CTV, Global) got one-year license renewals as they sort out that fee-for-carriage thing, the smaller non-profit networks are being renewed for the full seven years.

CFTU (Canal Savoir) has been renewed for seven years with no changes to its conditions of license (except a reminder that it will need to transition to digital by August 2011).

CIVM Montreal (Télé-Québec) and its retransmitters across Quebec were also renewed until 2016, with some considerations about representation of minorities but otherwise no changes.

Corus gets more steamy

Corus Entertainment has come to an agreement to buy Sex TV and Drive-in Classics, two specialty channels, from CTVglobemedia. The next day Corus reported a $145-million quarterly loss. Last year Corus bought CLT from CTV and rebranded it VIVA.

In other news:

The Michael Jackson publicity stunt

Look, I don’t want to make it seem like I’m anti-fun or something, because I really do enjoy it when people just go out and do something silly, if only for a few minutes.

But when you have an event involving a professional dance troupe that you’ve publicized to the media, when you have dozens of journalists present, when police and a government minister are taking part, can you really call that a “flash mob“? If so, the term has lost all meaning and should cease to be used.

No wonder groups so associated with the term, like Improv Everywhere and Newmindspace, have rejected it. I think it’s time we all follow their lead if it’s going to be commercialized like this.

Call it a publicity stunt, call it a public performance, call it street art, but don’t call it a flash mob.

UPDATE (July 30): Similar thoughts from Patrick Dion, Jean-Philippe Rousseau and Le Détesteur, plus a defence from a participant.

The Opus bottleneck

Thousands cram their way into the Place des Arts metro station after a free Stevie Wonder concert on June 30.

Thousands cram their way into the Place des Arts metro station after a free Stevie Wonder concert on June 30.

Being the city of festivals, Montreal is no stranger to mass gatherings. It happens so often that the STM has gotten crowd control down to a science. Two stations – Pie IX and Jean-Drapeau – were specifically designed to handle large crowds for big events. Others can, with the help of some extra staff, be made to handle lots of people for a special event. It happens every Saturday night at Papineau (during the fireworks festival), and after every Habs home game at Lucien L’Allier.

The way it works used to be very simple. Open up a gate or unlock a turnstile, pull out one of those old-style fare collection boxes, and have an employee accept change, collect tickets or check passes to herd the crowd through quickly. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped a great deal.

At least, it did until Opus.

Users try to figure out the new turnstiles at Place des Arts

Users try to figure out the new turnstiles at Place des Arts

The Opus smart card has a lot of things going for it. It allows the STM to better control fares, it can be replaced when lost (assuming it is registered), it can be refilled, and it reduces human error in fare collection.

But there are also problems with it, similar to the problems I earlier mentioned with the accompanying magnetic-stripe cards. Two of them have a direct relevance here:

  1. Opus is not human-readable
  2. Opus is slow

The first part makes it useless to add extra staff. You can’t tell by looking at an Opus card whether it’s valid or not. You can’t manually deduct fares from an Opus card. Without a specialized reader (and I’ve yet to see an STM employee with a portable one), all they can do is tell you to stand in line at one of the turnstiles.

The tickets are a bit easier. Fare information is printed on the back, and so they can be taken and verified. Exact change can also be counted by a human. So long as the old paper transfers are still available, this method can still be used to clear passengers. But the vast majority of users use unlimited passes of some kind, either weekly or monthly.

The second part only makes the situation worse. With a magnetic-stripe plastic CAM, sliding the card through its reader would receive instant feedback: a green light and welcoming chime saying the card is valid, or a red X that denies the card-holder entry. The mechanical computer would make its decision by the time the card had completed its swipe.

With Opus, though, the computer takes a couple of seconds to figure out whether a card is valid. It may not seem much, but multiply that couple of seconds by thousands of passengers, and the delays add up.

Turnstiles at Papineau

Turnstiles at Papineau after fireworks

At the Papineau metro station on Saturday night, I decided to actually time how fast people could get through. In one minute, 80 people made their way through the five turnstiles (including the one at the booth). That works out to 16 people a minute through each turnstile, or one every 3.75 seconds. Last year, with the extra staff checking passes through an open gate, the rate was much higher.

Passengers board the 45 Papineau after fireworks

Passengers board the 45 Papineau after fireworks

Outside, passengers heading up Papineau were boarding the 45 bus. It took four minutes and 25 seconds to board 65 passengers (all standing in a line), which works out to about four seconds for each passenger. In the pre-Opus days, passengers would board buses as fast as they could climb the stairs.

It’s not obvious what can be done to alleviate this problem. There’s no simple way to design cheap smart cards that show their contents in a human-readable way. A redesign of the readers that would allow them to communicate faster would certainly be much better, if such a thing is technically feasible. Otherwise we’ll just have to live with longer delays when using public transit.

Go support our local Blogathon bloggers

The annual Blogathon 24-hour blogging-for-charity fundraiser stunt-thing begins at 9am Saturday. Two local bloggers who have done this before are back: Sherry Osborne (UNHCR) and Stephen David Wark (Montreal Children’s Hospital Autism Clinic). I wrote about Wark last year and Osborne the year before.

Go show them some love, especially at 4am when they don’t think anyone’s listening anymore.

You can see a full list of blogs taking part here. The idea is to post at least once every half hour from 9am Saturday (6pm PT) to 9am Sunday.

Journal Lockout Digest: Protest? What protest?

As the lockout of Journal de Montréal employees celebrated its six-month anniversary, those employees took advantage of an open door on Wednesday and stormed the Journal’s offices (CP, Le Devoir, Radio-Canada, Metro), a place they’ve been forbidden by court order to enter since the lockout began in January. Though there was no outright violence (despite the somewhat staged photo as evidenced by the video above), and they left a few minutes later, it was a very tense, very dramatic few minutes.

And if you’re religiously tuned to the LCN 24-hour cable news network, you wouldn’t have seen a moment of it. While Radio-Canada’s RDI was all over the event, It seems the Quebecor-owned network gave only a brief mention of the incident on TVA’s evening news. There wasn’t even a video to attach to the story.

UPDATE (July 24): Richard Therrien has more in Le Soleil.

Meanwhile, Quebecor has responded by complaining to the court, arguing that the employees who stormed the building were in contempt of court by rather obviously violating a court order that said they couldn’t enter the building. Thankfully, Quebecor-owned enterprises are all over that part of the story (ot at least, copying the Canadian Press version online).

The anniversary has also prompted some big-picture discussion from the blogosphere, with one capitalist saying unions aren’t all bad, and another asking why the union doesn’t forgo Quebecor entirely and start their own newspaper.

UPDATE (July 27): A video originally attached to this post, which criticized Rue Frontenac for a misleading photo, has been taken down by YouTube after a copyright complaint from the photographer. The photos have also been removed from the Rue Frontenac article on the protest, without any correction.

In other news

Mixed news at small Global, CTV stations

Canwest closes two, sells two, rebrands one

After putting the five conventional television stations comprising its secondary E! network (formerly CH) on the block for a “strategic review”, the results are in:

Get the news from your favourite source:

The decisions mean the end to the E!/CH network.

CTV closes one, sells one, keeps one

Meanwhile, after Shaw backed away from buying three CTV stations for $1, there is similar mixed news at those stations:

This leaves six A-channel stations left, including CHWI and the cable-only Atlantic A network.

National Post amused by our wacky cop cars

My post about Montreal’s stealth police cars prompted an article in the National Post in Wednesday’s paper (an article written by a former colleague of mine at the hippie university paper).

I mention this in its separate post not just because of the fact that the article quotes me and the Post used one of my photos on Page 3, but … uhh … [insert better reason here later].

They used this photo (though heavily cropped on the sides – I’d be outraged, but I’ve done it enough times as an editor):

Invisible cop car giving a ticket

Of course, I took this photo not thinking that a national newspaper would want to use it. I spent little effort composing the shot, took it at a low resolution (the lowest my camera goes is 1728 x 1152, fortunately that was enough to make it printable) and didn’t bother getting names or other information.

On the flip side, it’s something that happened randomly as I was out shopping. If it wasn’t for the fact that I almost always have my camera with me, I’d have never gotten the shot. Instead, I stopped, pulled the camera out of my backpack, and took a few shots before continuing on my way.

Let that be a lesson to you freelance photographers and bloggers out there: always have your camera ready, and don’t assume you know how a photo might be used later.

Central Station is about to get very quiet

VIA Rail announced late Tuesday night that, because of an impending engineers strike set to begin Friday at noon, it has begun cancelling train departures. Like, all of them.

Read the rewritten press release story through your favourite corporate filter:

Note that of the above, only CBC provides a working direct link to VIA’s list of cancelled trains (PDF). Essentially, any train which does not reach its destination before the strike begins Friday at noon will either be cut short or cancelled entirely. These cancellations are happening whether or not there is actually a strike. All trains after Friday will be cancelled unless the strike is averted or ends.

Specifically, for trains in and out of Montreal, the following are the final departures that VIA is maintaining. Those booked for later trains can get full refunds or (for departures before noon only) use alternative transportation (buses) that VIA is setting up:

  • Montreal-Toronto: 6:30am Friday
  • Toronto-Montreal: All Friday departures cancelled
  • Montreal-Ottawa: All Friday departures cancelled
  • Ottawa-Montreal: 9:03am Friday
  • Montreal-Quebec: All Friday departures cancelled
  • Quebec-Montreal: 7:50am Friday
  • Montreal-Jonquière: Friday departure cancelled
  • Montreal-Senneterre: Friday departure cancelled
  • Montreal-Gaspé: Friday departure cancelled
  • Montreal-Halifax: Friday and Thursday departures cancelled
  • Halifax-Montreal: Friday departure cancelled

Note the cancellation of the Thursday evening departure from Montreal to Halifax, which would have arrived at its destination past the noon Friday deadline. Thursday’s train from Halifax to Montreal arrives Friday morning and would not be affected.

40 years ago today

The Onion: Holy Shit - Man walks on fucking moon

Oh, and I should add a link to the Bluffer’s Guide in Monday’s Gazette, courtesy of yours truly: The moon landings: fake or fact?. Choosing a news-relevant topic was enough to get my name above the fold on Page 1 (all part of my master plan).

UPDATE: This story surfaced just after I filed that one, showing that there are indeed pictures of the moon landing sites. But, of course, those are all fakes. (Thanks Ha!)

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 45

This week’s Montreal Geography Trivia comes from reader Luc Simard (who is therefore disqualified). Thanks Luc!

West Island guide 2009

Where was this photo taken?

Bicycle path at Wilcox park in Verdun

Bicycle path at Wilcox park in Verdun

Many of you got this one right: It’s a bike path in Verdun. The island in the distance is the western (er, southern) tip of Nuns’ Island. Note that Verdun isn’t listed as one of those communities that forms the West Island, and for good reason. It’s not even close. To get to the nearest listed West Island town (Dorval), you’d have to pass through LaSalle and Lachine.