The CRTC today decided to bend its rules requiring a minimum amount of local news, in order to keep cash-strapped TQS alive and allow Remstar to take over as its owner.
From the CRTC press release:
In this case, we have taken into account TQS’s precarious financial situation and will allow, as a short-term measure and on an exceptional basis, a reduced amount of local news. We fully expect that TQS’s situation will permit it to improve upon this amount within three years.
While these amounts are much lower when compared to other conventional television stations, the Commission recognizes that TQS has suffered, and continues to suffer, important monetary losses. For this reason, it has allowed for a temporary measure on an exceptional basis in order to give Remstar an opportunity to improve TQS’s financial situation.
“Much lower” is right. Whereas other television stations are required to have 18 hours a week of locally-produced programming, TQS Montreal requires only 15, of which 2 would be newscasts. Stations in the regions have it even worse. Quebec City gets 10 hours of programming, and Saguenay, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières only 1.5 hours a week.
The final numbers are only slightly above what Remstar suggested in the first place, and the CRTC is spinning this as them clamping down by raising a level that has been brought down crazy low so that it is slightly less crazy low.
That said, it’s nice to see that the CRTC plans to revisit this in three years. Somehow I doubt TQS will magically become solvent in that time, which probably means that this temporary measure will be de facto permanent. Remstar will see to that.
As you might expect, the union representing former TQS workers has denounced the decision, and demanded that the government get involved in the case. (And really, the only way to screw this all up even further is to get the House of Commons involved.)
But what’s the alternative? Enforce the same restrictions as the rest get, and TQS would file bankruptcy. Some suggest that’s even the way to go, because Montreal simply cannot sustain two private networks, two public networks in addition to community and ethnic stations.
I think another compromise might make more sense: Cut TQS’s broadcast license, and make it into a cable network. If they don’t want to bother with local news, they don’t have to. They can take their programming and bring it to the cable dial, where most viewers would still have access.
Local programming and news should be the price to pay in exchange for the privilege to broadcast on public airwaves.
Thanks to the CRTC, that price is lowered for the simple reason that one company doesn’t want to cough up the cash.
UPDATE (June 28): The Gazette’s Brendan Kelly has some thoughts on how everyone expected the CRTC to stand up for its rules and instead they totally caved.