Community access television in Canada is once again at risk of being destroyed as an access medium for the Canadian public. The CRTC wants to remove the community channel from the basic cable package, a move that would, in effect, gut community television as an access medium. Canadians are being urged to write to the CRTC and demand that community television remain in the basic cable package. The deadline for submissions is October 9, 2007.
If you want to respond immediately, here's what to do. Click here, to see the CRTC's call for comments in CRTC 2007-10. Paragraph 73 proposes that community television be removed from the basic cable package. Find paragraph 105 and follow the links to file an electronic response. You can also write your response in a separate file and attach it to your electronic submission.
If you would like to know more about this issue, where to find supporting documents such as existing regulations for community television, or the names of organizations working to save community tv in Canada, keep reading…
Cable companies are currently required to include community television with every cable service they provide. In places like Vancouver and Quebec and across Canada, communities produce programming that provides local coverage, that celebrates local artists, that is often critical of corporate Canada, and which tells stories from diverse perspectives many of which do not otherwise exist in on television. This is why community television in Canada is called access television. By forcing the cable companies to carry the community channel, Canadians are guaranteed access both to the means of producing television programs that express unique and often marginalized perspectives, and also access to the means of distributing those programs to mass audiences. Canadians watch community television in part because it's there – they discover it when flipping through their channels. TV listings rarely if ever list community channel programs.
Throughout it's history, and under existing regulations (see CRTC Public Notice 2002-61, community television was mandated to make programming that complements — not replicates — commercial programming. This is a crucial distinction. Asking community channels to compete with specialty channels for subscriber support would force community volunteers to make decisions based on market share. This is not only next to impossible for volunteer run organizations without resources, but if it is possible, it would transform community programming into exactly what it is not supposed to be: programming whose existence is directly linked to audience share.
Community access television was created to ensure diversity in the Canadian broadcasting system in full recognition that commercial television and cable markets DO NOT ensure diversity. In fact, they work against it, naturally excluding voices that lack access to the means of learning production skills, access to equipment, or access to the kinds of cultural, economic or political power generally required to make television and have it distributed in a commercial market. The destructive tendency of the telecommunications industry to exclude voices that do not have ties to the corridors of political and economic power and to exclude voices that are critical of those same powerful groups, was effectively circumvented by (i) forcing cable companies to provide access to production facilities, and (ii) by ensuring that every household that received cable also received these local programs. Community television has never been primarily about market share (although it is widely watched across Canada), but about democratic necessity — the necessity of ensuring that the television programming available to Canadians reflects the diversity of Canadian society.
Community television is recognized in the Broadcasting Act as the third component of the Canadian broadcasting system, alongside private and public broadcasting. Under current regulations, cable companies must share production resources with Canadians, create volunteer opportunities, provide technical training, and fill up to 50% of their community channels with independent community programs. There is no other means of ensuing that community voices will be heard through the culturally powerful medium of cable television in Canada.
If you would like more information, here are the names of a few groups working to keep community television alive in Canada.