A report tabled in Parliament by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage has given some measure of hope to advocates of independent community television.
After more than a decade, community television producers again may be able to access public funds for programming purposes.
Richard Ward, a director of the Community Media Education Society, pointed out that the number one recommendation in the report entitled Issues and Challenges Related to Local Television is the inclusion of community television among groups that can access “any programs designed to assist local broadcasting” for both private and public broadcasters.
The report, which was submitted to the House of Commons on June 19, also called for an increase in the contributions of broadcasting and cable companies into the Local Programming Improvement Fund from the current rate of one percent to 2.5 percent of their broadcasting distribution revenues.
The committee proposed that of this 2.5 percent, a full percent will be dedicated to CBC/Radio-Canada, and the remaining 1.5 percent for “broadcasters in small- and medium-size markets, consistent with recommendation 1”.
“I’m delighted that independent community television can apply to the Local Programming Improvement Fund,” the former Vancouver-based Ward told the Straight in a phone interview from Calgary. “Community television has always been excluded from these funds because these funds have always required that the program be commercially licensed for at least 15 percent of its budget. But community television by its nature is not commercial. So there always was a catch 22.”
Ward recalled that up until the late 1990s, independent community television producers were able to make use of a levy collected by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission from cable companies. This levy ranges from one to five percent of their revenues depending on area of coverage.
To put this into perspective, Ward pointed out that one percent of gross cable revenues across Canada is about $68 million a year.
“What we had until 1997 was we had this money available for access for volunteers, for people covering what was happening in the community as they saw it,” he said. “But then in 1997, it switched over to the cable companies being able to control the production. My opinion is that the community channels since then have been an advertising vehicle for the cable companies. They do programming but it’s not controversial—it’s soft and this is contrary to the CRTC policy and the Broadcasting Act.”
Vancouver’s Sid Tan is the television coordinator of the new W2 Community Media Arts group that’s been given a space at the Woodward’s building Downtown.
“The most significant thing said by the community television representatives that spoke to the standing committee is there needs to be funding sources for independent community television producers,” Tan told the Straight by phone.“Anything that the standing committee recommends is totally useless without independent television producers getting access to the funding that cable companies do to produce community television. That’s the bottom line.”