Steve Anderson: Big cable takes advantage of millions meant for community media

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      By Steve Anderson

      Until recently, many Canadian communities had vibrant networks of volunteer media makers, such as the roughly 1,200 volunteers across 12 regional offices in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. However, in the last 13 years, cable companies like Shaw have altered community production facilities and the levy (a public trust) that supports them. They are now used as a competitive advantage rather than a community resource. This represents a serious misuse of roughly $100 million that belongs to communities across the country ($116 million in 2008).

      In 2008, cable monopolies earned a profit of 25 percent before interest and taxes. Irrespective of these earnings, they are now using over $100 million of public money for their own commercial interests. The community-TV levy money is partially earmarked for the most marginalized in our society, like at-risk youth. That some of the most profitable companies in Canada are taking public resources from those most in need is outrageous.

      A “new deal” for media innovation?

      The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission is currently reviewing community media in Canada, including the $100 million in community-media funds. A proposal by the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations calls for the millions of dollars already being collected by cable companies for community TV to be liberated for independent media centres. If taken up, the CACTUS plan could pave the way for an innovative and empowering independent media sector in Canada.

      One group that would benefit from the liberated funds is the Vancouver-based W2 Community Media Arts Centre. New community media centres are attracting interest from the public because they are, in many ways, a physical mirror image of the Internet. These centres are integrating Web practices and values, like transparency, openness, and participatory decision-making, into their space. Take a look at the description of soon to be launched W2 centre:

      W2 will bring together hybrid art forms, community art practices, individual human development and community cultural development in a single environment...offering developmental programs in writing, radio and television production, painting, sculpture, photography, mixed media, video and cross-media.

      New community media centres like W2 allow community members to engage at a level with which they are comfortable, and to freely develop their own ambitions and capacities. Community media centres could, in a sense, be the next phase of social media, bringing to life the collaborative potential of the Internet in physical production spaces.

      Watchdog for who?

      Recently, a report detailing community-channel policies worldwide—Community Television Policies and Practices Around the World—has been removed from the CRTC Web site. This decision appears to be in response to a December 10, 2009, letter sent by Rogers Communications, Shaw Communications, Quebecor, and others asking for the report to be removed. The CRTC’s willingness to bend to the concerns of a few companies draws into question the CRTC’s independence from the cable-industry lobby.

      The CRTC’s Web site also indicates that there are 139 cable-operated community channels in Canada, but gives no further information. The CRTC doesn’t appear to be even collecting programming logs, which would be the first step toward accounting for use of the funds collected from the community-TV levy.

      Big cable has been given unfettered access to more than $100 million of our money, and the CRTC has apparently provided little to no oversight. Over the past 10 years, an estimated $800 million has flowed through this fund.

      The choice is ours: we can allow big cable to continue to use our money to promote their brands, or we can create new-media incubators that lead to job creation, empowerment, and media innovation.

      Canadians can ask for the funds to be given back to communities by sending a comment to the CRTC.

      Steve Anderson is the national coordinator of He is a contributing author for Censored 2008 and Battleground: The Media. You can reach him on Facebook and Twitter.




      Jan 26, 2010 at 4:26pm

      Excellent piece.


      Jan 26, 2010 at 5:58pm

      What Anderson is proposing is so wrong and outdated. It's a cryout for a cashgrab.

      We've already seen that 40 years of "community tv" doesn't really serve the community. It's vanity TV that's better served today by YouTube and the web. To say that the DTES needs yet another $100 million so it can produce TV is pretty warped.

      glen p robbins

      Jan 26, 2010 at 6:57pm

      Very Interesting--I'm glad I read this.


      Jan 27, 2010 at 3:54am

      This an important issue that needs more play - it's $100 Million of our money after all!


      Jan 27, 2010 at 8:57am

      I'm somewhat with transit rider... $100 million for art workshops around the country sounds like a hand-out for people that can't support themselves as artists in the first place.

      But I like the idea better than any portion of that $100 million going to Shaw and co.


      Jan 27, 2010 at 10:25am

      cable profits

      It may be a 25% return on cable Tv - lots of campaign donations for corrupt politicians there but when you add broadband on top.....

      According to Time Warner their profit on broadband is over 3000% with their ancient antiquated cable equipment. They could cut their fees to 3% of current level and still make money - lots of room for a nonprofit to provide a service at for a few bucks a month.



      Jan 27, 2010 at 12:12pm

      I am with a community based cable access producer for Shaw in Vancouver. As a non-profit society we are responsible for 5 hours of programming a week. Shaw gives us access to some of their old equipment dating back to the days of Rogers Cable and their editing facilities (after 5 p.m. when they have finished with them). In essence we are providing free content for Shaw and must pay for our own production expenses. No $100 million a year for us.


      Jan 27, 2010 at 4:56pm

      But could be producing this programming for YouTube for free. Cameras and editing software today are cheap and plentiful...some of it is even free! Find your audience on the Internet. You don't need $100 million of taxpayer funds or cable fees to make volunteer TV. Millions of people are doing it on the internet now!


      Jan 28, 2010 at 6:40pm

      I agree with a lot of the article, but Steve is being purposely misleading in part of it. The report that was removed from the CRTC's site was removed because the CRTC had commissioned the report as a neutral authoritative study, but it turned out that its author was the main lobbyist for the most active community television group. To fairly portray the situation, Steve should have mentioned this.


      Jan 31, 2010 at 1:46am

      Transitrider, it's not taxpayer money at all - it's a levy on cable subscription mandated by the CRTC. The fact is they are collecting it for community media - should we allow cable companies to take is public fund, or should we give it to community media organizations? I'm with the later.