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Back to the drawing board for CRTC on support for local stations

The Supreme Court today ruled that the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) does not have the authority to require cable and satellite companies to negotiate with local broadcasters and pay them to carry their TV channels.

“The CRTC must now focus its attention on helping the local stations that really need it: those run by public and community broadcasters,” says Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the CBC branch of the Canadian Media Guild.

The so-called value-for-signal scheme, proposed by the CRTC in 2010, would not have included CBC/Radio-Canada, the largest national network of local stations that is struggling under federal budget cuts and the loss of the Local Program Improvement Fund. When the scheme was announced, public and private broadcasters had been cutting local programming and closing – or threatening to close – local stations in smaller markets.

“The industry has changed a lot since 2010,” Laurin adds. “All of the main private networks are now owned by cable or satellite companies with deep pockets. Meanwhile CBC is dealing with its biggest budget cuts since the mid-1990s.”

In deciding to exclude CBC from value-for-signal in 2010, the CRTC committed to addressing CBC’s specific needs at its licence renewal hearings, which took place last month. At the hearings, the Canadian Media Guild proposed a new fund to pay for local programming by public and community broadcasters who are excluded from value-for-signal. The fund, from a small percentage of cable and satellite revenues, would be earmarked to ensuring a diversity of local programming, especially in smaller cities. It could also be used by provincial broadcasters such as TVO, which blamed a provincial budget squeeze for recent TV program cuts, for local and regional programming initiatives.

“The CRTC does have the authority to set up a new local program fund and we urge the Commission to move ahead with a much-needed fund for local programming by public and community channels,” says Karen Wirsig, staff representative for the Canadian Media Guild.

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