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CRTC must ensure quality TV programs and universal access

The Canadian Media Guild appeared before the CRTC on December 1 and asked the broadcast regulator to use cable and satellite subscriber money to help broadcasters create Canadian programming, including local news, documentaries, drama and shows for children and youth.

The Guild also urged the CRTC to get more public input before simply agreeing to proposals by broadcasters to stop free, over-the-air TV transmission in small towns and rural areas over the next decade.

Barbara Byers, vice president of the Canadian Labour Congress, joined the Guild to ask the CRTC to look out for the interests of Canadian TV viewers, who want quality Canadian shows and news programming that reflects their communities.

Lise Lareau, the Guild’s national president, pointed out that local news programming is under threat at private stations and that the CBC’s new local TV news plan will not succeed without new money.

“The CBC needs new funding to truly reinvigorate its local news programming across the country, ” says Lareau. “There’s no reason the CRTC couldn’t help by redirecting some of the money in the system to the public broadcaster to boost this important initiative.”

The Guild has proposed a nominal increase to cable and satellite bills that would go to a new fund for broadcasters to increase Canadian programming. The majority of the money would be available to public broadcasters, including CBC/Radio-Canada and TVOntario. Up to 40% would go to private broadcasters that produce and air Canadian programming above and beyond their licence requirements. Those requirements should include a baseline amount of local and news programming.

The Guild is concerned that conventional TV broadcasters, including CBC, appear to have reached a consensus on abandoning free, over-the-air TV transmission in all but the biggest markets in the country. That would mean that viewers in smaller towns and rural areas would be forced to sign up to cable or satellite to receive any TV service at all. It would also mean the dismantling of a piece of national public infrastructure that took decades to build without much public debate about alternatives, or on new opportunities for rural areas that digital transmission might bring.

“Broadcasters such as the CBC minimize the importance of over-the-air transmission by saying that the vast majority of TV is now being watched via cable or satellite,” says Lareau. “Their numbers mask the fact that a significant minority of Canadians in small towns and rural areas, who may not watch a lot of TV, still count on free access to a couple of over-the-air stations, including the CBC.”

Click here to download over-the-air viewership research commissioned by the Guild.

It is not clear whether the CRTC will heed the Guild’s call for more public debate about the future of free access to TV service in Canada. The CRTC will report in the new year on a new policy for conventional TV broadcasters, which will guide the licence renewal process for the major broadcasters, including CBC. Broadcasters are expecting a decision about whether or not they are allowed to mothball TV transmitters during the licence renewals.

Click here to view the Guild’s written submission to the CRTC.

For more information, contact the Guild (info@cmg.ca) at 416-591-5333 or 1-800-465-4149.

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