Shaw TV not meeting community content quota

A local man wants Shaw cable to restore Campbell River-based content to its community cable channel.

“The coverage is nowhere near what the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission) set,” said Quentin Dodd. “We’re so far short of where it used to be and where it should be, it’s ridiculous.”

Uniquely, Campbell River used to get its cable service from a community co-op called CRTV (Campbell River Television) which provided a community access channel as required by its CRTC licence. In 2008, Co-op members decided to sell the 50-year-old cable service to Shaw in a contentious referendum process for about $46 million. This opened the way to Shaw providing cable service to the community like it does to hundreds of others across Canada. It also opened the door to competitors like Telus and cable service subscribers in the community to be divided up between the two companies.

CRTC regulations require Shaw as part of its licence to provide a community access channel, just like CRTV had to. Which it does.

However, since taking over CRTV cable TV service, Shaw has provided a community access channel as required but Dodd says that has come nowhere near meeting the amount of Campbell River programming it should.

Dodd is working with the Canada Association of Community Televisions Users and Stations (CACTUS). A study by CACTUS found that Campbell River follows the same pattern as has been found in communities across Canada. It does not meet even minimum standards of community programming as required by the CRTC.

Dodd, a freelance writer/reporter, and former broadcaster with CRTV’s community access channel, has joined forces with CACTUS to drum up support in the community for the creation of a not-for-profit society that would take over community programming from Shaw.

In a press release issued last week, Dodd said Campbell Riverites could “well be at the leading edge of a huge opportunity to re-establish the area’s cable community TV channel as a properly-functioning, local distributor of programs and other information about many of the different local programs, events, issues and matters of interest and concern to local residents and taxpayers.”

For example, Dodd says, as the holder of the local cable community channel licence, Shaw should be providing coverage of local city council meetings as part of that service. Instead, coverage of council meetings is delivered online and paid for by city council and provided free to Shaw to put on the “local” channel which it doesn’t always do.

Dodd says that Deepak Sahasrabudhe of Newwest.tv in B.C., who carried out a study of the local coverage and “access” to training and production on 75 community cable channels across Canada, said the CRTC rule is that they’re supposed to be airing at least 60 per cent local content (defined, in this case, as pertaining to Campbell River and not the Comox Valley) and at least 50 per cent “access” content – created by “ordinary community members, not cable company staff.”

Dodd adds that the “shocking” figures that Sahasrabudhe discovered for Campbell River under Shaw show 6.01 per cent for “local content” and 5.71 per cent for “access.” That’s just over 10 per cent or so of the CRTC standard for community cable station licence holders.

“They’re taking millions of dollars out of this community,” Dodd says.

According to Sarhasrabudhe, under CRTC rules, cable companies are meant to put at least five per cent of profits back in the form of genuinely-local programming.

So the CACTUS non-profit and its supporters in community groups across Canada have filed complaints of non-compliance with the CRTC against the roughly 75 community channels operated by Shaw, Rogers, Cogeco, Eastlink, and Videotron.

In Campbell River, Dodd has begun working with CACTUS to put together a file for CACTUS on the local situation. It’s hoped that with enough concern being expressed about the ongoing coverage locally, CACTUS can obtain sufficient funds through the CRTC to get Campbell River’s local cable station “back on its feet and off its butt,” Dodd says.

Sahasrabudhe says, “I discovered that in New Westminster, cable TV subscribers pay about $400,000 per year for community television services, yet Shaw airs almost nothing from New Westminster. I wanted to find out whether the same situation is happening across Canada. Are subscribers getting the services they pay for?”

Catherine Edwards, spokesperson for CACTUS, says it’s possible a local not-for-profit could be put together here to take over the licence from Shaw and obtain funding through the CRTC for local programmng to the tune of more than $300,000 a year.

Dodd is putting together a letter-writing campaign locally to support the idea. You can reach him by emailing dodd.quentin@gmail.com but you have to do so by April 15.