Media @ McGill

Heritage Minister Oda Rewards Shaw and Videotron Muscle Flexing

Submitted by Susana on

Heritage Minister Oda Rewards Shaw and Videotron Muscle Flexing:
Corporate Intransigence Okay As Canada's New Government Onside

Vancouver, BC - Two Vancouver community television groups are concerned Heritage Minister Bev Oda rewarded cable companies who do not live up to their regulatory obligations. Both Videotron and Shaw Cable suspended payments derived from a cable levy to the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) pending more favourable rulings. Community Media Education Society (CMES) and Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society (ACCESS), both local not-for-profit community television corporations, are concerned Shaw and Videotron's strong-arm tactics have resulted in an immediate dialogue with Minister Oda without rebuke. CMES and ACCESS want the Minister to accord similar immediate attention to the community television portion of public funds given to cable companies derived from the cable levy. It is not reported whether Minister Oda required Shaw and Videotron to make payments to the CTF before talks.

"Shaw and Videotron are flexing their muscle over the cable levy payments to the Canadian Television Fund," states Richard Ward, CMES spokesperson and decades-long community television activist. "The reason this matters is that television still elects governments. It didn't elect Jim Shaw but it elected Stephen Harper. If it turns out that Shaw Cable is more powerful than Canada's Prime Minister, then democracy has a big problem."

A 2003 Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage "...was very frustrated by the absence of data on community television and is dismayed that virtually no information exists on what happens as a result of cable company expenditures (approximately $75 to $80 million) in support of community television each year." (Quote from Our Cultural Sovereignty: Canada's Second Century of Broadcasting, Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, Clifford Lincoln, MP (Chair), June 2003, p. 368)

"Shaw censors what I consider fair comment in response to its understanding and management of the public's cable community channel," states Sid Tan, ACCESS spokesperson and a volunteer who co-produces the weekly EarthSeen and Saltwater City Television programs on Shaw's cable community channel. "Let's have a public review of the government's spending of the Canadian Television Fund as well as Shaw's spending of public money. The CTF is arms-length from corporations and so should community television funding. Why do cable companies get public money for community television?"

Over the last decade, local community channel access in Greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley has been restricted, first by Rogers and then Shaw in order to control discussion on matters of public interest. Now that control is being extended to the CTF. Broadcast regulations require that the 5% cable levy, amounting to $200 million annually, can't be suspended any more than citizens can suspend their income tax over policies they don't like. Minister Oda has tolerated and actually rewarded Videotron and Shaw for behaviour they would deplore in public officials and citizens.

Even though some of cable levy started to go to the CTF in 1996, the levy has been in place since 1975. Originally it supported community television and was a tax on the license to bring in American channels, at no cost, to compete with Canadian television producers. Since 1996, Rogers and then Shaw have incrementally phased out the network of eleven community television offices and studios with thousands of volunteers in Greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley. CMES and ACCESS have pointed this and other Shaw community television intransigence to the government and regulatory authourities for years without success.

Richard Ward - CMES: 604-733-9090
Sid Chow Tan - ACCESS: 604-783-1853 or 604-433-6169