Monday, January 18, 2016

Federal policy reduces local news, and local government accountability

Prior to working for an e-commerce company, for over a decade, I worked at local television stations throughout Metro Vancouver.

The broadcast sector encompasses radio, television, and “new media” which includes services like NetFlix. In theory, the main goals of federal legislation that governs the broadcast sector is the promotion of Canadian created content that tells our stories, Canadian talent, and local news and information programs.

Way back in the day, owning a local television or radio station was like having a license to print money. Because of this, the amount of support that local stations have to provide for the creation of local and Canadian programs is high.

Cable companies also used to make boatloads of profit. Because of this, they have to contribute a percentage of their revenue to the creation of Canadian programs, plus they have to operate community channels.

Over the years, local stations have made less (or no) money due to the changing nature of advertising. Cable channels still make money because owners get advertising revenue plus revenue for every person that subscribes to those channels.

Because of federal policy, these specialty channels such as Sportsnet or Food Network contribute less to the creation of Canadian programs, and don’t have to create local programs.

With services like NetFlix, Shomi, and CraveTV, the federal government has decided to waive the requirement to contribute to the creation of Canadian or local programs.

It feels like federal policy has been to eliminate local programs and reduce the creation of Canadian content.

Because of federal policy, media companies such as Bell, Rogers, and Shaw have reduced the quality of local programs, and have laid off tons of reporters and behind-the-scene staff at local stations.

In the coming year, there will be even less support for local and Canadian programs as the federal government has changed how people can subscribe to cable packages.

So why does this matter? For one things, less journalists are putting out more content. The quality of local news and information programs are deteriorating. With way less investigative journalism, all levels of government have become less accountable to the people.

When it comes to local council meetings, cable companies such as Shaw broadcast these meetings on their community channels. These community channels also cover local elections. Community channels allow people to stay connected with what’s going on in their community.

The CRTC, the federal body that regulates broadcasting, is thinking about not requiring cable companies to have community channels. If they move forward with this change, community channels will be gone.

This has local governments in our region concerned. Metro Vancouver is sending a lengthy submission to the CRTC. Metro Vancouver notes that:

A potential outcome of the review is that the entire portion of the levy currently allocated to the development of community programming (2% of the cable bill) could be reallocated to local, commercial television stations and the distribution of community programming through cable would cease. This outcome would likely result in the abandonment of a community channel entirely.

The Community channel is a vital element of the broadcast system and should remain so.

Local television is an extremely important element of the broadcast system also but is not more important than the community channel and is not more ‘deserving’ of the funds currently allocated to the community channel. Reallocation of community channel funding to local, private broadcasting endeavors is not an acceptable outcome of this review and would reduce the ability of Metro Vancouver communities to share their dialogue with each other and would likely mean an end to the broadcasting of council meetings.

While some people are likely happy that federal government policy has led to the erosion of local and Canadian programs, I am not. Having a less informed public is bad news for a democratic society.

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