On-Air Diversity: a Case for Community Broadcasting
May 26, 2010
Asia Media Summit
Remarks by Ian Morrison - Spokesperson, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting
Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this Summit! I represent Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a viewers' and listeners' watchdog group supported by 100,000 Canadians. You can learn more about our work by visiting www.friends.ca.
I come from a country where big cable and satellite television distributors are extinguishing Canada's former leadership in community broadcasting. That's too bad because "the factor that most distinguishes the content of community programming from conventional television services is the ability of community programming to turn the passive viewer of television into an active participant. From this participation flows programming of a nature that is as varied as the imagination and skills of the participants.... Providing and encouraging citizen access remains one of the most important roles"  of community channels.
What does "on-air diversity" entail? It has at least three components: voices, elements and programming. Diversity of voices refers to an editorial voice, particularly in information programming. Diversity of elements includes at least three elements: public, private and community broadcasters. It is not just the number of owners that is important but the presence of different types of broadcasting services, each with its own distinct voice. Diversity of programming includes a balance between domestic and foreign, between different genres and formats, between a variety of creators and between local, regional and national content. 
In my country, big cable and satellite distributors have been allowed to collect and keep more than $120 million in subscribers' money so that they can spend it on so-called community channels that they in fact control - and use to promote their interests.
Friends supports a group called CACTUS (the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations) which has "proposed that this money be directed into a new fund that would enable more than two hundred Canadian communities to run 21st century multimedia training and distribution centres." According to Cathy Edwards of CACTUS: "Apart from generating thousands of hours of new Canadian hyper-local content, the money earmarked for community expression would be administered by accountable local bodies. At no new cost to Canadians, they would receive training and access the newest digital tools and technologies". 
We hope our regulator listens.
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting
200/238 - 131 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M5S 3C8
 Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) public notice 1991-59 (see www.crtc.gc.ca).
 ibid. CRTC public notice 2008-4.