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National digital community media organizers hope CRTC and communities will benefit

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The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) and Carleton University will host the first Canadian national digital community media forum September 10-12 in Ottawa.

The goals of the forum are to explore best practices and policy alternatives for community media in the digital environment. Divisions between traditional community media such as community TV and radio are breaking down, and new strategies are needed to serve communities online. Also to be explored is the way in which youth and new demographics are increasingly developing media literacy skills through gaming.

Organizers just received word that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has awarded funding to the conference, to top up contributions already committed by sponsors such as the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Communications Workers of America -- Canada, the Canadian Media Producers Association, the Canadian Media Guild, ACTRA, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, SmartChange, rabble.ca, IMAA, and the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec.

"We're delighted at the SSHRC announcement. It means that the conference can be maximally accessible to Canadians from coast to coast. That's the point of community media, and this is a pivotal time. Community media offer Canadians digital media skills training, and ensure that all can participate in the digital economy and in the civic and cultural life of the country on an equal footing," said Catherine Edwards, CACTUS' spokesperson.

CACTUS' plans to host a professional and policy development forum to bring together community TV, radio, online and gaming practitioners with the general public, researchers and policy-makers was first announced at the People's Social Forum in Ottawa in 2014.

Since then, plans have progressed apace. The decision by researcher Kirsten Kozolanka of the School of Journalism and Communications at Carleton University to partner with CACTUS means that the conference can be held in Ottawa, easily accessible to government agencies whose policies affect community media, including the CRTC, Canadian Heritage, and Industry Canada.

"Carleton's involvement enables us to recruit support and interest in the academic community in the role of community media in the digital environment. Not enough data or research has been done in Canada to capture usage patterns and what's actually going on out there. We think this forum can go a long way toward filling that gap," continued Edwards.

What's at stake

Conference organizers said, "We'd like to ensure that the conference offers a forum for exploration of possible policy directions prior to the CRTC's upcoming review of its 2010 community television policy. To that end, we're starting public consultations over the summer."

CACTUS notified the CRTC of its plans to organize the conference shortly after last year's Peoples' Social Forum, with the hope that both CRTC staff and commissioners would be able to attend, contribute to panels, and get to know the frequently overlooked sector of the broadcasting system that they regulate.

In February of 2015, the CRTC announced following its recently completed "Let's Talk TV" process that it would soon review community TV policy in the broader context of its policies for local conventional television.

Following its announcement, CACTUS requested a meeting with CRTC staff to:

  • renew its invitation to participate in the community media conference

  • discuss the timing of the proposed review

  • express concern that the needs of the community TV sector might be sidelined in favour of the needs of larger interests and owners of conventional broadcasting networks.

When the CRTC met with CACTUS in late May, CACTUS learned that the community TV policy review notice might be posted before the end of summer, possibly precluding CRTC staff and Commissioners from participating, and precluding any of the research and practitioner experiences from shaping the CRTC's understanding of the sector and the policy review framework.

CACTUS therefore submitted a formal request to the CRTC to delay a community TV policy review until after the conference, in order to allow CRTC staff and Commissioners to participate fully in a collegial fashion with media researchers and practitioners1.

Since this letter was sent, several other conference organizers, research collaborators, sponsors, and concerned citizens have echoed CACTUS' request that the CRTC give its full support to the conference, and not squander this unprecedented opportunity to renew our country's commitment to and understanding of community media in the digital environment2.

Organizers believe it's important for the CRTC to hear from Canadians:

"We can make all the public-interest arguments we want about the value of community media, but if the CRTC is not hearing from the public that they are, in fact, interested, the sector is not likely to get much traction. So we do encourage people to use the feedback channels that the CRTC provides. What's been a challenge in recent years is the loss in understanding of the role community media is supposed to play in a healthy democracy. All the new tools and platforms have tended to cloud basic issues around access to media training, equipment, and distribution."

Readers who believe that is important for the CRTC to participate in the conference can either fax comments to (819) 994-0218, or use the comments form on the CRTC web site.

For more information: Cathy Edwards CACTUS (819) 456-2237


1The request can be seen here. CACTUS request to delay hearing until after community media conference.

2 Letters from organizations calling for a delay in a community TV policy review:

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
Clifford Lincoln
La Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec
The Canadian Media Guild
David Skinner, York University
Deepak Sahasrabuhde, Manager, Newwest.tv
Michael Lithgow, University of McGill.
Kirsten Kozolanka, Carleton University

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