Unloved community TV stations appear before Senate Committee on C-18

May 12, 2023

The Senate Committee considering the government’s Online News Act is mostly a re-run of the House Heritage Committee’s deliberations on Bill C-18. But sometimes you get something new and intriguing.

Cathy Edwards from CACTUS (Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations) was on deck Wednesday night and took the opportunity to explain why the House amended the Bill back in November to ensure that CRTC-licensed community news broadcasters automatically qualify as eligible news businesses, which gets them to the table with Google and Facebook.

The explanation, said Edwards, is that community news stations often employ only a single journalist, south of the ‘two-employed journalists’ cut-off for automatic bargaining rights under section 27(1)(a) of the Act. But those stations frequently employ many technical staff for newsgathering as well as volunteer journalists. Hence the logic for making them another exception to the two-journalist rule, pre-qualifying them as eligible news businesses for negotiations under C-18. The Bill also prequalifies online daily newspapers if already vetted by the federal government under the QCJO federal subsidy program.

That was a delightful rebuff to Google spokespersons and Michael Geist (“Money for Nothing”) who were grouching publicly that Parliamentarians had conferred compensation on licensed broadcasters that “may” produce no online news. (That’s incorrect: an eligible news business must produce news in order to obtain compensation for it. But why be a stickler?).

The reason that CACTUS was back in the legislative fray Wednesday night, pitching to the Senate Committee, is that only eight of 67 community stations are licensed by the CRTC —which explicitly commands them to broadcast news— the rest are either license-exempt or online only. That’s why CACTUS is seeking a further amendment to the Bill in section 27(1)(b). Different from the pre-qualifying section 27(1)(a), this clause explicitly requires the production of news to get to the negotiating table with Big Tech.

As for the provision of news by community stations, the Broadcasting Act commands community stations to provide community news:

As well, the CACTUS brief states:

Our members produce an average of 6 hours of local content per week, 2 of which would be considered civic local news (of the kind funded by the Local Journalism Initiative) with an additional 2 hours of news coverage of non-civic topics including the cultural sector and sports. As such, we are significant producers of information in small communities across the country, in underserved neighbourhoods surrounding large urban areas, and underserved minorities in large urban areas. We produce local content for ~500 cities and villages and are often the only source of truly local news for them. 

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Published by

Howard Law

I am retired staff of Unifor, the union representing 300,000 Canadians in twenty different sectors of the economy, including 10,000 journalists and media workers. As the former Director of the Media Sector and as an unapologetic cultural nationalist, I have an abiding passion for public policy in Canadian media.

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