A group of citizens is accusing Videotron, one of Quebec’s largest telecommunication companies, of failing to provide mandatory community television service in the province.
“Videotron is required to provide access to training, equipment and studio space for community members to create community-produced content,” says Laith Marouf, the project co-ordinator of Independent Community Television (ICTV), the group making the complaint.
Marouf says community television must also represent the linguistic, ethnic and aboriginal composition of the community.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) requires every satellite or cable television provider in Canada to allocate five per cent of its revenue to Canadian content.
“They can take two of that five per cent and put it towards their own community media channel, which is what a lot of them do because they have a bit more control over it,” explains Steve Faguy, a Montreal-based media blogger.
In Montreal, 50 per cent of the content on community channels must be access programming, or content produced by members of the community.
After ICTV’s first complaint against Videotron, the CRTC decided in 2015 that the company had failed in its mandate and told Videotron to bring its community channel MAtv Montreal into compliance by August, 2015.
In November, ICTV filed another complaint of non-compliance, claiming Videotron fails to provide the required 50 per cent minimum access programming, not only in Montreal, but in eight of MAtv’s nine distribution zones across Quebec.
Defining community TV
As part of its 2015 decision on MAtv Montreal, the CRTC also asked Videotron to set up a citizen advisory committee by March, 2015.
“The committee was formed because MAtv wanted to be sure that the choices that are made in their programming really respond to the needs of the multiple communities on the ground,” says Aïda Kamar, a committee member and president of Vision Diversité, an organization that supports artists and cultural events in Montreal.
Kamar says the committee reviews program proposals from the community and decides which ones are ready to be produced. According to her, since the committee was formed, MAtv has started providing training to the community.
Prior to the first complaint, “Couleurs d’ici” was the sole program on MAtv Montreal focused on immigrant communities.
Three shows about ethnic communities in Montreal have since been added to MAtv’s programming.
“We have a big problem in Montreal, because when you look at TV, it doesn’t always resemble what’s on the street,” says Kamar. She explains that adding programming focused on ethnic communities is not the solution.
“We don’t want to separate programs for immigrants and programs for non-immigrants,” she says, adding all programs on MAtv should reflect Montreal’s ethnic diversity, as well as its official languages.
Fifteen per cent of ICTV’s programming model includes programs in third languages. Currently, all programs on MAtv Montreal are in English or French.
“Not allowing ethnic communities to produce in third languages is part of the racist problems we see here in Canada, and especially in Quebec where we see the rise of new nationalism,” says Marouf.
Kamar, who directed her own Lebanese television program for 10 years, has a different view. She says that while her show was in Arabic, she also included a French segment in each episode.
“I wanted Quebecers who do not speak Arabic to understand what we were saying, to understand that while I was Lebanese, I was also a Montrealer,” says Kamar.
Programs in third languages separate Montrealers rather than bring them together through their common languages, she explains.
Support for ICTV
In 1982, AMEIPH, a non-profit, multiethnic organization supporting people with disabilities in Montreal, started producing a program called “Nous Sommes Encore Là” (“We Are Still Here”). In 1998, Videotron discontinued the program.
AMEIPH sent a letter of support for ICTV to the CRTC, stating that requests to restart the program on MAtv were rejected, leaving the people represented excluded from the media.
“This absence translates into a feeling of not belonging for immigrants especially, and ignorance of what represents today a very large segment of the population of Montreal and Quebec in general,” says Teresa Peñafiel, AMEIPH’s spokesperson.
She says this causes people from ethnic communities to turn to television from their countries of origin, contributing to their isolation.
ICTV’s complaint also has the support of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS).
Andre Desrochers, a CACTUS board member, is leading a class-action lawsuit with other Videotron subscribers in Montreal against the corporation.
CACTUS recently filed complaints of non-compliance against 47 community cable channels across Canada. It also asked the CRTC to take away control of community television from private corporations and give it to non-profits.
ICTV’s complaint also comes in the midst of the CRTC’s public forum on the future of community television across Canada.
The public has until Apr. 15 to submit comments to the CRTC regarding this complaint.
Marouf says there will be a 10-day period for Videotron to reply to the complaint, after which ICTV will have 15 days to respond. It will then be up to the CRTC to decide whether Videotron is in compliance with the regulations.
Attempts to contact Videotron for comment in this article were unsuccessful.
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