Interviewed by Stuart Hertzog
October 27, 2010
- How did you become involved in cable TV access in Nanaimo?
- How did you start attracting people to form a community media society?
- What is your experience as a community programming producer in cable TV?
- What was it like being a freelance video producer with Shaw in Vancouver?
- What is this Community Cable Access Coalition you’re working on?
- What really went on at the G20 protests? Was the anarchist violence successful?
- How did the cable companies take over this community media fund?
- Do you think a Community Media Arts Centre could work, say starting in Victoria?
- What about the Internet? It’s now a viable media that a lot of people are using.
- What do you see happening with Shaw acquiring CanWest’s TV?
How did you become involved in getting cable TV programming access in Nanaimo?
I started volunteered for community cable in 1986, but I graduated from broadcast school just as the CBC had laid off half their workers and shut down half their stations. So I went back to community cable as a way of continuing to develop my programming skills. When I moved back to Nanaimo I asked Shaw about doing a show here, and they told me that they didn’t do that any more. Then I found out what about Jack Etkin’s show in Victoria and Sid Tan’s in Vancouver, so I pressed them again and they said that I could submit a proposal and they’d consider it. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work, though. We do have access rights.
What I’m doing in Nanaimo is to try to create a model that people in other communities can follow. We are setting up a media society because the cable companies have to provide access to a society. They have to give us up to 20% of the community broadcast time unless there are other incorporated media societies in the same area, in which case they have to give us a minimum of four hours per week. Without a society they still have to provide access, but they can always claim they’ve met the requirement, which is minimum 30% of the time, maximum 50%. With an incorporated society we will be able to ensure that we actually get that time.
Submitting programming on a case-by-case basis is another way of going about it. I had approached Shaw Nanaimo about submitting Shout Out For Global Justice, a documentary I had put together from video I’d taken of a Massey Hall event in Toronto on June 25 2010, the day before the big G20 protest. They said they’d think about it, but they weren’t getting back to me or giving me much attention. It wasn’t until they found out it was playing on ICTV in Victoria (I had given a copy to Jack) that they decided they would go ahead with it here.
How did you start attracting people to form a community media society?
Water Watch put on a water conference in Nanaimo in May, 2010. I had a sign-up sheet there for people who were interested in supporting my initiative. One hundred people signed up so I put out a call for a public meeting. I guess somebody forwarded the email to The Bulletin, one of the local Black Press papers, who did a little story on it, and at the end of September sixty people came to a public meeting. We handed out a questionnaire asking what skills they had; whether they wanted training on Shaw’s equipment or whether they had access to suitable equipment already; and what kind of programming they wanted to see.
About forty questionnaires came back — the amount of trust and support was kind of overwhelming, actually. What I got was a lot of people who said that they used to be in community cable, and some even had a show here in Nanaimo, but they told us that they didn’t know that they could do this any more.Those people who used to volunteer are now finding out that they can do it again.
I also had two people from Campbell River turn up who had just lost their community-owned cable system because the CRTC had told them that it was the one place where they were going to let competition into the monopoly. The CRTC ruled that Shaw could go in and compete with the community-owned cable. People lost their station to Shaw, and when they tried to do programming for it, they soon found out that they were hitting a wall. They’re angry because the studio is empty and their thirty active volunteers can’t do anything.
What I’m trying to do is a step-by-step process, so I’m not overwhelming people with information by telling them of the rest of the fight. I’m encouraging them to use what exists right now; then I’m slowly letting them know that this is under threat, but there is another model, and what we need to do is to encourage activism around the community to fight for this other model, to make sure we don’t lose what little we have, because we rally don’t have a lot when it comes down to community media, our ability to communicate with each other.
What is your experience as a community programming producer in cable TV?
Quite a while ago, I used to have a show called Environment Update with Rogers in Victoria. One of the things I did was about the logging that was going on at that time in the Nanaimo watershed. Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club were trying to get the mainstream media to focus on it, but they wouldn’t cover the story. So Vicky Husband, Mehdi Najari and I took a video camera into the watershed and documented the damage caused by the logging.
We assembled it together as a package and supplied CHEK TV, CBC, and BCTV with footage. When we released it on my show on Rogers, it lead to a moratorium on logging in that watershed. Within ten days of my show going on the air and the mainstream media covering the story, there was a moratorium — but the mainstream media wouldn’t cover that story until they had footage dropped in their lap by us. Those are the kinds of thing you can do on community cable. It has a wide distribution so your material reaches a lot of viewers.
To support myself while I was doing the show I used to go around to local businesses that had a progressive stand on the environment, and ask for small sponsorships. I was maybe getting a thousand dollars worth of sponsorships a month, not a lot but enough to enough to help pay the rent. Then there was a strike at Rogers so I couldn’t make any money in Victoria, so I moved to Vancouver and worked at Video Inn for six years as trainer and equipment manager.
Then I worked in the educational video industry, but the company I was working for had their series cancelled and there was no more educational television being produced at that time. I worked for a while in downtown Vancouver, then I wanted to go back to community cable, but Shaw only offered me freelance programming for The Daily — three minute slots, they even prefer them under two minutes. Try to explain an issue in two minutes! It’s kind of stupid.
What was it like being a freelance video producer with Shaw in Vancouver?
I was put on the casual list with Shaw, but I was firm that I would only do stories about environmental or political issues, or on social justice. I was doing stories on all kinds of different issues. I interviewed Ingmar Lee about contaminated fertilizer in the Nanaimo Watershed, and did shows on the logging on Mount Benson, which is now a park. People watch community cable, it’s a good place to be. It plays over and over again, which really works for it.
That was fine until they got a new program manager, who put up with that for a while but then wanted me to go out and do the grab-and-greets with the Mayor, the cake-cuttings and all that kind of stuff. I wasn’t going to do it, so I got busy with some other film projects, and I guess I wasn’t producing anything useful for them, so they let me go.
It really was no loss. I was billing $100 per segment, which is dirt cheap because I was using my own equipment, my own editing system, my own camera, my own vehicle, even my own tape. I was doing it more as a citizen than a job, it was my contributing to the community, and also because I care about these issues. The mainstream media wasn’t covering the issues I cared about, just like the watershed story I worked on a decade earlier.
So the new program manager canned me as a casual, so I was off. I actually approached him again about doing another series about environmental issues, and asked about sponsorship money. He said that if I get sponsors, I’d have to give the 60% of what I brought in as sponsorships. It was still my camera, my editing suite, my vehicle and gas!
That’s the kind of relationship I was having there, so I just stopped. For me to go out and do all the work myself and only get to keep 40% of the sponsorships, just seemed ridiculous.
What is this Community Cable Access Coalition you’re working on?
In May of 2010 I was at the Making Media Public conference at York University in Toronto. I was meeting people from CACTUS, Steve Anderson from Open Media, people from rabble.ca and This Magazine. The conference was about the problems independent progressive media was having and how to deal with them. One of the solutions I was thinking was to try to get a network of people across Canada who were interested in community cable.
When I was thinking about that I was involved with the organisation Smart Change and I pitched it to them, because I was going to the G20 and doing a film series there in the lead up to the G20, showing a series of documentaries at the local cinema that all related to G20 issues. I proposed that I would document the Shout Out For Social Justice and pitched it also to the Council of Canadians, who were putting on the event. The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) had decided that they wanted to document it too, so I was able to get a second camera angle — not a marvelous one because of the rules of the house meant I could only get a side profile.
I put that together and started sending out emails to contacts I have across the country. I have a lot of contacts because of the documentary I did about the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), for which I did a tour of 40 communities across Canada a year ago. I organised all that myself, along with Council of Canadians chapters, of which there are some 70 across Canada. I told people that they could have this video for free or for a minimum donation of $20. The idea was for them to take it to their local cable station and ask them to play it.
I want to get people used to the idea that this access exists, there is this access that we used to have and still have. Once they realise that, they can learn about the aspect, that the CRTC policy says also that we have access to the equipment for these cable stations, and if we have access to training on that equipment, and if we form societies that are dedicated to community television production, we can take up to 20% of the broadcast time on those stations.
Part of what Im doing in Nanaimo is that I’m taking all those steps myself, so as I encourage people across the country to do this, I’m able to say that I’ve done it here in Nanaimo, this is how it’s worked out for me, and here’s a copy of our bylaws and constitution and our mandate that you can use as a model.
I’m also connecting with other film-makers, so the second program that I’m sending out as part of this cable access coalition network, whatever you call it, is a whole series of shorts produced by independent media on the G20. These are the stories of what happened at the G20 on the ground. Vancouver Media Co-op submitted a story, Velcrow Ripper submitted one. I’ve got some from Press For Truth.
What really went on at the G20 protests? Was the anarchist violence successful?
I’m in line with some of these organisations more than others, and I believe in having a diversity of opinion to counter the mainstream media. I’ve had arguments with some people who submitted stories about what happened, claiming a great victory in Toronto for the anarchists. My response to them is: “What victory?”
I believe the police let it happen. I interviewed two journalists who followed the Black Block for 90 minutes over 24 city blocks, as they trashed their way from King and Spadina to Bay and King, up Yonge Street without any interference from police. The police cars that burned were abandoned. These journalists told me that they watched the police walk away from them, they had plenty of time to move them. There was also a third vehicle, an unmarked van with a hidden video camera rolling the whole time. The Anarchists played right into it.
I believe that we need to have an approach that supports a diversity of views and tactics. But I don’t want to go to protests with people wearing masks. If you’re going to wear a mask, go somewhere else, have your own protest, do your own thing but keep it away from what was billed as a ‘family-friendly’ protest. The Black Block showed up at Queen’s Park after their rampage, where the rally ended up. There were thousands of people hanging out there and they just merged into the crowd, took their masks and black clothing off, and disappeared, so the police arrested people who weren’t involved in the rioting.
How did the cable companies get away with taking over this community media fund?
The CRTC deregulated community cable in 1997 because the satellite companies didn’t have to provide a community channel, so the cable stations thought they should be able to opt out of providing one I think the satellite providers still have to pay into the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) — I guess it’s the Community Media Fund (CMF) now, or something — but they don’t have to provide a community channel.
When it was deregulated in 1997, the CRTC told the cable companies that they didn’t have to actively promote the community channel any more, they could do community programming a different way. So the cable companies fired their volunteer coordinators and professionalised the stations. Cathy Edwards, who now runs the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), used to be a volunteer co-ordinator for Shaw in Calgary.
But the access part remained. Sid Tan fought to keep his show in Vancouver on the air the whole time. Any time he was having a problem, he would just continually complain to the CRTC. He was very tenacious about maintaining that access, and in Quebec they fought to maintain their programming, so all that served to get the CRTC to review that policy, so they came out with Policy 2002-61, which reaffirmed the community’s right of access. But the cable companies didn’t have to inform the public, so people didn’t know that they still had access.
I’m encouraging people to get involved with CACTUS, CMES, and Open Media, because they are all fighting for better community access support. The corporations don’t really want this kind of community media at all, so one of the things that’s happening right now is a proposal from the cable companies to the CRTC that the community media fund, rather than continuing at a percentage rate, be locked-in at its current dollar value. The problem with that is that with inflation and everything else, it would slowly diminish the amount of money that’s available.
CACTUS is proposing a new model, they’re basically saying: “Let’s take this cable levy away from the monopoly corporations, and put it into community media access centres across the country.” But at this stage it’s not going anywhere because the cable giants aren’t interested at all, and also because the people who understand that this access actually exists are a small proportion of the public. So an important first step is to let people know that they have access. Once they do that, they’ll know that the cable giants are trying to take it away, and they’ll become more active on the file? They’re going to put it forward.
Do you think a Community Media Arts Centre could work, say starting in Victoria?
I’m sure it could. What you need to do is to get people in other organisations, like MediaNet, involved because that’s the key to it. You have to get the community campus radio involved too — I’m trying to get CHLY involved here. A couple of those folks showed up in my meeting. I’ve pushed this before with them when they were trying to form a news program. I suggested I repackage some of the programs I did with Shaw, making them into an audio story and changing the sign-off on them.
They were using those for a while, but there were people on their Board who were very anti-TV. They were saying: “Why would we want to put on programming from TV? We hate TV! Bust your TV! Blow your TV up!” Other activists also have fed this line to me. In response I say: “Well, you already know the issues, so I don’t need to reach you. If I’m talking only to you, I’m just preaching to the choir. What about the other 95% of the population?”
What about the Internet? It’s now a viable media that a lot of people are using.
Again, I would say the same thing: I have a YouTube channel CanadiansNanaimo that has been mostly dedicated to the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). It’s related to mostly Council of Canadians-type campaigns. The footage I have on it of police provocateurs in Montebello, Québec has had 575,000 views on it and has been embedded in a whole bunch of other sites. People stumble across that by searching for ‘police’ and ‘riots,’ and ‘provocateur,’ keywords like that. But the other programming I’ve put up on YouTube is only reaching a small audience. I have some other clips on the G20 riot that have approached 100,000, but some of the in-depth things I’ve done about the SPP have only gone to 30,000 over three years.
On YouTube I’m mainly reaching out to like-minded people who are spreading it out to other like-minded people, which is a lot of what is happening on the Internet, whereas if you put programming on community cable, people will watch to see their own little organisations on TV, for example a story about their local soccer team, or whatever else that has been covered by community cable. They turn it on and wait for their thing, but meanwhile they’re watching other stories. There’s an audience on the Internet, but it’s very focussed and fractured.
I think we must do as many things in as many different places as we can, so I’m still putting up video on YouTube and on community cable, just because two places are better than one.
What do you see happening with Shaw acquiring CanWest’s TV?
I think that’s even more problematic because it’s convergence of ownership. They all seem to be chasing the same thing, which is base-level, reality-style television. It’s horrible. We’ve already seen some of that with CanWest with the Aspers censoring stories, they wouldn’t have any negative stories about Israel and Palestine in their papers. Now, we’re going to get more programming that will fit the owners’ political agenda. It’s already such hard thing to get any other news into the system. Doing a film about the Security and Prosperity Partnership and all these other media stories about it, just showed me how that censorship process really works. If the mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about it,it doesn’t exist.
There is no democracy if we don’t have a free and independent media, and we don’t have a free and independent media because we have all this corporate control. When individual reporters in the system cross the line, they lose their jobs. The Globe and Mail cancelled Rick Salutin, and his last article was a scathing indictment of Stephen Harper. I think we all pretty much live in a corporatocracy in everything but name. Our democracy is really just a facade.
Look at the corruption in British Columbia with BC Rail, and with the HST. We’ve got a government that makes promises before elections that they won’t sell BC Rail, and as soon as they get a chance to they do. They promise not to impose an HST, but as soon as they’re elected, away they go. Everybody is told that we’ve had our chance to vote, but vote for what? Vote for a bunch of liars?
One other thing I would say about government and the democratic system is that the banking corporations tell them that if they impose this progressive agenda they ran on, they’d just bankrupt them on the debt they owe. Part of the problem is the huge amount of money governments owe to private banks and the banking system, rather than using our own Bank of Canada to do things.
Thank you Paul, and good luck with your efforts in Nanaimo.
Thank you, Stuart. Good luck with getting a community media centre in Victoria.