Executive Director, MediaNet, Victoria
Interviewed by Stuart Hertzog
October 22, 2010
- How does MediaNet fit in to the community media scene?
- What do you regard as community media? What does this mean to you?
- Is it difficult for video producers to get distribution on the cable network?
- Isn’t getting the funding to actually produce programming still a major problem?
- What about this cable fund we have been hearing about?
- How do you see MediaNet fitting in with the alternative media situation in Victoria?
- How can we increase the networking aspect so creative projects can flow out of it?
- Do you see the possibility of a Community Media Arts Centre in Victoria?
How does MediaNet fit in to the community media scene?
MediaNet is a community media organisation offering video production services. It’s a non-profit Society run by a Board of Directors elected by the members, open to the public so anyone can join. We have around 180 members right now. We were up to almost 200 at one point, so membership comes and goes. People come in for a while, make some videos, and perhaps leave.
Some non-profit groups have approached us regarding membership, so last year we created an Associate member category for them to be able to rent equipment from MediaNet. We’ve had groups like the Dogwood Initiative, an environmental group; the Open Space Gallery; the Antimatter Film Festival – even the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria joined this way. Groups like this will use our services when they need to put on some kind of screening or make a video production. However, they do pay a higher rental fee than individuals: a camera is $5/day for an individual, $20/day for a community group.
We don’t rent to commercial productions because we’re funded by Arts councils — the BC Arts Council, The Canada Council For The Arts, Capital Region District Arts Development Office — and the stipulation is that we are supporting creative works in video. The individual has to have control over the project as an independent work. So if someone doing a commercial for a company comes in, we won’t rent equipment to them, they must go to a commercial company and pay commercial prices. We only subside people to make their own works, and we extend that subsidy to community groups and non-profit societies.
Sometimes we sponsor projects. For example we sponsored Homeless Nation, Street Stories. Other groups will come to us and our Board determines whether it’s a socially valuable project, then MediaNet will sponsor it so the rentals are subsidised — free for the organisation if they have no funding. That’s another way we support community media.
Recently the provincial government cut back our funding. Fortunately, our federal and municipal funding have not been cut back. We have moved to three-year funding on the federal level, so if we get a grant we know we have it for three years. Funding ebbs and flows with the government and the economy. Our immediate problem is that we were cut about $27,000 in provincial funding, so we’ve had to cut corners, reduce staff time, and look for a less-expensive office. We’re also applying for charitable status to try to boost our fundraising.
What do you regard as community media? What does this mean to you?
There’s a wide range of what I call community media. Community television has been around for a while. For a long time that was the access point for people in the community making video. Other community media projects came out of the National Film Board, Challenge for Change came out of the NFB in the early ’70s — many film and video co-ops grew out of that program.
MediaNet is part of the Independent Media Arts Alliance, which has about 50 centres across the country. These are either film co-operatives or video centres that tend to be focussed more towards individual creative video projects, not the community television sector. In the US, the film and video centres and co-operatives tend to be more community media oriented, making video for community media rather than as individuals doing art projects. We straddle that, we combine both individuals’ and community group projects.
Community media is changing now because of the Internet, I think it’s still evolving drastically. We have many video clips on our web site. We talk with other people in our network about where it’s heading, whether broadcast television is withering on the vine. I don’t want to make any predictions about it, we’ll have to see how it evolves.
Is it difficult for video producers to get distribution on the cable network?
Yes and no. To be honest, community cable TV is accessible, you can bring projects there. On the other hand, community TV is basically run by the cable companies, they create the local programming. They are obliged to give programming access to the community because of changes introduced by the CRTC a few years ago.
In Victoria, ICTV went to Shaw and said “You have to show these programs,” and they did and still do. So there is a possibility of getting community video onto TV, so you could say it is accessible. We’ve submitted programs to Shaw without even going through ICTV, and they’ve accepted our programs. It’s just that it’s a bit of a push.
On the other hand, I don’t think the issue is accessibility: the problem is getting people to look at it. You can get it onto cable TV but you have to promote it, you have to get people interested in looking at it. I would say the same applies to the Internet. You can put anything on the Internet, then you have to work at getting people to look at it.
That’s the bottom-line challenge to independent media now. There are no barriers to posting online, so it’s more about networking. Social media now plays a role to drawing people to look at something. To some degree it becomes an issue of marketing, you have a single line on someone’s Facebook page and there might be a little thumbnail image, and that’s got to make people think: “Oh, that’s interesting, I want to click on that.”
Isn’t getting the funding to actually produce programming still a major problem?
Of course, because you need people to work on them, and ultimately you have to pay them. People will work voluntarily for a while but after that they need to be paid. If you look at the broader media environment, that’s what it’s all about. When you talk about distribution, if you can get onto a regular TV channel you pay, and that funding flows back down to the production, and then you can hire people to work on the production. If it’s community TV there’s no payment for the work, so there’s no way to pay for it.
The way it works with us is that by supporting community organisations like Dogwood, somebody might be working on salary for Dogwood. They borrow our equipment, shoot some video, and as we’re providing the equipment for free, that subsidises their production costs, and then they’ll put the video online for free. Our organisation can subsidise rental costs, but even there, we’re limited. We have to charge rental fees because we have regular maintenance and equipment replacement costs. A lot of people use our equipment and cameras break down from time to time.
What about this cable fund we have been hearing about?
We totally supported the CACTUS proposal. What they’re saying is that there are three pillars to the Broadcast Act: public TV, the CBC; private TV; and community TV. It’s in the law that there should be community TV, and in fact the CRTC legislation is for 2% of the funding from cable companies is to go back to community TV. But the cable companies just subtract their expenses towards that 2%, so they don’t actually provide any funding. They run community TV really just for their own convenience.
The latest CACTUS proposal is to turn that 2% into money, give it to the community organisations and let us produce media, then we can put it on air and even run stations. The CRTC didn’t go for that, but it did come up with a counter-proposal giving 1.5% to the cable companies for their infrastructure costs for maintaining the community channels, and .5% — which still could be $30 million/year — to be distributed to community organisations that are producing programming. That would make a big difference and I’m all for it, we’d support that. It’s coming from the CRTC and they have to do something because there were so many complaints about the system in the recent hearings that I think they will do it.
How do you see MediaNet fitting in with the alternative media situation in Victoria?
We fit in to the extent that there’s a crossover of membership, for example. If people need some of the services they come to MediaNet and make use of them. We are in collaboration with CineVic, we make sure that our services are complementary. In the past year we’ve done some co-operation projects with groups like the ICA, and we’re looking at doing some more youth training projects. So really, anything can happen.
I guess the issue that’s in front of us right now is that media is getting easier to access. You can have just a cell phone and shoot video with it. You can edit that on any old computer, which now has enough power to edit video. You don’t even have to own a computer to edit these things. If you’re a member of MediaNet you don’t pay for computer use — or people could even edit their video at a library. So making video and editing it and uploading it to the Internet is very low cost, almost nil if you access community services.
So the question is: what role would a community media centre, or like us, a video centre, play in the future? We are looking at that. Right now we offer equipment, and with that equipment we have to offer training, and we think that training is still going to be important in the future. Even if you have your own equipment, knowing how to make a video, how to say something in video, you need a bit of training in the language, then presentation, and finally promotion.
There’s also the aspect of creating opportunities for community-building, bringing people together and networking. So our role probably will shift over time. But historically, centres like ours were rooted in equipment — and still are, for the near future.
How can we increase the networking aspect so creative projects can flow out of it?
It’s all about organisation, and for this you need people. You can rely on volunteers for a short while, but if you rely entirely on volunteers it’s not sustainable. If you look at Open Cinema, they’re good networking opportunities for community media and social issues. It’s sustainable because we found funding for it and were able to pay people to work on the organising. Organising is work, so somehow we have to find ways to fund the organisations that hire people to keep these things going. That’s why that issue of the CRTC is important, because if that money could flow to community groups to do programming, that’s going to go a long way towards creating continuity.
You have to have a centre or a place in the community where people can just walk in. It can’t be entirely virtual. We’re going to definitely be using the Internet and disseminating video works through that, but I think you have to have that physical place that becomes a centre, then you have events at the centre, and that’s where people actually meet face to face.
I’ll give you another example: the Canada Council for the Arts will fund Internet presentations because that’s a trend people are going towards, virtual film festivals — but only on the condition that there’s a real-world component where people can meet. And I see that as a recognition of the importance of these real-world networking opportunities. It’s good to use the virtual world, but we can’t abandon the community organisation that comes with having a centre, having an event there, and bringing people together.
Do you see the possibility of a Community Media Arts Centre in Victoria?
Yes. In a small way, we and CineVic fulfil that already. What we don’t have is a venue that we’ve talked about, where there could be regular programming of alternative media, to use a bad word. There are places like that, but it’s costly because space costs money, and if you’re going to pay for the space you have to have ongoing programming, several nights a week or almost every night, just to bring in revenue to pay for the space. That becomes another job and people end up just showing more commercial work.
You can think of repertory cinemas or something like that, which often start out showing alternative and art films but then they start showing second-hand commercial work just to pay the bills. It’s a dilemma. We need to partner with community organisations that have space that’s funded through a non-profit model. Right now we’re working with galleries, including the Community Arts Council and the Open Space Gallery.
There’s a definite need. We’ll just have to see. It’s work, but I think there needs to be a counterbalance to the way the mainstream media has developed. There’s a need for alternative media.
Thank you very much for this, Peter.
Thank you, Stuart