Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What are we, chopped liver?

Seems reports are surfacing that the CRTC has been very busy over the past months meeting with private broadcasters …just when those same private broadcasters want to back out of doing things like local news, blaming economic woes.

As we know, it looks like all the meetings paid off. On Friday, the CRTC announced that it will “review the scope” of the upcoming license hearings, the ones in which the broadcasters are accountable to the public through the CRTC every seven years or so.

Can’t help but note that during the same time the private broadcasters were lobbying extensively to get out of pesky things like local news and ensuring Canadians get free (over-the-air) TV after the digital conversion in 2011, our December letter seeking a meeting with the CRTC chair never even got a reply.

Maybe he’ll read it here. Here’s most of what I wrote to CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein last December 22:

I am writing to request a meeting with you concerning the transition to digital TV in Canada. As you may be aware, the Canadian Media Guild has taken a keen interest in the transition, particularly from the point of view of maintaining free, over-the-air TV in communities across Canada after 2011.

We have commissioned research on cost-effective options for implementing digital over-the-air TV in smaller markets, through the sharing of transmitters and the use of digital multiplexing, which allows for the transmission of more than one channel on a single transmitter and frequency. This option is much less expensive than many of the cost projections associated with the digital conversion. We shared this research with a group of CRTC staff last August. We plan to put this research on the public record ahead of the private broadcasting licence renewal hearings in April.

We are concerned about the way the transition is going - or not going - in Canada. We wonder if a broad industry and stakeholder group should be formed as soon as possible to steer the transition in Canada and to make sure that Canadians know what is happening. Our experience is that many, many people - even those who work in the industry - are very poorly informed about the transition and what it means to them as TV viewers. Some of this will be cleared up in the coming months thanks to increased communication from the U.S. in advance of their February shut off date. However, that will not provide any answers about what will happen in Canada in 2011.

That question is the subject of considerable mystery, even to people who follow the issue very closely. It appears to us that the local broadcasters are skirting the question.

As you may know, the Guild represents about 5,000 media workers – many at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It was in our work representing the interests of transmission technicians that we stumbled upon the multiplexing research and we realized very quickly how it could turn the digital transition into something truly exciting for smaller communities.

As it stands now, because the CMG has information on the transition on our website, we receive about one inquiry a week from Canadians in small communities wondering how the conversion will affect them and whether they need a digital converter box. While we try to answer as best we can, we are probably not the best ones to be providing information to Canadians.

We understand that you have taken a direct interest in this issue and we submit that a meeting soon in the new year might provide an opportunity to exchange ideas and allow us to do our work more productively.

Still waiting for a reply from Mr. von Finckenstein…

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