The CRTC's proposed fund to improve local TV programming in small markets is the key to saving local news. The Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF), announced last year and still under development, could be devoted to supporting initiatives to save local TV stations that are being abandoned by the big media conglomerates, such as the one at CHCH in Hamilton.
It is exactly the right thing at the right time. And it is more important than ever that the fund maintain those original principles of helping small market stations – both publicly- and privately-owned – improve local programming, and especially news.
The money for the fund will come from a percentage of cable and satellite revenues and is expected to amount to $60 million in the first year. Of the total, $40 million will be devoted to English-language markets and $20 million to French-language markets of less than one million.
In proposing the fund, the CRTC denied the TV networks access to cable and satellite fees with no strings attached. We note that Canwest’s most recent submission to the CRTC, made public this week, now asks that the fund simply be handed over to the conventional stations in all markets “to help subsidize local news” at a diminished level, which would negate the purpose of the fund. Canwest announced in February that it is trying to sell the E! network stations, including CHCH, and will shut them if new owners can’t be found.
The structure of the big media companies has not been friendly to local programming and there's no good reason that new money from cable and satellite should continue to prop up a model that hasn’t worked for local TV.
I urge other communities with stations at risk develop action plans that involve the use of this fund.