Telecom seeks Community TV Channel licence:

SaskTel continues empty-promise tradition

The text below was filed as an Intervention with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The CRTC is a supposedly independent agency responsible for regulating Canada's broadcasting and telecommunications systems. It reports to Parliament through the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

SaskTel, in my view, does not know what the words “journalistic independence” mean.


1.      Re Application Nos. 2005-1239-4/2005-1237-8 by Saskatchewan Telecommunications (SaskTel) to amend the licences for its regional, Saskatchewan-based, video-on-demand programming undertaking (VOD) and of its broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDU’s):

2.      It goes without saying that, for too many years, Canadian broadcasters have been making very, very and ever-so sincere promises to the Canadian people -- and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) -- in their applications for various and sundry broadcast licences.

3.      It also goes without saying that the CRTC has no system for checking whether the sincere (wink, wink) promises are kept. Thus -- and as everyone in the Canadian broadcast system knows --  there is no downside to making sincere pledges and then ignoring them after the licences are granted. It makes a mockery of the system. But “the system” lives with the farce.

4.      The SaskTel promise in Item 5 below is a case in point. The SaskTel application cited in Item 1 above has the following pledge about ensuring “journalistic independence” in Item 5 below:

5.      “A requirement to adhere to the specific terms of reference for an independent programming committee with a view to ensuring freedom of expression and journalistic, creative, and programming independence . . . .”

6.      This reference to journalism is from an outfit whose effective masters are the current bunch of provincial politicians who live quite comfortably with what I call “owner chill” and poorly-funded and under-staffed Newsrooms across Saskatchewan without saying a word, a peep about the matter. How dare they even speak the words “journalistic independence.”

7.      The empty promise cited in Item 5 would be enforced by a Committee described (in Items 7a-7k below) by SaskTel as:

a)     “There shall be a committee of nine (9) persons, one person from each of the licensed undertakings’ nine (9) Community Channel serving centres, to be known as the Independent Programming Committee that shall be responsible for making all programming decisions of the licensed undertaking.

b)     “’Programming decisions’ means all decisions relating to or affecting television programming available for broadcast by the licensed undertaking via its outlet for local expression and includes decisions relating to the content and presentation of the licensed undertaking’s programming.

c)     “The Independent Programming Committee shall ensure the programming is in conformity with any applicable conditions, regulations, and policies of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), as well as with the Broadcasting Act.

d)      “The licensee shall seek nominations of individuals from non-profit cultural, sporting, and recreational organizations who have strong associations within the communities they reside and a strong desire to showcase a balanced view of their community.

e)      “To ensure a high level of citizen participation and community involvement in the licensed undertaking’s outlet for local expression, members of the Independent Programming Committee shall seek opportunities for program proposals and encourage submissions that reflect the makeup of their communities from within the communities they represent.

f)        “No member of the Independent Programming Committee shall be a member of the Board, a director, or an employee of the licensee or any of its affiliates.

g)      “All of the members of the Independent Programming Committee shall be residents of the serving community they represent.

h)      “Members of the Independent Programming Committee shall be appointed for a period of two (2) years.

i)         “A quorum of the Independent Programming Committee shall be a majority of its members.

j)         “Decisions of the Independent Programming Committee shall be made by a majority of the members present at a meeting of the Committee, either in person or by telephone

k)      “No change shall be made to these criteria unless prior CRTC approval is obtained.”

8.       To assert that such a body could ensure journalistic independence is insulting. It’s a sham. The Committee would be subject to “owner chill” from SaskTel, which is subject to “owner chill” from the Saskatchewan Crown Investments Corp. (CIC) which is subject to “owner chill” from the Government of Saskatchewan, currently the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party.

9.       The attached CBC Radio Commentary (Attachment A) on “owner chill” at The (Regina) Leader-Post and text (Attachment B) of my appearance on Feb. 3, 2005, before the Senate Transport and Communications Committee, which was sitting in Regina, Sask.,  as part of its investigation of “the current state of Canadian media industries” explain owner chill in detail.

10.  There is not a single mention of having working journalists, or anyone who knows the craft well, on this supposed Committee. No budget. No nothing – except the empty pledge.

11.  SaskTel is also amongst the outfits that had the unmitigated gall to assert that a national Do Not Call List to control the telemarketing plague was not (repeat not) required. Hah!

12.  Speaking as a retired journalist, I intervene to oppose the granting of a licence for a community channel requested as per Item 1 above.

13.  If, however, SaskTel would establish a Saskatchewan Press/Media Council to help ensure and promote journalistic independence across Saskatchewan, I’d reconsider my position.

14.  Please see my weblog at: