Unifor calls on CRTC to boost local news

 Unifor is calling upon Canada’s federal TV regulator to put teeth into broadcasters’ licence conditions for daily local news, including programming targeted to Canada’s ethnically diverse populations.

Unifor filed two submissions to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on August 15, one regarding ethnic and third language OMNI television, and the other regarding local TV “group licence” applications from Rogers, Corus, and Bell Media CTV.

While Unifor supports the principle behind a Rogers proposal for a mandatory monthly cable TV fee of 12 cents per subscriber to pay for daily news on its OMNI channels, the union is calling for tough conditions of license before Rogers gets the money. Unifor is also calling for the fee to be 15 cents to sustain hour-long daily news shows.

“If we are going to have a subscriber fee it has to be enough to get the job done,” said Unifor Media Director Howard Law. “This minimal fee for third language and ethnic daily news is certainly in the same ballpark as existing fees for aboriginal and minority language French and English channels.”

OMNI channels provided an hour of news programming just a few years ago, then cut it to 30 minutes, and then cut it altogether last year. OMNI was the only broadcaster providing news in Mandarin, Cantonese, Italian and Punjabi.

On the group licensing for local TV stations, Unifor is calling upon CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais to back up the statement he made in June 2016:  “As custodians of the television system, broadcasters have a special obligation to ensure that the system reflects our identity, contributes to our democracy and enhances our safety and security. Local news, information and analysis produced and distributed through the broadcasting system are of central importance to meeting these objectives.”

Unifor supports strict standards for broadcaster expenditures on local TV as well as air time for local programming. It also supports enforceable standards for the number of reporters covering a given community and less centrally produced news segments.

“Canadians turn to their local TV channels expecting to see their communities reflected on their television screens. They also need TV news reporting to hold government and powerful institutions to account” Law said.

Public hearings on licence conditions begin in late November in the national capital region.