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Don’t ignore small broadcasters, S-VOX CEO urges CRTC

The interests of small and independent Canadian broadcasters are at risk of being trampled by corporate behemoths in the current regulatory proceeding on the future of the broadcast system, says Bill Roberts, President and CEO of S-VOX, which operates the multi-faith and multicultural specialty television service VisionTV.

"This hearing has so far been a war of the giants, with conventional broadcasters and broadcast distribution undertakings (BDUs) trading salvos over fee-for-carriage," Mr. Roberts says. "I would urge the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to make certain that smaller players do not get caught in the crossfire."

The CRTC is conducting a public hearing to review the regulatory frameworks for BDUs and specialty television services. S-VOX will make its presentation to the Commission on Tuesday, April 22.

Mr. Roberts says the hearing is not about safeguarding the profit margins of large conventional broadcasters and BDUs. The purpose of the CRTC and its regulations, he says, is to further the objectives of the Broadcasting Act: to ensure that all Canadians have access to programming from a plurality of voices reflecting this country’s unique character and diversity.

"Market forces alone will not achieve this goal," Mr. Roberts says. And technological change has not invalidated the principles underlying the Act, he adds.

Small and independent services, he notes, contribute significantly to the diversity of consumer choice, support the production of unique and original Canadian programming, and deliver content for audiences under-served by larger broadcasters. The goal of these small players in the proceedings is to ensure that they continue to have a voice in the system, Mr. Roberts says.

Deregulation and change for the sake of change are not in the best interests of either the broadcast industry or consumers, Mr. Roberts adds, countering arguments made in a number of submissions to date.

Rogers Communications Inc. CEO Ted Rogers pointed out to the Commission last week that the current regulatory framework has fostered a successful broadcasting sector. "The existing rules mean that our existing players, in the different areas, have enough funds to do a good job and produce a good service for Canadians," said Mr. Rogers at the hearing on April 8. "If you have a free-for-all in the market, that always leads to a lower standard of programming, and less money spent on programming."

S-VOX supports this view, Bill Roberts says. "Once we start dismantling the best broadcast system in the world, we’ll never be able to put it back together again," he warns.

"Our industry needs effective and efficient regulation to ensure that a diversity of Canadian broadcasters, both large and small, enjoy access to distribution and are able to continue doing their part in meeting the objectives of the Broadcasting Act," he says.

 [April 22, 2008]


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