[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
OTTAWA (CP) -- Aboriginals are trying to squeeze themselves on to the cluttered TV dial, somewhere among the car, golf, cooking and news channels, saying it's high time Canada had a national native network. But opposition from the CBC and national cable companies might scuttle Television Northern Canada Inc.'s (TVNC) proposal to bring the service to most small screens by next fall.
TVNC, a 10-year-old broadcast service serving mainly aboriginal communities, has an application before the federal broadcast regulator to develop a network showcasing aboriginal programs and films. Part of the bid includes the stipulation that all but the smallest cable service providers in Canada be obligated to carry the network. "If we're ever going to get our perspective across and our culture -- and we're talking about our very way of life -- it's crucial that we have an aboriginal network that will ensure that this will happen," said Jim Compton, an independent producer of aboriginal programs. "To tell you the truth, I don't think the other networks are helping us."
The public broadcaster and the cable industry say the idea of the network is great, but the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) should not mandate cable companies to run the service.
"With respect to any service, it should respond to the demands of the market," said Jay Thomson, vice-president of legal and regulatory affairs for the Canadian Cable Television Association. "The days of when services could be forced upon people because they're good for them, in this competitive environment, are gone." The issue of forcing cable providers to carry certain programs has stirred a debate in the broadcasting industry: between those who believe consumer demand should decide what's put on the dial and those who say cable companies wield too much power over what gets on the air.
The Broadcast Act allows the CRTC to force cable companies and distributors to carry a particular channel, but it has never exercised that option. The CBC said the commission should undertake a review of its licensing policies before it does.
Supporters of the native TV project argue the network would be in the public interest, serving aboriginals who don't have adequate access to their own programming while building bridges between the first nations and non-native communities.
"Television is probably the most powerful medium we have, and many times its culturally biased. It's very unforgiving. It builds negative stereotypes of our people, and perpetuates that through the media," said Marilyn Buffalo, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. "Even on the news, how often do you see a success story for aboriginal people? You'll never see it... Mainstream media is just not equipped."
The 1996 Royal Commission report on aboriginal peoples made several recommendations on how to improve the representation and distribution of native programming. The report outlined aboriginals' struggle to develop their own TV industry and access shows in their own language. Funding for aboriginal broadcast ventures has been drastically cut in recent years. For instance, the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program, established in 1983 to improve access to aboriginal programming in northern communities, has been reduced to $7.9 million from $13.3 million when it was set up.
A public hearing into the application for the aboriginal network has been scheduled by the CRTC for Nov. 12.