Thursday, April 14, 2011

In support of Vancouver Cooperative Radio

A letter to the CRTC in support of Vancouver Cooperative Radio

Dear Commission

I am writing in support of Vancouver Cooperative Radio for its scheduled appearance at a Notice of Hearing.

I have been a volunteer programmer with Coop Radio for five years and have participated in both music and current affairs programming at the station. I am currently pursuing a career in commercial and public radio and maintain strong links with community radio. I graduated the radio program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in 2010.

Caroline Samorodin and Amanda Panes now working in private sector radio also graduated from BCIT in 2010. Both have also been Coop Radio programmers. Jenna Chow of the CBC also volunteered at Coop Radio. These are just a few of the programmers that I know of. I am sure there are more. Not only does Coop Radio provide programming not heard on commercial or public radio but as you can see from the names above is a place of learning for Canadian broadcasters just as important as BCIT.

I am proud of my involvement with Coop Radio. Radio is the medium that lets everyone learn. You don't need to pay cable fees, you don't have to make a purchase every day like a newspaper and you don't need a computer to access it. Radio is the medium that continues to survive. All sectors of Over The Air radio provide informative programming. Commercial radio can create a greater understanding of the music that it plays but it won't provide increase my knowledge of my immediate world or of issues overseas. That role falls to community and public radio.

Coop Radio has programs dedicated to feminist issues and animal rights in the F Word and Animal Voices respectively. Along with It Takes a Village (a show about parenting), The Story Telling Show (a show produced and hosted by women talking about womens' stories), local music shows Radio Bandcouver and Into the Pit demonstrate Coop Radio's diversity and original programming.

The news that Coop Radio is at risk of losing its licence for infractions of the radio regulations for the late filing of its annual returns is sad. Before I started writing this submission it was important for me to ask some questions of the Board at Coop Radio. It's public knowledge that there has been some disruption in the staffing of the finance department at Coop Radio and that it missed deadlines in the submitting of the annual returns in line with the radio regulations. Knowing this I put two questions to the board in an email dated 27 March 2011. Below are those questions and the responses.
1) Is the turnover of staff in the finance dept connected to the late returns for 2009 and 2010?
Yes. The Financial Administrator each year is responsible for sending in the Annual Returns. As you know we had two different, each new, Financial Admins for these years and each failed to get these in on time. Now that this has been brought to the attention of the board and staff we have put in place accountability mechanisms to ensure this oversight does not occur again.
2) Did the board know that the annual return for 2009 was filed late, prior to receiving notice from the CRTC that Coop Radio needs to attend a hearing in May?
No. The first the CFRO board heard about this issue was from the CRTC on March 16th, 2011.

It's puzzling to read that the Commission took more than one year to notify Coop Radio that it had submitted a late 2009 annual return. I completely understand that it is the responsibility of a radio station to meet the legal requirements of the Broadcasting Act. Coop Radio, a not for profit organization has acted to make good on its past failings. The station now has a logger mechanism and has educated its Coop Radio programmers to ensure correct levels of Canadian content is played. I have personally gone to great lengths to explain and to educate my fellow programmers of the law pertaining to Can Con. As Coop Radio says on its website in relation to the Notice of Hearing, "We take our regulatory requirements seriously and we do our best with the limited resources that we have."

I want to emphasize that quote. Coop Radio is a station with limited resources. I know from my industry training at BCIT that Coop Radio is, to use a boxing analogy punching above its weight. We don't get advertising revenue and our income is derived from donations and membership subscriptions of our listeners. Evolution1079, the radio station at BCIT has a computerized music system and its programmers are radio and broadcast journalist students. The BCIT students typically do three hour stints on air. At the same time other students are pre-producing content while others are doing live news reads and longer interviews.
At Coop Radio priorities are different. Programmers need to work to pay the rent. There's no student loans or grant revenue for its programmers. In addition many programmers have family commitments caring for elders or children. The staff are equally limited in what they can do with the limited hours that Coop Radio can afford to pay them to work.

The Radio Regulations show that Coop Radio was in breach of the regulation 9 (2), "On or before November 30 of each year, a licensee shall submit to the Commission a statement of accounts, on the annual return of broadcasting licensee form, for the year ending on the previous August 31."
As a programmer like most other programmers at Coop Radio I had no knowledge of this requirement or other business details of the station. Many programmers, myself included are now paying closer attention to these details.
Personally I felt that if I had known that Coop Radio was going to file late I would have volunteered to help so that this would not have happened. Unfortunately not even the staff outside of the finance department were aware that the station had submitted a late return for 2009.

That fact is most unfortunate and I hope will be taken into consideration by the Commission. A lot of people connected to the station have a lot to lose because of this failing that they have no control over.
Again Coop Radio, in learning of this failing has rectified its procedures to eliminate repetition of this oversight. The staff and board are doing a great job. The loss of the Coop Radio licence would not only impact listeners and programmers but it would also impact the staff at Coop Radio.

There is a bigger picture I think to this - the fact that Coop Radio occupies a valuable place on the FM dial in the Vancouver radio market.
I have been reading up on the radio industry and have read parts of the report Navigating Convergence: Charting Canadian Communications Change and Regulatory Implications, dated February 2010.
Of particular interest to Vancouver Cooperative Radio in relation to the Notice of Hearing is Appendix 2 - FM Radio Spectrum allocation under Community Radio policy. It is there that the report references the CRTC Public Notice 2000 - 13 which reads,
"Section 3(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act provides for a Canadian broadcasting system composed of public, private and community elements and further confirms that community radio stations are an important element of the Canadian broadcasting system. In Community radio policy, Public Notice 2000-13, 28 January 2000, the Commission stated that community stations should add diversity to the broadcasting system by increasing program choice in both music and spoken word. They should contribute to diversity at three levels:
* community stations should offer programming that is different from and complements the programming of other stations in their market. Their not-for-profit nature and community access policies should assist them in contributing to the achievement of this objective;
* community stations should be different from other elements of the broadcasting system, including commercial stations and stations operated by the CBC; and
* the programming broadcast by individual community stations should be varied and provide a wide diversity of music and spoken word."

This is everything that Vancouver Cooperative Radio stands for.

I can understand the Commission wanting to discuss the filing of late Annual Returns by Coop Radio but what I can't understand is why the Commission would even be considering revoking the licence of such a successful community radio station.

It is well known in the radio industry in all sectors - community, public and private that the Commission is paying close attention to ensure that stations adhere to the regulations. My concern is deeper than the Commission's close attention to detail.

I fear that the Commission is going to make the process to obtain a private sector licence easier to the detriment of community radio. Having read the Technical Considerations of the Commission’s Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2010 – 499 I believe I am right to be nervous as to the future of community radio programming in Canada and worry now that the lobbying powers of the private radio sector is influencing the Commission to act to remove community radio stations from the crowded FM radio spectrum.

Paragraph 126 outlines the Commission’s current position or rather what it has been in the past, ‘The Commission does not reserve frequencies or portions of the radio spectrum for future use by classes of radio undertakings.’ As noted previously in my submission in support of Coop Radio I referred to the Commission’s policy Public Notice 2000-13 which states community radio programming should contain diversity. It is this diversity in programming that the Commission should go one step further in recognizing by reserving frequencies or portions of the radio spectrum for future and existing use of community radio undertakings.

The National Campus and Community Radio Association is in favour of this as detailed under paragraph 127 of the Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2010 – 499, ‘Most parties, including the NCRA, expressed a strong desire for the Commission to reserve frequencies or a portion of the FM spectrum for use by campus and community radio stations.’

Opposition to this view comes from the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, representing the interests of the private radio sector. It’s my opinion that the CAB should recognize that the FM spectrum has room enough for public, private, community and campus radio. Listeners to community radio do not listen only to community radio like listeners to private radio do not only listen to private radio. People listen to the radio and they tune in at different times to match their mood or activity or even what kind of work they are doing at that time.

Radio fans need community radio as much as they need private sector radio. The majority of the FM dial in large urban areas is filled with private sector radio. Private sector radio is commercial radio and exists to make a profit with its entertainment and information service. It’s a service that I appreciate, respect and admire but when that desire to make money means stifling community radio from the airwaves then I have to speak out.

As a child I was taught to share. I believe that the FM spectrum is there for all of us, and it is to be shared and not to be manipulated as the CAB have suggested it should be, paragraph 129, ‘Opposing parties, such as the CAB, noted that the Commission has limited jurisdiction with regard to spectrum management. The CAB submitted that it would be inappropriate for the Commission to manage spectrum in the manner suggested by the NCRA and others, given that it is a limited public asset.’

It is true that the Governor-in-Council is the one person that can reserve frequencies as noted under paragraph 130, but it is worrying to the community radio sector when just four paragraphs on from the stated views of the CAB, we read that the Commission holds the same opinion. Paragraph 133, ‘Given these different responsibilities'(detailed in 130-132), 'the Commission considers that it is inappropriate to reserve frequencies or portions of the radio spectrum for use by specific classes of licences, such as campus or community stations.’

The Regulatory Policy CRTC 2010 – 499 document of July 2010 follows on from comments made by Pierre-Louis Smith, the Vice-President, Policy and Chief Regulatory Officer of the CAB in October 2009. Then Smith wrote to Robert A. Morin, the Secretary General of the CRTC in response to a request for submissions regarding Broadcasting Notice of Consultation 2009-418 – Review of campus and community radio.

This is what Smith had to say, "The Canadian Association of Broadcasters is the national voice of Canada’s private broadcasters". He went on to detail the difficulties faced by the private radio sector due to the economic down turn. He did not mention that advertising revenue for private sector radio has continued to grow since the year 2000, with the exception of 2009. After reporting at length these difficulties he wrote,
“It is therefore against this backdrop that the CAB is intervening in the context of the current proceeding. As stated at the outset of this submission, the CAB will limit its comments and recommendations to: (i) the role of community/campus radio in the broadcasting system; (ii) licensing mechanisms for community/campus stations; (iii) approaches to funding; and (iv) spectrum issues."

The CAB doesn’t want to share the radio spectrum – it wants it all and Smith said as much in October 2009, ‘that, in accordance with its jurisdiction, the Commission should refrain from setting aside spectrum for the expansion of the campus/community radio sector’.

Yes Vancouver Coop Radio filed late Annual Returns for the years 2009 and 2010. There wouldn’t have been a late return for 2010 if the Commission had notified the station sooner than March 2011. If two late Annual Returns necessitates an appearance at a Notice of Hearing I would have thought that one late Annual Return would be worth a letter indicating that fact to Coop Radio.

The Commission is under pressure from the CAB. I recognize that but it appears as if the Commission, the federal regulatory body for radio is pandering to the CAB. Yet I am sure that private radio stations would not appreciate the stance of its lobby group in its pressure via the Commission of community radio. Indeed I am sure that many private radio stations value the place of community radio on FM radio. Let's work together and share the FM radio spectrum.

Yours sincerely
Gary Jarvis
Volunteer Programmer, Vancouver Cooperative Radio.

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