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Public Access TV in Toronto

Officially speaking, there are no public access TV outlets here in Canada's largest city and media capital. In the 1990's, our federal broadcast regulator - the CRTC - ended a long standing policy that required cable providers to set aside at least one channel for programs produced by and for residents of the provider's local service area. Rogers Cable in the greater Toronto area now uses Ch. 10 as little more than a vehicle to advertise their other pay services, with a few conventionally produced local programs hosted by career broadcasters - like CHFI-FM morning show host Erin Davis. "Not too hard, not too soft..." Not too anything! The wacky and weird, the slightly less than polished, the experimental and controversial - the very lifeblood of public access TV - need not apply.

Then around 1999, several news articles surfaced about Star Ray TV - a small community television station in the east end that was applying for a licence to broadcast at low power on UHF channel 15, to cover the beaches area. Star Ray TV proposed to focus almost exclusively on local productions, providing a much needed creative outlet for local artists, freely available to an unsuspecting public over the local broadcast dial. Something we haven't seen here in this city since City TV went mainstream in the 1980's.

Unfortunately, the CRTC denied Star Ray's application in August 2000, citing strong objections from other local commercial TV stations (including City TV) and cable companies (including Rogers). It was especially disheartening to read the substance of their objections. Rogers Cable claimed there was no room on the cable dial to accommidate carriage of a new local TV station. While Star Ray TV indicated it was willing to forego cable carriage, the commercial broadcast stations had the gall to argue that there weren't enough advertisers in this city to support another broadcast station. Rather self-serving objections, don't you think? It didn't seem to matter how small Star Ray's signal would be or unconventional its programming. The very existance of anything new or different was clearly a threat to their stranglehold on who and what we see and hear on our television sets.

Well, the CRTC commissioners (most of whom typically end up with consulting business or employment from these very same media conglomerates once their term on the commission expires) spent most of the text of their decision validating opposing arguements, adding their own excuse that they had no low power UHF policy under which to licence such a station anyway. Why not? The U.S., several European countries, Russia, Australia and others have been licencing low power television for more than 2 decades! Only 1 paragraph of lip service was paid to supporters, which outnumbered opposers 43 to 5. After considerable pressure, the CRTC was decided to save face by implementing a new community television policy, which accomidates applications for both cable and/or low power over-the-air transmission. Star Ray TV plans to re-apply.

One only needs to visit the Manhatten Neighborhood Network website to get an idea of what's possible when you allow ordinary people unfettered access to the very airwaves they own and pay for. MNN has not just one, but FOUR public access channels on their cable dial! There seem to be very few (if any) restrictions on what you can and can't broadcast there. I've seen everything from live genital piercings, strip shows, a wrestling match held in the hallway of an apartment building, talk shows taking live phone calls (unscreened and uncensored!), live music club performances, live amateur computer cartoon animation with hilarious voiceovers and live calls, wild teenagers playing mean pranks on middle aged professionals jogging in Central Park, you name it - it's on MNN.

"There are no rules, only edges." Who said that?

Kristiana Clemens (CKLN 88.1) & Dmytri Kleiner (Trick Media)
discussing activist media on Star Ray TV's Public Forum.
October 20, 2001
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