As a media watcher, I read with great interest the main story in the October 19 edition of The Independent.
It told us that the CBC has "a plan" to change the way CBC transmits its signal in this province, claiming that the network has "applied" to the CRTC to exchange 700 analog transmitters for 44 digital ones by the year 2011. The headline yelled "No signal."
My first reaction was, Hey, cool, they're breaking a story'.
However, closer scrutiny set off some alarm bells. In the first paragraph, it said CBC's plans "may" mean an end to free TV in the province which is speculative. The third paragraph, which spoke about digital transmitters, started with the words "In all likelihood," which indicates an assumption.
So what's the real story? I called CBC's Regional Director Diane Humber, who connected me with spokesperson Katherine Heath-Eves in Ottawa.
"The most important point in all of this is that we did not apply to the CRTC," Heath-Eves said. "That is false."
Heath-Eves said that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is conducting a review of CBC's mandate. "So we've appeared before them several times and in one of our appearances we did put forward a concept which talked about this 44-transmitter system and we also shared that concept with the CRTC. But it wasn't an application, it's an idea at this stage, and it's one of several and I would say there is a big difference."
The CBC is bound by the Broadcasting Act to provide service to as many Canadians as possible, Heath-Eves said. "So we cannot look at cutting service to Canadians," she added.
About 30 years ago, Heath-Eves said, the Government of Canada paid a large sum of money to build a system of analog transmission towers across the country, and those towers are nearing the end of their productive life.
"We don't have the same (financial) support this time from the federal government so we need to look at other options," she said. "As well, the rest of the world is going digital so we have to look at that option as well. And so one idea we've put forward is this concept of 44 digital towers across Canada which would reach 80 percent of the population, so you'd have 20 percent left over. Our research has found that, of those 20 percent, the majority of people who want to receive TV are already subscribed to cable or satellite services. So what we are saying is that anyone who is potentially left outside of this hybrid coverage should not simply be left without this access. We have recommended that the federal government examine possible solutions for those Canadians if this concept goes through and that could include other options for delivery such as Internet."
In a nutshell, the application that The Independent described was actually a notion, and one of several. And Heath-Eves was unhappy with how the story was presented.
"We were pretty upset when we saw the story. It's obviously an issue that's of grave concern to us, talking about cutting access to Canadians. I mean, that's what we are mandated to do so it is not an option for us."
Diane Humber said she was contacted by The Independent with a question about analog vs. digital towers, and she referred the reporter to Heath-Eves who says she received no call from the paper.
In my view, erecting new analog towers makes about as much sense as putting a cassette player in your car the world has gone digital. The question becomes, how do we distribute that signal to far-flung areas, and this is what the CBC is pondering now. The technology has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, and there are more effective ways to reach viewers than building a tower on every hilltop.
And why is The Independent suddenly so concerned about the CBC? The paper's owner wrote a column headlined Die CBC Die' in September of 2005. The next week, an unapologetic Ryan Cleary said he didn't wish the CBC dead but would be "satisfied with having it beaten to within an inch of its pompous life and left to die in a ditch."
That still appalls me. What a brainless, belligerent thing to say.