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Coalition Condemns CRTC Decision on Shaw/Global

A coalition of Canada's accessibility organizations has condemned the CRTC's (Canada Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) decision to approve Shaw's acquisition of the former Canwest television and specialty TV services.

"The CRTC's dismissal of recommendations that would have increased and improved accessible television content across Canada for all Canadians with visual or hearing disabilities, means that this country has lost a rare opportunity to make real and permanent progress towards a 100% accessible broadcast day," said Beverley Milligan, Acting President and CEO of Media Access Canada (MAC).

The organizations say the CRTC ignored detailed proposals they made to increase the level and quality of all types of accessibility throughout the Canadian broadcasting system.

The coalition of accessibility groups argued that the CRTC should adopt their recommendations to ensure that Canadian television programming becomes fully accessible within a reasonable time frame--not the 26 years they say it took to achieve a fully captioned broadcast day.

The groups opposed Shaw's proposal to allocate $3 million (1.7% of its tangible benefits package) to descriptive video because, they say, with an average hourly cost of $2000 for descriptive video, Shaw's annual expenditure could yield just less than five hours of described programming per week.

Currently, the CRTC requires a total of four hours of described video each week (of which only two hours need be original content).

"The CRTC should have empowered the accessibility community to reduce the hourly costs of fully-accessible TV programming so that more broadcasters would carry more described video content every week," said John Rae of the (Alliance) for Equality of Blind Canadians. "Suppose that in seven years, Canadians with visual disabilities receive 10 hours per week of described video. That still leaves 116 hours a week that are inaccessible: why do these Canadians have to pay as much as everyone else, when they can only benefit from 9% of the programs they pay for?"

The coalition led by MAC appeared before the CRTC in Calgary and recommended the CRTC adopt ten proposals to increase the quantity and quality of accessible programming content, through funding from an endowment worth 0.5% of Shaw's $2 billion purchase of Canwest.

"We are very disappointed that the CRTC ignored our requests for positive, long-term change to permit all Canadians to be informed, enlightened and entertained by their broadcasting system," said Laurie Beachell, National Coordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

"We have to wonder whether the CRTC really considered our recommendations. It's extremely disappointing that the CRTC's laissez-faire approach will take decades to ensure that all television programming is fully accessible to all Canadians," added Chris Kenopic, President and CEO of The Canadian Hearing Society.

Reprinted from Broadcaster Magazine, October 25, 2010.

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