CTV defends ‘crisis’ campaign

The broadcaster insists the special will be factual, balanced and objective, not a 'corporate special.'

CTV says its ‘Save Local TV’ campaign and the accompanying news special it aired this weekend are aimed at educating Canadians about the issues facing local stations – not a self-serving initiative meant to put pressure on Ottawa regarding the thorny fee-for-carriage issue.

‘Local television is in a crisis,’ maintains Paul Sparkes, EVP of corporate affairs at parent CTVglobemedia, adding that the issues put forth by the campaign are only discussed in the regulatory environment. ‘The drama cannot just be played out in Ottawa…it’s an issue that affects each one of our viewers,’ he says.

The network conducted a country-wide open house at many of its CTV and A stations on Saturday, including the main Toronto facility, and will simultaneously broadcast highlights, interviews and testimonials from the event in a live two-hour special hosted by news anchor Ken Shaw.

The campaign has already taken to the airwaves with a series of promos, while the network is encouraging viewers to sign petitions at Savelocal.ctv.ca.

Airing the special, which is linked to the network’s online petition, on CTV Newsnet, raises questions about possible bias and journalistic independence. Calls for comment on the campaign to the news department were referred to corporate.

CTV insists the special will be factual, balanced and objective, not a ‘corporate special,’ according to Sparkes.

‘I wouldn’t want to be part of a show that didn’t have a balanced approach. It’s a news story, and I would expect that other news organizations will cover it as well. This is not about CTV, it’s about local television, whether you’re CTV, Global or CBC,’ he says.

Sparkes also refutes suggestions that the campaign is a response to CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein, who, according to a recent Globe and Mail story, told CTV and Global they will likely lose their bid to charge cable and satellite carriers for their signals unless they ‘dramatically alter their approach in Ottawa.’ Fee-for-carriage was a hot-button issue during the recent CRTC licence renewal hearings, and before the recent Heritage committee hearings.

‘I truly believe the CRTC understands our problems. They realize that we’re facing a crisis and that, on their watch, local television may disappear,’ Sparkes maintains. ‘In terms of fee-for-carriage, the commission has indicated a willingness to look at it… they understand that the old advertising-only revenue model for conventional TV doesn’t work.’

Sparkes points to the U.S. Cable Act – which allows local broadcasters to charge a fee for carriage, while it regulates cable rates so consumers wouldn’t be charged outlandish prices – as a possible solution.

‘Right now, in the U.S., local stations get fee-for-carriage,’ he adds, noting that CTV’s campaign is meant to raise awareness and spur politicians to say ‘we gotta do something about this.’

The response to the campaign has been ‘overwhelming,’ according to Sparkes, who says the network has received over 36,000 signatures on its online petition, while over 12,000 e-mails have been sent to Heritage Minister James Moore and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

From Playback Daily