By TOM GODFREY
Hard-hit multicultural broadcaster OMNI-TV has been told to beef up its ethnic programming in Toronto and across Canada.
Industry giant Rogers Broadcasting Ltd., the owner of OMNI and City TV stations, was ordered by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) last week to enhance its commitments to original local programming from its national chain of OMNI and City stations.
“This ruling is a victory for growing newcomer communities who rely on this programming,” said Howard Law, Director of the Media Sector for Unifor Union. “We feel strongly that Rogers can do even better for ethnic and local programming in the future.”
Rogers had applied for a renewal of their City and OMNI licences in 2013 with a proposal to reduce commitments to ethnic and Canadian programming, particularly during the prime time evening period.
The CRTC said The Ethnic Broadcasting Policy does not impose a specific minimum number of distinct ethnic groups to be served in a minimum number of different languages.
“The applicant must make proposals in this regard, based on demographic statistical information provided by Statistics Canada for the market(s) to be served,” the CRTC said in a decision that was released on July 31.
The CRTC stated there were concerns against the Rogers proposal from labour groups and other multicultural stations in the community.
“Interveners expressed concerns about smaller segments of new Canadians losing services in their own languages and the possible shift in programming focus to the largest, most profitable ethnic groups,” the decision said.
The CRTC said if Rogers had its way smaller ethnic groups will be ignored since they have less revenue to spend on advertising.
“Approval of the requested amendment would allow Rogers to focus its programming on a small number of ethnic groups, quite possibly the larger ethnic groups that generate the most advertising revenue,” the CRTC ruled.
Officials of Unifor testified before the CRTC last April that Rogers’ claims about revenue problems at the OMNI stations were over-reaching and under-documented.
“Before Rogers gets anything from the CRTC by pleading poverty, they should have to submit to an in-depth audit of their claims,” union officials said.
Unifor, which is Canada’s largest media union, had long claimed that Rogers was “watering down programming commitments” at OMNI and City TV stations in BC, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.
The CRTC rebuffed the Rogers request for “sweeping regulatory relief” for its OMNI chain in spite of recent financial losses at the five stations.
The body said Rogers must ensure a minimum amount of local programming, and that certain hours be broadcast each evening on designated OMNI channels and enhance its commitments to original local programming broadcast at City stations.
“Multiculturalism is part of what makes Canada great, and we fought to keep ethnic and third language services alive in the Rogers licence,” said Law. “Rogers is a very profitable corporation and can easily afford to maintain the current level of programming at OMNI, diminished as it is.”
Law had warned of more reductions in ethnic programming and local news if Rogers managed to get its wish.
Rogers made headlines in May 2013 when it axed 62 jobs. Some 39 were laid off at OMNI and 23 sacked when it shut its short-lived 24-hour CityNews Channel in Toronto.
The CityNews Channel was launched in October 2011 and touted as a round-the-clock source for the GTA’s news, entertainment, sports and current affairs.
Rogers officials could not be reached for a comment.