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APTN goes ALL IN on licence renewal.

The stakes are high for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) as it prepares to go before the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in June. Make the difficult changes that address the many criticisms leveled at the network over the last six years, or risk being denied broadcast licence renewal.

The network's chief executive officer, Jean LaRose, says APTN is putting its best foot forward and is ready to present its case for renewal. It has gone through its growing pains and made adjustments to its operations where necessary.

But independent Aboriginal film producers beg to differ. They have a list of concerns they are prepared to take public. They've organized, elected British Columbia film-maker Jeff Bear as president, and instructed him to deliver their complaints about APTN to the CRTC.

Beat said he will ask the commission to force changes in a number of areas at the network, and is targeting board governance specifically.

Seven northern communications societies--Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, the Inuvialuit Communications Society, the Native Communications Society of the Northwest Territories, the Taqramiut Nipingat Society, Northern Native Broadcasting Yukon, the OkalaKatiget Society and the Kativik School Board--dominate the APTN board. They were involved in Television Northern Canada and then persuaded the CRTC to license a national Aboriginal television network that became APTN, which was launched in 1999.

They designed a board governance model that gave them the power to control southern representatives and, the producers claim, have used that influential position to put northern interests ahead of other region's needs. They represent a majority of the 10 members who make up the top tier of the two-tiered board structure.

The other three members are Wawatay Native Communications Society, Native Communications Incorporated and Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation.

These 10 members appoint, and have the power to remove at their discretion, the other 11 "directors-at-large" that make up the second, less influential tier.

Independent producers in all parts of the country complain that the northern communications societies have taken the lion's share of financial benefit for themselves. The producers say the members are serving their home society's interests while occupying seats at the APTN table and running roughshod over the network's conflict of interest guidelines.

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A Price WaterhouseCoopers (PWC) report entitled "Control and Business Processes Review Project" dated Jan. 23, 2003 was only recently obtained by Windspeaker. The report contains numerous recommendations to improve the performance of the day-to-day management of the network's affairs and the way the board of directors functions.

The outside auditor was invited by the 21-person APTN board to examine the way the then three-year-old network was functioning and make recommendations.

In one section of the report, board members were informed of the conflict they might be in.

"Some members of the programming/French committee are also representatives of member organizations from which APTN purchases programming," the auditors wrote. "The committee is responsible for overseeing the development of policy and funding of program development and licensing. The presence of member organizations on this committee may be perceived as being in a conflict of interest since these members may be involved in the development of policy, or approval of programs, for which their organization may directly or indirectly benefit."

The auditors called it a clear conflict of interest to have representatives of local communications societies appointed to the APTN board, then those same members making decisions on whether APTN should purchase programming their local societies had produced. The auditors also suggested such a practice would harm the quality of work the board's programming committee performed for the network.

"Committee discussions on the quality of content of programming acquired from member organizations may also be less open as committee members may not feel free to discuss these matters in the presence of the member organization representatives," the auditors reported. "These members may also be privy to financial terms within development and licence agreements, which may provide their organization with inside information that could be used to negotiate preferential licensing terms within their own agreements with the network."

The third section of APTN's conflict of interest policy states that board members "shall not: carry on, work for or own shares ... in a business providing goods or services to APTN ... unless the full extent of the employee or director's interest in the business has been described in writing to the chief operating officer."

"The presence of member organizations [on the programming committee] is in violation of the third provision of the conflict of interest policy," the auditors wrote, using the strongest language found in the 30-page report.

The auditors recommended that the entire board review the membership of the programming committee "to address the violations of the APTN conflict of interest policy and increase the independence within the committee."

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Norman Cohn is secretary-treasurer for Nunavut-based Igloolik Isuma Productions, the company that produced the acclaimed feature film Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). He said he has been criticizing APTN for years over just that point.

"The members are on APTN 30 hours a week. Isuma, which is arguably one of Canada's most successful independent production houses of Aboriginal films, we're on APTN one hour a year," he said.

Cohn said the member societies are clearly getting their own shows on the air and that means something's not right.

"That's the way they're organized and that's why they're being criticized and that's why the independent production community is extremely angry and frustrated and upset. APTN defends themselves, however they can, but realistically speaking, they can't," he said.

He advised Windspeaker to "Follow the old journalism rule and follow the money. And where's it all going? It's going to the member agencies themselves. The licensing money is going to APTN insiders and not to independent producers."

But LaRose said a policy change that took effect just months ago (April 1) has removed the possibility there could even appear to be a conflict with board members and program selection. He said Cohn's observations do not match what he has seen.

"From my end I can say that, since I've been here, there was a recognition that the perception [of a conflict] was out there and the [programming/French] committee has always ensured, and the organization has always ensured ... that the committee had no say in the selection of any programming," he said.

LaRose said the new policy will see APTN bring on independent "readers," who will review proposed programs and make assessments. These new readers will be retained by the network when the next round of proposals for programming is requested.

Madeleine Adams has been on the APTN board for about 18 months and was elected chair a few months ago. She believes the changes made to the programming committee policies will silence most legitimate criticisms.

The way it is currently structured makes sense," she said.

A close look at the original terms of licence filed with the CRTC shows that the APTN board reserved the first 30 per cent of air time available within the network's Aboriginal language envelope for member organizations, the 10 members that make up the top tier of the board. That would seem to vindicate Cohn's claims, but LaRose said the policy wasn't always followed and has been changed. That change came in April, said the CEO, more than two years after the PWC report was received.

"In the past there were certain allocation of airtime to independent producers, to acquisitions, to members. That has all been taken out. Now the way the money for productions, for acquisitions and licensing will happen is based on the needs of the network. It's no longer based on the strict formula," he said.

A review of the network's broadcast schedule shows that Inuktitut language programming still gets far more airtime than all other Aboriginal language programming combined.

One source said the Inuktitut language programming at one point accounted for 22 per cent of the 25 per cent requirement for Aboriginal language shows. That means Inuktitut programs get close to eight times the airtime of all the other Aboriginal languages combined, a clear northern bias considering there are only 45,000 Inuit people in all of Canada.

Jean LaRose said the percentage of Inuktitut programming has already dropped and will drop some more.

"You have to remember where the network came from. It came from Television Northem Canada and at that time all of the Aboriginal language programming was in Inuktitut, or at least most of it. Since then the proportion has dropped to about 60 per cent in the last year just completed. So in fact we are slowly increasing the other Aboriginal languages on the network," he said.

"There is programming by the member societies, but the network was established with their programming to be the first programming to go on air. The members who founded the network still have a place there. Basically, their initiative is the one that launched the network. And while we don't want to diminish that, the role of the network is now to really fulfil its mandate, to open up to all Aboriginal languages and that's what we're looking to do."

Madeleine Adams said that Inuktitut producers get more airtime because they produce more material.

"There's no other Aboriginal language groups in Canada that are producing as much in their language as they are here in Nunavut. They're just not doing it. And, as much as I'm Inuk and I'm from Nunavut, I'd like to see more Cree or other Aboriginal languages, but there's just not enough producers that are working in their own Aboriginal language right now," she said.

Adams said the network has proposed to increase the percentage of Aborginal language content to 35 per cent by the end of seven-year period of its next broadcast licence.

APTN recently announced they are changing the board governance rules to address the northern dominance, LaRose said. And while some observers wonder if the board will follow through on that promise, the CEO insists it's going to happen.

"It is happening because the bylaw changes were not only approved by the board but they were also submitted to Industry Canada who has approved them. They were also submitted to the CRTC to clarify how we will be addressing the representation issue that we know, and we recognize, was an issue in the south. The transition will start with the next elections in December, where five or six of the [board] positions come up."

In the new set up, which will be completely implemented when the last of the current board positions comes up for reelection in September 2006, the north will still be represented by the 10 original members and there will 10 directors at large from the south. The 21st position is being offered to four communications societies that have not been affiliated with APTN: Northern Native Broadcasting in Terrace, B.C., Windspeaker's parent society the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta, SOCAM in Quebec and the James Bay Cree's communications society. Those groups have been asked to come up with a plan where they will share the seat on the board and increase southern representation.

But the original seven northern societies will still have the power to appoint and remove the other board members, Adams confirmed.

"It's still part of the structure. They're the reason why APTN is here. That's in our charter. It's in our bylaws. It was always recognized as such," she said.

The board chair said southerners aren't the only ones complaining.

"All of what we've heard in our consultation in the north was that it's too southern. We don't have enough Inuktitut programming; we don't have enough Aboriginal language programming. Inuit have lost out. It used to be 12 hours a day. It's now no longer 12 hours. It's like one to two hours and Inuit have really lost out. It's so funny. There's a flip side to everything," she said. "But how we feel as a board is that this is a national network. There's no domination. We provide service to all Aboriginal communities. As a board, we make decisions as a collective."

By Paul Barnsley

Windspeaker Staff Writer

WINNIPEG
COPYRIGHT 2005 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Barnsley, Paul
Publication:Wind Speaker
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:2023
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