B.C. complaints heard.
Aboriginal people living in British Columbia want more say in the operation of the world's first Aboriginal television network.
That was the general theme that emerged from a four-hour public consultation session at the Squamish Recreation Centre near North Vancouver on June 6.
All 20 current members of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network's (APTN) board of directors were on hand, as was Jean LaRose, the network's chief executive officer. The board currently has one vacancy.
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs president, Chief Stewart Phillip, read into the record a letter he had sent APTN in February.
"It is our view that APTN is not meeting its mandate and therefore not fulfilling its obligations as a national Aboriginal broadcaster in three vital ways," he said.
He listed board membership, accountability to Aboriginal people as a public trust, and the failure of the board to encourage the independent Aboriginal film-making community as the areas of concern.
"As the advocates and rightful representatives of First Nations in British Columbia we hereby declare our grievance in the handling of an important cultural institution," Phillip later added.
A number of independent producers said they were not getting enough access to APTN airwaves. George Henry, speaking on behalf of the newly formed Independent Aboriginal Screen Producers Association, reminded the board that film and television production is a billion-dollar industry in B.C.
Stan Dixon, publisher of Kahtou, a Vancouver-based Native newspaper, told the board he supports APTN but was there to deliver a little "tough love."
He urged the board to get to work on raising the quality of programming on the network.
"APTN is the most important vehicle there is for our people to become better than they are," Dixon said, adding that high quality programs will be the start of a cycle that would solve all the network's other problems.
He said people needed "to ache for APTN programs" in order for the network to generate the money it needs to be self-sufficient. Currently, the network relies heavily on the 15 cent per cable subscriber fee that it receives--about $15 million annually. APTN intends to ask the CRTC that that fee be nudged upwards.
"Whatever we ask for is going to be programming-related, LaRose told Windspeaker.
Commercial time sales have not met expectations during the first five years of APTN's existence, so a Toronto sales office has been opened.
"We're starting to actively pitch the media buyers, the major advertisers in Canada. We've done the research to show that they have an incredible opportunity to reach the market in Canada that nobody else has tapped into yet. And we hope that this will translate into increased revenues to help us pay for the other things that the network wants to do in the long term," he said.
A number of speakers pointed out that there is no B.C. representative on the board, despite the fact that one-third of the First Nations in the country are located within the province.
First Nations Summit Task Force member Edward John said "I see there's a distinct bias in favor of the North, perhaps to the disadvantage of the South," he added.
The southern perception that the board had a northern bias did not properly take the network's history into account, Martin told Windspeaker. The 10 north of 60 communications societies that have permanent seats on the board, and who vote on who will occupy the other 11 seats, started TVNC long before APTN.
"I would call them founding members," Catherine Martin said. "TVNC, at the time, they were the ones that developed the plan and applied to CRTC with some advisors from the south."
She said the TVNC members "had much to lose by letting go of TVNC and sharing it with the rest," that's why they wanted to ensure they had voting power for membership.
Stewart Phillip argued in his letter that the CRTC had relied on recommendations from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples when it approved APTN's license. That meant the network has a responsibility to the public for its actions.
Martin said the board and management must conduct business in the way they see is best for the network, but they listen to the public.
"The people spoke and said, 'Yes we want this.' The CRTC spoke and said, 'Yes, you can have it.' Did the CRTC say we're under a public trust? I don't know if that's our agreement, but we are a national network ... Symbolically, we are," she said. "The board's responsibility is to the governance of the network, meaning to the commitment we made to the CRTC, which involves a commitment to the public and to the communities, which is why we have a 21-member board of directors to respond to the needs and the wishes of the community."
Phillip criticized APTN for the way it decided which programs were selected for purchase and which programs weren't. He said the process was not transparent.
"Policies are in place. Whether they are followed ... that's the job of the board. To say, 'Have all the programs that were selected, have all the things that have happened this year gone according to policy? We did have an internal review on that and our findings were that there needed to be much more adherence to the programming policies in the past two years. So as a board we've directed our CEO to make those changes," she said.
"It's taken more than a year to implement the changes. The board is very responsible. They're duly diligent. And it's a large network and a large board and a large staff, so we need to look at our policies to ensure that our CEO, our only employee, is following the strategy and policies. So I think there's a change. It's slow so it's difficult to see. It takes a while to see what changes are being made."
Phillip's comments weren't all negative. The UBCIC president also congratulated the board on the network's upcoming fifth year anniversary and said, "My favorite program, without question, is the APTN national news."
The session was friendly and respectful throughout as comments ranged from glowing commendations to carefully worded criticisms.
At the end, APTN board chairman Catherine Martin said, "On behalf of the board I ask you for patience."
By Paul Barnsley
Windspeaker Staff Writer
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|Title Annotation:||News; Aboriginal Peoples Television Network|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2004|
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