CTV under fire for ad campaign

Net holding 'save our stations' open houses

TORONTO – Canada's cable-broadcast wars heated up Friday as domestic cable and phone giants complained to the country's TV watchdog over alleged bias in broadcaster CTV's national "Save Local TV" advertising campaign.

The consortium -- led by Rogers Communications, Bell Canada, Telus and Cogeco Cable -- said Canadian prime time ratings leader CTV has violated the federal Broadcasting Act with "one-sided and unbalanced" TV coverage of its on-going lobbying campaign to seize a slice of cable and satellite TV revenue.

As CTV's top acquisition executives shop for new U.S. network series this weekend at the Los Angeles Screenings, the network is set to hold a number of "save our station" open houses on Saturday at broadcast locations nationwide, with corresponding TV news coverage of its public appeal.

The focus of that national campaign demands that cable and satellite TV operators compensate CTV and other conventional broadcasters for carriage of their network signals, just as cable channels are already paid for use of their signals.

Without the introduction of a so-called fee-for-carriage, CTV and other broadcasters have threatened to close down local TV stations and reduce local programming.

"While we fundamentally disagree with CTV's position on a TV tax, the issue here is not about their position, it is about a blatant violation of respected journalistic principles," Phil Lind, vice-chairman of Rogers, Canada's largest cable operator, said Friday.

"No advocacy group should be able to hijack the newscasts of Canadian broadcasters, and that is especially true when the advocacy group is the broadcaster itself," Lind added.

CTV on Friday said it was in full compliance with federal regulations as it rejected the intervention by Rogers and other content carriers.

"Instead of coming up with solutions and being part of the discussion, today's underhanded move by cable and satellite companies is an abuse of process designed to suppress freedom of speech and mislead the public," said Paul Sparkes, executive vp of corporate affairs at CTV-parent CTVglobemedia.

Earlier this month, the CRTC turned down for a third time CTV's so-called fee-for-carriage demand, which cable and satellite TV operators have opposed all along.

But the regulator signaled that broadcasters should negotiate with cable and satellite TV operators for a slice of subscriber fees, and if required, go to arbitration.