But how do you convince Canadians that their money is well spent?
We can’t meet our licence conditions with current revenues. We just can’t. We have 11 bureaus across the country, three of them in Northern Canada where price of operating is expectedly high. In Toronto you can jump in a car go down to a story for 80 bucks of gas and you’re done. There it’s an $8000 expedition per person – shooter, editor, reporter. But we’re mandated, that’s what we have to do.
It all adds to cost, we’ve been very frugal in how spend money. One of the stories I’m fond of telling is years ago I pushed my staff to buy Westjet all the time – every Thursday there is a seat sale. Last year the CFO did an analysis how much saved over three years something like $600,000 versus had we flown regular fare When you look at it that way, we’re always very careful that basically the money that Canadians are providing through subscriber fees is good value.
It’s only a few bucks a year, but some people would rather keep it than spend it on something they don’t watch.
Canadians may not watch us, but I don’t think they should be fearful that we’re taking their money and using it to spread around and toss it in the wind. We’ve built an industry that didn’t exist, with 115 producers that employs 500-600 people in full-time jobs that didn’t exist before. We’re covering news stories that nobody would have picked up. Bruce Carson, residential schools. I don’t think Canadians object to having news brought to light.
But again, how do you justify the whole thing if you can’t get viewership higher?
We think we can do backflips to try and justify it – some people will always be opposed. Look at the interventions – lots of people think there shouldn’t be any mandatory carriage. None of them object to us, they don’t like mandatory carriage. I haven’t seen a letter that says “these guys suck, pull it off the air because it’s propaganda.
The owners of Vision TV say that the vertical integration rules have made it so independents can’t compete with the likes of Bell Media and Rogers Media without this sort of help. Agree?
I do, if only because if you look at how these specialities channels are all owned by larger players. If I’m a big player and I own a channel –and also have a cable arm to distribute it – what kind of a business would I be running if I didn’t put my own stuff on first? They are there to run a profit.
You aren’t, right?
We are a charity. The Sun has mocked us for that, but it’s a benefit. The rules we have to operate with are very stringent, there’s a lot of disclosure. I think for all of those out there who point at aboriginals and say if you give us 20 cents we’ll blow 19 on ourselves, I can point to the fact that as a charity even if tried couldn’t get away with it.
And you don’t get government funding?
A lot of people approach me and say how lucky I am to receive funding. We used to get some from Heritage, but I wanted out from under that. I told them “I don’t think you want to invest $120-milion north so what I’d like to do is allow us to use some of that money for transition program – provide satellite dishes to those who want APTN.” They agreed and that’s it for that.
How do you ensure you’re not a cheerleader for your community when something like Idle No More happens?
In my mind, the issue of objectivity is to make sure we were not becoming the reposter or news carrier of a strict point of view or becoming voice of movement. For reporters and others, I insisted whatever they retweeted was a news items. Every other outlet would do that. I didn’t want them to be saying this event at that place to blast out for everyone to come – that wasn’t our role.
We did everything we could to stay as objective and detached as we could but fact remains it’s our community. There’s no way we could ignore it, we picked it up way before mainstream. But we did very well maintaining a professional detachment from it – maybe there were a couple of tweets where reporters got carried away but look at people reporting from Egypt who got caught up in effervescence of the moment. Our guys are no different.
Our community doesn’t like when we turn light on them any more than anyone else, but we do it in the in name of fair journalism. You can’t give everyone a get out of jail card.