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Fund to help give Canadians a voice in broadcast regulations

File photo showing view from the sound room at CRTC hearings in Gatineau.

Bill Grimshaw/Bill Grimshaw/The Globe and Mail

Public interest and consumer groups will soon find it more affordable to take part in the regulatory hearings that shape Canada's broadcast world, with BCE Inc. contributing $3-million to establish the Canadian Broadcasting Participation Fund.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission often holds hearings that determine things such as which television licences are renewed and whether a specialty channel should receive a licence. Public interest groups are invited to submit their opinions at these hearings, but the CRTC wanted to create a fund to offset some of the costs associated with participating.

"Each year, we hold dozens of public proceedings to gather views from the communications industry and the public," said Leonard Katz, the CRTC's acting chairman in a statement. "It is important that we receive a wide range of submissions to help shape our broadcasting decisions and policies. This new fund will help ensure that the voices of Canadians are heard through the participation of groups that represent their interests."

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The $3-million pledge was made when BCE purchased CTVglobemedia in 2011 for $1.3-billion. The fund is expected to start giving money to groups within two months.

"The fund will also support groups in the research, analysis and advocacy, in English and French, of issues related to broadcasting proceedings," the CRTC stated. "The CRTC is requiring that the fund provide services and publish documents such as policies, funding criteria and annual reports in both official languages."

The fund is one of the smaller concessions BCE made in order to win regulatory approval of its takeover. Overall, it pledged $245-million to "contribute to the vitality of the Canadian broadcasting system."

Over the next seven years it promised to spend about $250-million.

That includes a promise to spend about $100-million on independently produced programs of national interest (such as drama and comedy series, documentaries and shows that promote Canadian culture) and enhance local news programming in Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

It also pledged to keep A-Channel stations open for at least three years, contribute $5.7-million to "improve the accessibility of the Canadian broadcasting system," and also provide $17.5-million to "support the development of Canadian musical and spoken-word talent."

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