March 4, 2013

Cardinal Thomas Collins is joining thousands who want Vision TV to remain on basic cable so that its religious programming continues to be available to the widest possible audience.

The Toronto archbishop has met with VisionTV and Zoomer Media owner Moses Znaimer and plans to submit a petition to the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission to keep Vision on basic cable.

That would enable the 46,000 people who tune in to the Daily Mass broadcast on the independent television service to continue to do so.

The CRTC was accepting public submissions until Feb. 27 on 22 applications to force cable companies to distribute various channels. CRTC hearings were to begin Feb. 23.

VisionTV, which has been compulsory for basic cable since the station's inception more than 25 years ago, is one of five broadcasters asking the CRTC to renew its existing status on the basic dial.

Without mandatory carriage, Vision could lose up to $10 million in annual revenue - enough to threaten its existence. It would also mean that hundreds of thousands of mainly elderly people on fixed incomes would be denied their one source of spiritual, religious programming, Znaimer argues.

"This is a profound habit and an important mission. This is a place where the religions of the world can meet," Znaimer argued on Goldhawk Fights Back on Zoomer Media-owned AM740.

Vision provides air time for 75 regularly programmed faith and religion shows. Catholic offerings include Daily Mass, Devotions in Honour of Our Mother and Food For Life.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting spokesman Ian Morrison rates Vision's chances of keeping its mandatory carriage status as slim.

"If anything, I believe the CRTC wants to reduce the number of services it orders cable companies to carry," said Morrison.

Under chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, the CRTC has made it a priority to let consumers decide what they want to watch and keep costs down, Morrison said. The more services mandated on basic cable, the more expensive basic cable becomes.

But the actual cost per subscriber for cable and satellite companies to carry Vision is 12 cents a month – less than $1.50 per year.

As for consumer sovereignty, Znaimer dismisses it as part and parcel of a mindless ideology of deregulation that ignores the public good and the responsibility of Canada's broadcast industry to nurture a diverse culture.

Now that cable and satellite companies own their own stations they have a vested interest in promoting those stations with spots lower on the dial and bundled into basic service.


Morrison said two other factors argue against Vision. When Vision began, it was a non-profit service that involved those faith groups that would use it to broadcast to the country.

Now Vision is part of a for-profit, private media conglomerate with investments in television, radio, Internet and print.

As well, Vision's two million evening prime time viewers aren't tuning in for religious programming. They're watching British comedies and murder mysteries.

"There is still faith or values-based programming that Vision is doing, but overall Vision is moving toward the mainstream," Morrison said.