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Canadian Coalition Pushes For Broadcasting Access Revolution

A coalition of Canadian disability organisations is set to hear if it has been successful in obtaining funding to create one of the world’s leading bodies promoting access to broadcasting services.

The Access 2020 Coalition ( http://www.mediac.ca/proj-Access2020.asp ), led by the non-profit body Media Access Canada, has asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to support the proposal as part of the conditions the commission is set to attach to its approval of a TV network takeover.

BCE ( http://www.bce.ca/ ), owner of communications company Bell, announced in September last year it is to acquire Canada’s largest TV network, CTV. Any change in control of a Canadian broadcaster must include a package of benefits to the industry, and Access 2020 has asked the commission to require BCE to allocate 1% of the value of its purchase of CTV – around 13 Million Canadian dollars – to a trust fund that would ensure 100% accessibility for all Canadians across all digital platforms by the year 2020. The proposed initiative, A Bridge to the Future (see http://www.mediac.ca ), includes elements of technology, research and education.

In response, BCE has offered to allocate a lesser sum – 5.7 million dollars – to set up a ‘Bell Broadcasting Accessibility Fund’ with similar objectives, and in consultation with the disability community. However, Media Access Canada Executive Director Beverley Milligan told E-Access Bulletin this week that BCE’s counter-proposal was unacceptable, as it would not be fully independent or transparent. Disability organisations would continue to press for funding for a fully independent accessibility body, and were confident of winning the day, she said.

“We are convinced that this issue is critical to the success of the plan. Our goal of being empowered, will not be achieved if [we must] wait to be consulted by broadcasters and telecommunications companies, without resources of our own to initiate required research, but with our names appended to documents authored by broadcasters, telecommunications or their agents, and over which we have had little, if any, meaningful input.

“It is only through allowing accessibility organisations and experts to take the lead in decision, research and technological innovation that the real systemic barriers can be properly addressed. The broadcasters will never act on what they see only as a no-return expense line item.

“A ruling in our favour would mean we could get to work and get the job done.”

The CRTC is expected to render its decision around 25 March.

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