APTN says funds needed from online streaming giants to help promote Indigenous voices

By Sammy Hudes

The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network says online streaming services should be required to contribute funding to the Canadian broadcasting system in the face of shrinking resources that are making it more difficult to tell Indigenous stories.

The Indigenous broadcaster urged the CRTC on Friday to create a “Services of Exceptional Importance Fund” to help it continue promoting Indigenous content and languages through its programming, which is key to its goals of maintaining cultural identity and achieving reconciliation.

The company presented to a CRTC panel as the federal broadcasting regulator continues its three-week hearing about what contributions traditional broadcasters and online streaming services will need to make to support Canadian and Indigenous content.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of Indigenous media. We bring diversity, we shatter stereotypes,” said APTN chief executive Monika Ille.

“At APTN we do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week … we don’t reflect Indigenous perspectives. We are Indigenous perspectives.”

Friday was Day 5 of the CRTC’s public consultations in response to Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, which received royal assent in April. It is meant to update federal legislation to require digital platforms such as Netflix, YouTube and TikTok to contribute to and promote Canadian content.

In September, the CRTC released a decision after two previous consultations it launched related to Bill C-11. Now the commission is exploring whether streaming services should be asked to make an initial contribution to the Canadian content system and if this would help level the playing field with local companies that are already required to support Canadian content.

“If streaming services are asked to make this contribution, we are seeking views on where it should go,” CRTC chairperson Vicky Eatrides said Thursday during an appearance at the federal Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

“We have existing funds. Should the base contribution go there, elsewhere, or be considered in a different way altogether? And could these contributions be used to create a system that empowers more voices from different communities?”

Ille said that like other broadcasters in Canada, APTN is struggling financially as it seeks to adapt to a changing landscape.

She told the commission that although the network has seen its ratings jump and web traffic increase, it is no longer in a position to lead the industry in producing high-quality Indigenous content “because we just don’t have the resources to do so.”

“We wish we could support way more programming,” she said.

“We’ve never been so relevant as we are today in this era of reconciliation. Canadians have an appetite for Indigenous stories … they want to know our stories told with our voices, our perspectives. We cannot lose that momentum. So for us, it is critical to have the means and the resources to sustain, but also to continue to grow.”

Ille said the proposed Services of Exceptional Importance Fund would provide subsidies for organizations like APTN which “serve audiences that are not always well-served.”

The network’s presentation noted it also agreed with other companies that have previously made the case to the regulator to provide direct funding for news programming through financial contributions from online streamers.

Earlier in the week, Bell Media-owner BCE Inc. asked the CRTC to create a news fund that would provide money to broadcasters and require foreign streamers to contribute to the subsidy through their Canadian content spending.

APTN executive director of news and current affairs Cheryl McKenzie said reporting can be especially costly for her outlet given the remote nature of many Indigenous communities.

“As far as how the commission could help, I would just advocate for definitely more resources because it’s getting so much more expensive to get out to the regions where our communities are and where we need to be in these remote communities,” she said.

“Also, it’s really important to have a diversity of Indigenous staff and … investment in the journalists so that we can better cover Indigenous communities in all of these regions.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2023

Banner image via The Canadian Press