“The three main risks of this public policy are related to the definition of community producer, the definition of community production and the way in which the sponsored contents are transmitted.”
* Chiara Saez Baeza/June 2015
On 1 June 2015, the National Television Council (CNTV) published a public call for tenders on its website for the award of a Community Production Fund, with a total amount of CLP 264 million (about USD 415,000) to be distributed in 2015, and a funding limit per project of CLP 30 million (around USD 47,000). Thus funding can be provided to at least 10 projects. There is no doubt that this is an unprecedented event in the history of the regulator.
However, the stated requirements raise various doubts about the scope of this project. The main criticism is that it does not resolve the most important need of a community television enterprise: able to obtain its own frequency within the context of digital TV. As has been noted, this development policy may end up distorting community television even more, which is defined by the Law of Digital TV as “local content and of a community nature,” thus delimiting its coverage a priori. The aforementioned contravenes the definitions that are used in the international debate and which emphasize more substantive aspects of community communication, such as participation by said community in “the ownership of the media enterprise, as well as its programming, management, operation, financing and evaluation” (AMARC, 2009).
The three main risks of this public policy are related to the definition of community producer, the definition of community production and the way in which the sponsored contents are transmitted. In the first case, it can be tautologically stated that a community producer “is the legal entity that produces content of community interest.” Following on, the closest reference to a definition of “community production” is found in Section VII of the fund’s terms of reference dealing with project characteristics, to which is stated: “to address issues of community interest, and that represent a contribution and incentive to knowledge, appreciation and strengthening of the community and its cultural and natural heritage”. The definition thus continues to be generic.
More specifically, the document states that special appreciation will be given to “a) content that helps to increase the level of information, education and formation of the public and/or people’s better understanding of the natural or social world; b) Proposals for quality programs that make proper use of television language in their presentations; c) projects that promote tolerance, diversity and all of the country’s ethnic groups, religions and genders.” However, can these attributes be considered as criteria of the specific assessment of community communication? Rather, they represent more general criteria of quality and are applicable to any type of (national, local, regional or community) audiovisual content.
However, if beforehand it has been noted that international definitions of community participation in content creation is a substantive element in the definition of community communication, this aspect is completely absent from any valuation of the commented policy. Understanding the distinction between transmitter and audience is a structural attribute when talking about community audiovisual content. The role of a community producer is not to “portray” a given community (either geographically, ethno-linguistically, or its interests) or provide “content related to the community’s interests,” but rather to energize the community in order for it to portray itself and in its own language. It’s a shame therefore that CNTV does not understand the specificity of community communication, or to have deemed it necessary to address this aspect at greater depth before launching the present funding initiative.
To the above we need to add a key question: where can such community TV content be transmitted from, given that in Chile there is still no free-to-air community TV channel? According to the law of digital TV, only in five years time will a tender be opened for new frequencies, that is to say, when the simulcasting period is concluded. All concessions for community TV will be new, because today no such channel has a frequency). In this regard, the terms of this competition indicate that the beneficiary production company must “demonstrate the commitment to broadcast the respective program via a television service.” This does not exclude the possibility of transmitting via a local cable channel, or a national, regional or local free-to-air TV broadcast.
That is to say, community producers are to be funded (as defined tautologically) that will generate community content (defined under non-specified quality criteria) that will not be able to be transmitted by community channels on open broadcast TV (as the community channels presently existing on open broadcast television -about 15 approximately throughout the country- are still in a legal limbo as they don’t have the necessary accreditation). May we consider that this policy will benefit the TV community as a specific sector of the media landscape or does it veer towards a dissolution and lack of specificity of the same?
When analyzing the public policy adopted by CNTV together with the lack of any visible policy of the government’s Telecommunications Undersecretary (Subtel) regarding community television, it is easy to lean towards the latter situation. The Law of Digital Television states that CNTV can only finance the production of community content and “carry” them. But it is not authorized to financially support the process of access to frequencies. To do this, there is another section of the law under which Subtel can finance community channels that at the same time provide services and TV and internet, and in this case even officials of the Telecommunications Development Fund don’t really understand what is implied. Demand for financial support for access to frequencies by the community television sector was voiced throughout the six years of discussion of said law. However, what can be deduced from the “spirit of the law” and that which has been implemented so far, is that community channels are expected to become concession holders through the media outlets of third parties. That is to say, to be audiovisual producers without access to their own frequencies, but which can be carried by other frequencies in return for a fee or some kind of agreement.
Thus, there is a need that together with the financing policy of contents of CNTV, there is at the same time support from Subtel for access to frequencies. For example, the development of a plan for the provision and monitoring of experimental community concessions within the next five years, which is when local frequencies of a community nature can be requested. Local and regional channels have already agreed to these types of benefit and it is also important to ensure the strength of the community sector in terms of its specific nature. This involves creating conditions for the sector to access frequencies, which in turn will have other positive external consequences (contributions to the equitable sharing of the radio spectrum and the de-concentration of media ownership).
* Sociologist, Ph.D. in Communications, Post-doctorate studies in Government and Public Policies; Assistant Professor at the Communication and Image Institute (ICER) of the University of Chile.