Friday, October 30, 2009

Local TV Matters vs. Stop the TV Tax

Can't decide whether to save local TV or stop the TV tax?

That might be because both sides are broadcasting ambiguous messages.

I think we can all agree that local TV matters. Local news is where we get information about the things, people and institutions that surround us. Local entertainment programming allows talented Canadian individuals to shine, whether it's in front of the camera or behind the scenes. Local TV gives us, the locals, a platform to express our thoughts and ideas about the things that matter to us.

And yet, we can't help but agree with some of the rebuttal from the Stop the TV tax campaign. With the Local TV Matters campaign constantly reminding us of the November 2 deadline to help save local TV, I thought now would be a perfect time to put the arguments from both sides head-to-head.

So here goes.

1. "Why don't cable and satellite providers already pay for local television signals?" & "What is 'Negotiation for Value'?" vs. "Cable companies steal local television signals, then sell them to customers" & "The big networks deserve to be paid for their television signals"

Yes, it's true. Cable and satellite providers don't pay for local TV signals. But this has always been the case, mostly because TV started as an over-the-air broadcast, meaning anyone who was able to capture the signal (Oh hello, bunny ears!) had access to the content. However, most of that content was created locally or at least, somewhere locally across that network. These days, local programming consists mostly of news and current affairs shows, and even that's put together with a national perspective. The rest of the content is purchased from distributors, whether it's documentary, reality TV or entertainment production company. And we've seen an increase in the American-based content being purchased to air on our local stations.

Yes, broadcasters deserve to receive some sort of payment for the content they provide, because it then provides added value to the cable companies that distribute said content. For example, the only channel in Canada where you can catch Dexter is The Movie Network. If Rogers were to have the exclusive carriage of The Movie Network, and Dexter was your favourite show (and assuming you're not one to download TV shows or stream online), you would probably opt for a Rogers cable package instead of the other cable companies' offering.

Cable companies pay for specialty TV stations. Obviously, they must see some value in their investment. Do they not believe that local TV is as valuable? They carry the channels, so clearly, they must think they have some value. And please, don't use the "over-the-air" excuse. Times have changed. All TV signals will be digital only by August 2011, so no one will be able to capture those old analogue signals.

Conclusion: Cable companies get free content from the broadcasters (who pay for theirs) and should pay up.
Cable distributors should have to purchase the rights to carry a station. This would then provide additional funding for local producers and talent to get paid by local stations for producing original content that's relevant to the local community.

2. "Why are Canada's television broadcasters concerned about the future of local television?" & "Why don't broadcasters just invest more in local programming?" vs. "Canada's big networks invest heavily in local programming" & "the new tax will prevent closure of local stations" & "Cable and satellite providers do not believe in local television"

This is a tough one. Both sides are right. Both sides are also wrong.

Canada's television broadcasters already invest heavily in local programming, including Rogers, also a distributor. The problem is that local programming is so much more expensive than ready-made, produced-elsewhere (or nationally) programming: no HR, no production assistants, no insurance fees or crew salaries... The production expenses add up quickly. As for local news? It takes staff to put together the stories you want to hear. All the recent cuts mostly affect local stations, who see their workload remain the same (or sometimes increase!), while having less resources to reach the targets set by their networks. Something's gotta give.

Yet, there is no assurance than any additional fees given to broadcasters will be distributed to local stations. I'm sure it will trickle down in the long run, but on a day-to-day level, nothing's going to change for the hard-working staff in your local newsrooms. There won't be any innovative new programmes. No additional young doc-makers will see their footage to air.

Local broadcasters say they will negotiate with the CRTC exactly how much should be spent where. But if the goal of this fee is to save local TV, shouldn't local TV get all the money? Ah, bureaucracy!

Meanwhile, cable and satellite providers will simply pass on the additional costs to me and to you, the customers. And don't forget the taxes. At least the providers are being honest... They have no intention of actually paying for the local programming, if they're ordered to pay up by the CRTC. They will simply charge us again, which means we will be paying for the same content twice. And they say they truly care about offering us local programming. How underhanded!

Rogers is the only cable provider that is also a broadcaster. Yes, they care about local TV and air regional programming, which makes all of this even more odd, as they might actually save from not having to pay themselves for local TV programming, while all the other providers will pay them for the programming they say they produce anyway. They have nothing to lose! Even after paying for other local stations. If anything, they'd simply break even.

Conclusion: The CRTC must order the fee to be payed directly by the cable and satellite distributors and minutely monitor how the networks invest it in local TV. Do your job and regulate already!
The CRTC should not only order cable and satellite distributors to pay up for local content, they should make it illegal for them to pass this fee along to their customers or hike up their fees without valid reason in order to weasel out of paying for the product they provide. Also, the networks should be forced to spend this new income on local programming and should have to prove it by an annual audit of their financial records, showing that each and every cent collected was actually spent on producing local TV, whether it's on additional crew salaries, purchasing a locally-made documentary, or buying new cameras for the newsroom.

3. "I've noticed in the news that some people have referred to the issue as broadcasters wanting a bailout. Is this true?" & "Why can't broadcasters use the profits from their specialty stations to support local conventional stations?" vs. "Cable and satellite distributors earn billions in profits, but broadcasters are going broke" & "Cable and satellite providers pocket 70% of your bill" & "This is a 'one-time' fee to support local television to help them cope with lower advertising revenues"

First of all, the networks aren't claiming that this is a one-time fee, so you can take that one off your myth list. Nice try, though.

Guess what? Some broadcasters do want a bailout! (ahem, Canwest?). But this has nothing to do with the current discussion, which was a long time coming. Broadcasters are going broke, it's true, and that's a whole other discussion and a complicated one at that. You can't compare public and private broadcasters, for one. CBC's issue is that it doesn't get enough funding and isn't allowed to take advantage of all the advertising opportunities that other networks have. Of course, advertising is not working out so well for the private broadcasters either. Still, a business is a business and as much as media and journalism is important to the proper functioning of a society, you've got to take your responsibilities and own up to your failures. If you can't balance the books, you shouldn't be running a business.

However, the fees paid by the cable and satellite companies would contribute to turning the reds into blacks, and it's only fair to get paid for your work. Advertising alone no longer supports the costs of running a media company, and the free online content customers demand also comes at a cost to the broadcasters. Similarly, specialty stations make enough profit to be self-sustainable and more, but not enough to sustain sister conventional stations. And as always, you've got to consider the administrative costs too.

The cable and satellite companies claim that they're not as rich as the networks would make it seem and make most of their money from other ventures, namely as internet providers. And they charge us, the customers, disproportionately large sums of money for those services too. Sure, less than 6% goes to profits, but they're still taking that claimed 70% off our bills to pay for their expenses. Oh, and that "tiny 1%" profit they make is based on millions of dollars and ends up being not so tiny. They're not the victims here. Neither side is.

Conclusion: Suck it up and stop playing dead. Both of you.
The fact is that the cable television industry is reinventing itself and there will be tough times, especially in a harsh economical climate. The cable and satellite companies are trying to shy away from a change that should have been imposed ages ago, but because of the CRTC's poor understanding of the new face of the industry, they've managed to escape unscathed until now.

This so-called tax isn't a magical solution. It won't fix anything, but it might patch things up enough for local TV to re-invent itself successfully.... if the networks actually commit to it and listen to what the local community wants from its local stations.

Throughout this campaign, Local TV Matters and Stop the TV Tax have acted like rivaling siblings who will pick a fight about anything and everything just because. They're running to mom (aka the CRTC) at every twist and turn, wanting to be proclaimed the winner.

Well, guess what? No one's right, and no one's wrong. Stop bickering and whining and start getting along. The real issue here is mom, who is in serious need of parenting classes.

The CRTC needs to emerge from the dark ages, look around, and realize that the world is different, but that's okay. It needs to come to terms with the past and understand the present so it can properly plan for the future. Hip hop might not be its favourite musical styling, but that's what the kids are into these days. Like a good parent, it needs to accept its children's differences and that their modern world is different from its own experience. The CRTC needs to force the television broadcasters and the cable and satellite providers to work together and create a broadcasting environment that is truly the best for all Canadians.

So let's all agree that local TV matters, and stop the TV tax from being another completely irrelevant and mostly ineffective CRTC decision.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Update on the #H1N1 (aka swine flu) vaccine

Since blogging about the H1N1 vaccine, I have come across several other sources making strong arguments against getting the swine flu vaccine, as well as additional sources debunking those arguments. All this research has made me seriusly re-think my willingness to get inoculated. With all the mixed messages out there, no wonder we're so confused!

Here are some links that you MUST read, no matter which side of the fence you're on (with thanks to my friends who pointed them out):
  • "What's the Danger of Swine Flu Vaccinations?" - Written by Dr. Anders Bruun Laursen for the Centre for Research for Globalization, based in Montreal, QC. The article is dated August 20, 2009, and though I hadn't heard of this centre before, it seems pretty credible, especially when you consider the next article.
Both these articles were written a while ago, so one would hope that changes have been made. However, I don't recall anything about these concerns being addressed by the media (who are supposed to be a trusted source of information for us, asking the questions we cannot ask). At least, not in Canada. has at least tried to address the issue most Canadians are dealing with in this next article:
  • "The vaccination debate: To be jabbed or not", dated October 28, 2009. It looks at both sides of the story, featuring interviews with two doctors who have varying opinions and is a must read for a clear and concise understanding of the main issues in this debate.
Except, of course, it doesn't directly address all of the issues raised in the previously posted two articles. It does, however, point us to the following article:
If you scroll down to the comments, you'll notice people complaining about the squalene in the vaccines. Another commentator then points out that squalene is in olive oil and a bunch of other ingredients we ingest on a daily basis, and produced by our bodies, as explained in this US-based resource on the anthrax vaccine.

Some very smart people read New Scientist... and now I'm more confused than ever. What I would like is an in-depth interview by the CBC (or another similarly trusted broadcaster - seeing how officials react to tough questions is definitely a bonus here) with Canada's chief public health doctor, Dr. David Butler-Jones, should directly address the concerns of Canadians. Namely,

  • What exactly is squalene and in what dosage is it harmful?
  • How is Canada planning to follow-up on the effectiveness of the vaccine (trials, etc)?
  • What about these other toxic substances said to be included in the vaccine?
Who's with me?!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On H1N1 (aka Swine Flu)

Peter Budaj has swine flu. That's right, even NHLers like the Colorado Avalanche goaltender are at risk.

Will NHL players and staff be getting the H1N1 vaccine?

Although the NHL and other sports leagues are said to be monitoring the situation, they have yet to release any widespread policy on the matter. I assume each NHL team will be following the advice of its doctors. But why should NHLers get the H1N1 vaccine? After all, they don't usually get the seasonal flu shot either.

Here are a few reasons why I think NHL players and staff, and YOU should get the H1N1 vaccine.

  1. It tends to affect otherwise healthy and younger individuals. Like professional hockey players.

  2. It's a pandemic that's spread more easily through close contact and in contained spaces. Like locker rooms, team buses and airplanes.

  3. It can spread pretty rapidly, even through carriers who might not get sick. In the case of an NHL team, think of the thousands of employees who work in a building like the Bell Centre, from hockey staff to administration to concessions to broadcast TV technicians and reporters. That's a lot of people to potentially infect, and they in turn can infect all of their friends and families.

  4. Getting swine flu blows. I have yet to see a comment from someone who's had swine flu recommending for people NOT to get the vaccine. Even the mild cases can leave you bed-ridden for approximately 5 days. As much fun as it can be to play hooky, who wants to be stuck sick in bed for that long?
Heck, even health officials for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics are encouraging all athletes, staff and volunteers to get inoculated!

Yesterday, I posted a story about H1N1 vaccines and prevention on my Facebook page, stating that I am going to get vaccinated as soon as I can (Nov. 23) because I have a chronic illness (asthma). Immediately, comments started pouring in from people from different demographics, discussing why they would or wouldn't be getting the shot.

One has a needle phobia. Understandable. I've gotten used to getting pricked, but for most people, it's no fun. However, she also lives in a dorm. Again, close contact increases the chances of getting infected. Even if your whole network gets vaccinated, they might still be carriers of the disease and you, without the proper antibodies to fight off H1N1, can still get sick.

One family doesn't usually get the seasonal flu shot and won't be getting this one either. Not because it's not effective, really, but mostly because it's just been developed. What about long term side-effects? Medical experts and health officials have confirmed that the H1N1 vaccine is very much like the seasonal flu vaccines and side-effects should be just as limited.

What about Guillain-Barré syndrome? This auto-immune response is said to have caused deaths in the previous round of vaccinations against an influenza similar to H1N1 decades ago. However, the chances of getting Guillain-Barré syndrome are approximately 1 per 100,000, whether or not you actually get vaccinated. Plus, if you've ever been vaccinated against meningitis, which most of us have, you've already taken the risk of developing this disease.

There are reportedly nurses at a Canadian hospital that have refused to get the vaccine. If a case of H1N1 breaks out on their floor, they will all be sent home. Why wouldn't they get vaccinated? It's a personal choice and I'm sure they have their reasons. Still, by not getting inoculated, I feel that they are being irresponsible, putting their patients at risk and reducing the availability of health care professionals in the case of a local pandemic.

One person mentioned that his father is a doctor and has helped him dispel some of the confusion. He always gets his seasonal flu shot and will be getting the H1N1 vaccine as well. The one-in-a-million chance of complications from the vaccine goes head-to-head with a one-in-ten chance of complications from H1N1, he says. As he points out, the vaccine is tested, is safe, and the potential side-effects are minimal compared to the impact of swine flu on your health.

I might not always get my seasonal flu shot, but I always plan to. Even if you don't usually consider getting the seasonal vaccine, you should consider getting the H1N1 vaccine. It's a different strain and it affects different types of people than you'd usually expect. And sure, there's been hype over the numbers of swine flu-related deaths and the pandemic state of the disease. But the fact remains that swine flu is much tougher on your body, even if you are healthy.

Everyone's entitled to their opinion, to be sure, but take the time to research the facts on the vaccine for yourself. Don't just listen to what everyone else is saying. Talk to your doctor, but remember that his or her personal opinion will also affect his/her professional opinion.

Only you can make this decision. It's your life, your future, your well-being. Don't screw up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On the new #CBC News Network

So, what do you think?

Personally, I like the new CBC News Network, overall. I like the fonts, I like the colours, I like the feel... but.

There is a "but".

I don't like the casual feel of CBC NN.

Let me explain.

I know Jennifer McGuire says that's what Canadians want from CBC. The new jingles? Yes, they're catchy. In a Euro pop kinda way. But some of them dismiss the seriousness of the headlines. They make me feel like I'm watching CNN. And I have many a bone to pick with CNN.

I'm not sure what the point is to having a "news now" block graph in your lower third... Or the CBC logo, for that matter. I miss my transparent bug: it's a much less cluttered look and still does the job branding-wise. There's a reason I'm watching CBC instead of CTV's Canada AM or CP24 (if it were available in Quebec!)

And the scrolling headlines? They no longer scroll! It took a while, but I've gotten used to it. Unfortunately, I find that the information contained in the scrolls is not as complete as it used to be.

The weather lower third is useful, sure, but all day long? At least give us a more relevant forecast like Now, Later, Tonight. Or something along those lines. Not Now, Tuesday and Wednesday. I can get that information online or on the Weather Network.

Speaking of the weather... Pointing to a giant screen (how much did those cost, by the way?) seems ineffective so far. I miss my swirling weather maps, and I bet the meteorologists feel insecure at no longer being in control of the switching. I'm glad they're alternating with the green screen instead of making it all big screen.

I do love the set. I like the clean lines and open space: it matches the crisp fonts and bold wipes. I think some anchors are really embracing the standing up news-telling and it fits them well - especially Carol MacNeil. I'm also glad to hear, via a tweet by Hill reporter Rosemary Barton, that they don't really have to stand if they don't want to. Plus, the anchors are seated when interviewing in-studio guests.

More on the set: I love that Entertainment and Business and all that stuff is now in studio. I like the hits from across the newsroom, but I really do wish the camera was on a tripod instead of handheld. It looks amateur, not trendy.

I don't like seeing a reporter on the big screen behind the anchor. It diminishes the anchor (literally and otherwise!) and is way too CNN for my liking.

I know CBC will be working out the kinks for the next few days -like segment wipes with audio timing - and I hope they take our feedback and truly make it a network for Canadians.

Again, there's a but. I have a big problem with all these changes. As much as I like them (see below for more on that), it puts extra pressure on the already strained local workforce. The local crews not only have to deal with extended 1.5h newscasts, it now also has to put on a nightly newscast. And those will be live, not pre-taped.

And although the extended local newscasts are very repetitive with 3 nearly identical blocks at 5pm, 5:30pm and 6pm, the producers and reporters are still overworked, trying to make the content seem original or putting together multiple versions of the same package. With all the added workload and the smaller workforce, it's no wonder the reporters trip on their words during their live fronts. And yet, there's no added value for the viewers. In fact, we don't even notice. As one of my CBC friends puts it, "It's more work for less people, with a shiny cover put over it to make us all feel better."

But there are some positives:

I like that new stories are introduced on the 2pm newscast. Who needs to hear the same packs all day?
I like repeat in-depth interviews with guests like CBC's Defence specialist Bill Gillespie. Give me more extracts from that and less of this morning's pack.
I like variations on the same story, ie the H1N1 virus/vaccine. Not just the clinics opening and the US story, but also the pregnant couple who needs to find a new pre-natal class.
I like Carol asking a Toronto hospital official if they've over-hyped the pandemic. That's CBC bringing us into the news-making process.
I like Anne-Marie Mediwake as my mid-morning anchor. She looks right at home on the set.
I like the breaking news reporter, even though she's stuck in the newsroom. It adds a different voice to the mix.
I like that Your View or Your Voice or whatever it used to be called is now simply POV. Much easier to remember.
I like the new accompanying websites for The National, Connect with Mark Kelley, World Report, and Politics & Power. They've got great cross-platform integration features.

I love that the anchors now throw to each other between shows. No more awkward "hey, where'd she go?"
I'm in love with the yellow in the fonts. Bright! Happy! A bit of positivity in an often negative news cycle.
I love Colleen Jones' style on the story of the day... She makes it personable and shows us how it relates to us.
I love how well Carol fits in to the redesign. It's like it was made for her.

I still wish CBC would make it easier to find News Network stories online, and put them up there quicker. I can't wait for their "make your own lineup" feature. I hope it's easy to share and doesn't apply exclusively to The National.

I also wish they would cut to developing stories even without tape, especially if they have that breaking news reporter on air instead of one on the scene. If not, make mention of it, and say you're going to follow up on it. A good example? Today's House of Commons climate change flash protest. It was tweeted by a CBC reporter 20 minutes before CBC NN made any mention of it at all. The information wasn't right, but you can safely report the fact that the protest is happening.

And I wish there were more sports... Apart from Jeff Marek's new morning show sports segment, there is barely any sports content throughout the day. I understand that it's not developing news, but neither is entertainment, and at least it would mix it up a bit. It wouldn't be that difficult to put together a template for moving from a recap kind of pack to a preview pack as the day progresses, and hey! Maybe even add in some sports business news, like today's NHL/bankruptcy court action in Phoenix.

And so while I like the new CBC News Network overall, all of these changes haven't really improved news content, have they?

PS: Follow my tweets on this and other topics at

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Only the Lonely

I had an absolutely wonderful weekend.

A bunch of my friends and fellow Habs fans from various places in North America congregated to Montreal so we could all enjoy a couple of days of hockey, friendship and good food.

And it was fabulous. From the tunes on Friday night, to hockey pool picks on Saturday afternoon, to a delicious Italian dinner and, of course, Habs vs. Rangers at the Bell Centre at 7pm, we all had a ball.

And now, I'm sad.

I'm sad because my friends have left town and this city I call home feels a little bit colder now that they're gone. Even on this beautiful sunny Sunday with its crisp autumn air (and winds gusting up to 50km/h!!), I felt lonelier than on those previous bone-chilling, wet, rainy days.

With all the turbulence in my friendships in recent times, from those that ended because of lack of commitment or a misunderstanding, to those that turned out to be less substantial than I thought they were, to the one-sided friendships, and the relationships that have become simply friendships... Well, it's sure been a lot to take in. I have learned a lot, grown from my experience, and am ready to move on.

But having all these wonderful people around for the past couple of days, real friends, who care about you in the good times and the bad, who check up on you even with an email or chat, who only see you once a year yet know you so well...

These are the friendships I cherish the most. These are the friendships I am so blessed to have. These are the friendships that leave a void. These are the friendships that only the lonely know.

(Incidentally, you can read the excellent Habs-related rants and raves of one of my aforementioned friends at The H does NOT stand for Habs).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Indexing

When I decided to change my blog URL, I thought I had it made. I was finally ready to go from the unsophisticated, now defunct to the more professional

"NailaJ" also fit in with my "new" personal online branding as it matched my Twitter and Flickr handles. When I realized that I couldn't change my Flickr URL, I was disappointed, but I didn't think it was that big of a deal.

That's when I discovered the intricacies of search engine indexing.

Though I was always more or less aware of how sites got added to search engines, I forgot to take the lack of indexing into consideration when I switched URLs. I went from having having a respectable minimum amount of incoming traffic daily to almost no blog hits. For the longest time (give or take a week), I couldn't figure out why. (Not that I particularly value accidental 30-second clicks!)

That's when I noticed my keyword stats. Google and Yahoo! were no longer sending users my way (except for a couple of hits from Why? Well, even though I worked hard to establish my blog and presence online, indexing is still a primitive technology and couldn't see that I was still me, just... under another name and in a different place.

All my pride at my blog being the first search result for "Naila Jinnah"? Gone. Now, I've resorted to hoping that people will click on my Twitter feed, look under the bio, and stumble upon my blog, or find me through LinkedIn. It's no longer easy for employers to simply look me up. My social media/online branding credibility? Also greatly reduced.

Hopefully, my online involvement and activities will help boost my worth in Google's eyes and I'll return to my former blog glory... name recognition included.

Stay tuned...

PS: Maisonneuve re-posted my blog "On Hand Washing". How cool is that?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Giving Thanks

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving. Which differs by other Thanksgiving celebrations only by date, as the concept remains the same.

What do I have to give thanks for?

Well, after a tumultuous week that involved a lot of disillusionment in the spheres of love, friendship, and professional advancement, it has been tough for me to smile and laugh as much as I usually do. And the rainy days didn't help.

Still, I have much to be thankful about.

I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and really, it's not all bad. I don't worry about how I will survive the next day, if I'll still be alive in a month, or if my parents'll get mugged on the way home from work.

I lead a pretty good life, and as much as this past week has been trying, I cannot honestly say that I was ever in danger of not getting through it.

I am disappointed in many ways, but that's just the way the dice rolls. I truly believe that everything in life happens for a reason, and though it is sometimes tough to remember that when one door closes another opens - especially when you're in the thick of it all! - I know that with a little bit of patience, time and understanding, I'll be back to my old self in no time. I'll be more than okay. I'll be fantastic. It'll be great.

So on this weekend when we take the time to be thankful, I would like to count my blessings. Thank you for my home and my family, thank you for true friends and honesty, thank you for warmth and comfort, for the chirping birds, the shinning sun, the rustling leaves and the trees, the wind, the water, the earth and fire. Thank you for the ability to smell, touch, taste, hear and see. Thank you for the opportunities I have, the privileges I have been given, and the gifts I have received that allow me to function the way I do, to be the way I am... thank you for making me "me".

Thanks for making me laugh and smile, thank you for my health and that of those who are important to me. Thank you for the little joys in life, for giggling babies and happy brides, for mind-blowing TV shows and exciting movies, for music that moves you and books that teach as they entertain you. Thanks for my guitar and my piano because they can get me through anything and everything. Thank you for enabling me to see the positive in everything, for the sound that skates make when they cut into the ice, for cheeky monkeys and sneezing pandas, for hissing red squirrels and whispering seashells, the stars in the sky and the clouds that bring rain, new discoveries and getting over pain. Thanks for making the universe as crazily amazing as it is. Thank you for all the other things I can't name...

And most importantly, thank you for the love, hope and inspiration that's a part of my daily life. Thank you for making me see that there's a higher power out there than me. Thank you for hugging me when I need to be comforted, even if it's just by the wind or only in my imagination.

While so many other people in the world suffer, thank you for giving me everything I'll ever need. On this day, and every day, through the good times and the bad, may I always remember how fortunate I truly am.

(And thank you to those who always take the time to read!)