Joe Clark: Accessibility | Design | Writing

Intervention in Broadcasting Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 2006-3 (MuchMusic)

This intervention in Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2006-3, by Joe Clark of Toronto, is dated 2006.04.06. This intervention concerns MuchMusic. The true text of the intervention is found at the following address only:

The Commission has a habit of altering interventions, as by removing notations of URLs and changing the file type of documents. These modifications are surely a contravention of the moral right of the author under the Copyright Act. Nonetheless, only the canonical URL listed above may be considered definitive.

Concealment of documents

The CRTC has a long history of ignoring allegations of nepotism, conflict of interest, and collusion with its regulated broadcasters arising from the fact that Commissioners frequently come from the broadcasting sector, or end up there later, or even, as in the current case, end up as Minister of Canadian Heritage. The Commission has brought itself to a new low by permitting the applicants, among several other applicants for different processes underway at the same time, to conceal relevant documents behind the closed doors of the applicant’s own offices.

Any member of the public, including competitors, who wished to learn the actual details of the application had no choice whatsoever but to schlep across town, if they happened to be lucky enough to live in the right town, or schlep to another town just to read documents that could and should have been posted on the Web.

I petitioned the Chair on 2006.03.23 to force the applicants in this and other proceedings to publish documents online, to require all applicants to do so in the future, and to extend the current deadline. Again fully true to form, the Chair simply ignored the petition.

The current process could not be considered one of public consultation. The closest historical model is that of a show trial: Documents are kept secret in certain locations, and a hearing is held in another location. The only parties who could realistically participate in this process are the Commission, the applicant, and the applicant’s multi-million-dollar corporate competitors.

Despite all the foregoing, I have no doubt that the Commission will find a way to surpass this new low, most likely in the actual decision on the application in question.


I oppose the renewal of the license without stringent accessibility provisions. Simply put, MuchMusic has had a free ride for two decades when it comes to captioning and audio description. The Commission has actively abetted that free ride, something that must now draw to a close.


I’ve met various staff and executives at CHUM numerous times since 1989 to discuss captioning, audio description, and Web accessibility. These were not the most successful or even convivial meetings in the world, since most of the time I was treated like an unexploded bomb.

I’ve also been intervening in CRTC license renewals for CHUM-owned or -co-owned music stations for almost as long a time. CHUM and the Commission have a stunning track record of ignoring or belittling my documentation and evidence.

Let’s go through the whole history of the CRTC and CHUM’s music stations. Of course only MuchMusic is up for renewal at the moment, but the Commission seems to have the same attitude about MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic, and MusiquePlus, so I thought I’d be thorough and include all three. (MusiMax is a near-clone of MusiquePlus from a regulatory perspective.) I’ll quote from the CRTC’s own license-renewal documents, though the original broadcaster submissions and the sincere-sounding testimony at hearings can also be good for a laugh.



At the hearing[,] MuchMusic stated that it had not allocated any funds specifically for closed caption programming [sic]. Nevertheless, the licensee did suggest that it would propose that, as a condition of receiving grant money from VideoFACT, music videos produced with the aid of this production development fund should be closed captioned. It estimated the cost to be between $300 and $500 per video.

The Commission notes the interventions received from the Canadian Captioning Development Agency Inc. and the Ontario Closed Caption Consumers requesting that the licensee be required to broadcast a minimum number of closed caption [sic] videos, to contribute to the production costs of captioning some Canadian-made videos and to ensure minimum standards of quality. In light of these comments, the Commission expects the licensee to ensure that a reasonable amount of closed caption programming [sic] is made available for hearing-impaired viewers.

The Commission further expects the licensee, within the first year of the new licence term, to make use of the line 21 text capability to inform deaf and hearing-impaired viewers who are equipped with a decoder permitting the reception of captioned information of the time at which closed captioned programs are scheduled to appear and to advise them whenever technical difficulties prevent scheduled captioned programming from being presented.

MuchMusic only proposed the captioning of VideoFACT-funded videos because I had lobbied Julie Thorburn, VideoFACT’s director at the time, to do so. MuchMusic interpreted “reasonable amount of closed caption programming” to mean “whatever we can get for free.” MuchMusic completely ignored and never implemented the expectation to use the Line 21 Text channel. Its use was, in any event, pointless in the context of music videos (“Tune in at 4:17 for the only captioned video of the day”).


No mention of captioning or audio description whatsoever. I find this rather surprising given that I submitted ample documentation on captioning. The Commission, of course, has near-unfettered power to disregard interventions it doesn’t like.


The Commission notes the licensee’s statements that it has closed captioned all VideoFACT funded music videos since July 1994, and that it has captioned key live interviews during [video flow], as well as signature programming such as Fax, The New Music, Too Much 4 Much, Intimate & Interactive, and some special programming such as The MuchMusic Video Awards.

For the new licence term, MuchMusic has committed to spend a minimum of $100,000 annually to caption its most relevant programming, including music videos, specials, and documentaries. The Commission expects MuchMusic to meet this commitment, and encourages it to exceed the levels of captioning achieved over the past licence term. In addition, the Commission encourages MuchMusic to caption 90% of all non-music programming during the broadcast day, including presentations by program hosts, by the end of the licence term.

Well, here we go.

  1. MuchMusic captioned a few shows and a few interviews here and there. I watched a lot of those interviews: The entire broadcast day before and afterward went uncaptioned, but the interview was captioned. Isn’t this like telling wheelchair users they can visit any floor of the building between 2:00 and 2:15 P.M.? In no respect does this constitute compliance with the Broadcasting Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, or the Charter.
  2. The licensee is somehow given the right to determine what “relevant” programming might be and to caption only that.
  3. MuchMusic went right ahead and ignored the encouragement “to caption 90% of all non-music programming during the broadcast day.” But that isn’t the problem. The problem is the CRTC’s decade of contortions to deny the fact that MuchMusic is a music service playing music videos, yet music videos are exempted from captioning requirements. I know that CRTC commissioners were never in MuchMusic’s demographic, but how old do you have to be to see that this is nuts? Music videos are programming. We caption programming in this country.


Even less helpful than the English-language case, if that can be imagined.


In its application, MusiquePlus did not propose any expenditures for captioning programs to be broadcast. However, during interviews with non-French-speaking artists, it superimposes the highlights of the conversations. The licensee explained that this elementary form of captioning affords persons who are hard of hearing access to the service. MusiquePlus further noted that its music video library contains only about 200 captioned music videos.

The Commission received opposing interventions on this aspect of the licensee’s service from the Canadian Association of the Deaf, the Regroupement Québécois pour le Sous-titrage Inc. and Mr. J. Clark of Toronto.

In its reply, the licensee agreed to increase its efforts to raise the awareness of record and music video producers regarding the importance of captioning. MusiquePlus itself agreed to assume, through VideoFact, as much as 50% of the cost of captioning. Further, it will begin soon to broadcast a graphic symbol whenever a music video is close-captioned. The development and production costs of the graphic symbol will be borne entirely by MusiquePlus.

The Commission is satisfied with the licensee’s reply in this regard.

So let’s recap:

  1. MusiquePlus runs a licensed television network but budgets nothing for captioning.
  2. The broadcaster, unable to differentiate subtitling and captioning (I detect some French-language interference there), falsely claims that infrequent subtitled interviews are tantamount to captioned programming.
  3. They’ve got 200 captioned videos out of a library of tens of thousands.
  4. They agreed to send a memo to record labels.
  5. They’ll pay for 50% of captioning costs for a minority of the videos they present.
  6. They’ll waste everyone’s time designing yet another symbol for captioning when we have six already. And in an example of stupendous corporate generosity, they’ll pay the whole cost. (Let’s draw pictures of food instead of feeding the hungry!)

And the CRTC is OK with all of that. In what sense does this amount to regulating the broadcaster?


No mention of captioning or description at all. This is quizzical to say the least, since I made a highly detailed submission on the topic.


The closed captioning requirement imposed on this and on other French-language services is less than the 90% level required of English-language services. This is in recognition of the significantly greater challenges involved in captioning French-language programming.

In the case of MusiquePlus, the licensee stated that all music video clips produced with the financial support of VideoFACT, MusiqueAction and the Harold Greenberg Fund are captioned. These represent more than half the music video clips broadcast by MusiquePlus. In the case of foreign music video clips, the licensee indicated that most of them are not captioned. The licensee is of the opinion that 90% of the Canadian music video clips broadcast by MusiquePlus will be close-captioned by the end of the new licence term. In addition, it will also attempt to ensure that 90% of pre-recorded programs produced by MusiquePlus, other than music video clips, are captioned by the end of the new licence term.

Consistent with this commitment and with the Commission’s general approach to French-language services, it expects the licensee to gradually increase the level of captioning it provides, and requires it, by condition of licence, to achieve a minimum captioning level of 50% for all programming, except music videos, aired during the broadcast day, beginning no later than 1 September 2006 and continuing throughout the remainder of the licence term.

[T]he Commission intends to require this service to provide captioning for a minimum of 90% of all programming other than music videos [at the next renewal]. Accordingly, the Commission encourages the licensee, by the end of the licence term, to caption 90% of all programming other than music videos during the broadcast day.

In addition, the Commission expects the licensee to focus on improving the quality, reliability and accuracy of closed captioning, and to work with representatives of the deaf and hard of hearing community to ensure that captioning continues to meet their needs. The Commission further expects the licensee to support and participate in any industry/community initiatives designed to improve the quality and quantity of captioning in French, particularly of real-time captioning.

Service to the visually impaired

At the hearing, the licensee suggested that video description has a far more effective role to play in the broadcast of drama productions than it does in the presentation of music videos. It indicated, however, that it already has access to a certain amount of the equipment required to provide video description, and that it was prepared to take all necessary steps to keep pace with the progress of other broadcasters in this area.

Again, let’s recap:

  1. The Commission buys the oft-repeated lie from French-language broadcasters that French is somehow hard to caption. For offline programming, it isn’t. For live programming, the problem is lack of trained staff, a problem that French-language broadcasters have had a decade and a half to solve. Maintaining scarcity of stenocaptioners, deliberately or through inaction, preserves the argument that captioning is too hard. The CRTC – the body with the poorest knowledge of captioning in the 819 area code – continues to accept all this nonsense as though it were fact.
  2. MusiquePlus utters the standard blandishments about captioning the videos it funds, but admits that other videos aren’t captioned and muses airily about other people solving the problem for exactly one category of music videos.
  3. They’ll caption everything but music videos, which are the raison d’être of the network in the first place.
  4. A bureaucracy run by hearing people regulating a company run by hearing people declares that only organizations representing deaf people have useful opinions about captioning.
  5. After changing the subject from music videos to other programming in the context of captioning, MusiquePlus changes the subject back to videos, claims they don’t need to be described, and completely ignores all the other programming on the station that, by implication, could and should be described.
  6. The licensee is told that 90% captioning of a mere portion of its programming might be required 14 years in the future. That would be 2015. Memo to the CRTC and CHUM: The Line 21 captioning system was invented in 1979 and has been in wide use since 1980. A deaf child born in that era would be out of a music-video network’s age range by the time it manages to come up with full captioning for part of its programming.

And yet again, the Commissions swallows this bolus in one gulp.


Let’s just stick with the 2004 license renewal for the moment.

[T]he licensee made a commitment to close[d-]caption 90% of all non-music programming, including presentations by program hosts, broadcast on MuchMoreMusic during each broadcast day of the new licence term by August 2005. The licensee estimated that it would cost $200,000 to caption 90% of all non-music programming immediately.

One intervener, Mr. Joe Clark, argued that music videos should be closed captioned.

In response to Mr. Clark, the licensee confirmed that all VideoFACT-funded videos are captioned:

It is a requirement of receiving VideoFACT funding that videos must be closed captioned. However, MuchMoreMusic has, in the past, not been immediately serviced with the closed-captioned versions, and therefore, non-captioned versions were broadcast on the service. We now no longer consider a VideoFACT-funded video for airplay until a captioned version has been received.

The Commission has generally extended some flexibility to those services with revenues under $10 million. It notes, however, that MuchMoreMusic earns more than $10 million in annual revenue. Furthermore, in the Commission’s view, the cost of offering closed captioning is part of the expense of holding a broadcasting licence.

In light of the above and consistent with its general approach for English-language services, the Commission is imposing a condition of licence requiring the licensee to close caption at least 90% of all non-music programming, including presentations by program hosts, aired during the broadcast day, beginning not later than 1 September 2004. [...]

The Commission expects that, during the new licence term, the licensee will focus on improving the quality, reliability and accuracy of its closed captioning, and work with representatives of the deaf and hard of hearing community to ensure that captioning continues to meet their needs.

The Commission further expects the licensee to fulfil its commitment that VideoFACT-funded videos will not be considered for airplay until a captioned version has been provided. In addition, the Commission encourages the licensee to ensure that all videos are captioned.

Service to persons who are blind or whose vision is impaired

[...] The licensee stated that CHUM channels follow guidelines governing the use of voice-overs to accompany on-screen text information. It further indicated that it is CHUM’s policy to inform existing and new producers about the importance of accessibility to television for all people.

The licensee also indicated that MuchMoreMusic is not currently technically equipped for described video, but added that the service could be equipped within 90 days of the resolution of the outstanding delivery issues described in Public Notice 2004-2. Furthermore, the licensee submitted that while MuchMoreMusic does not believe that specific commitments to described video are appropriate for a music video service, it undertakes to obtain and broadcast described versions of programming whenever they are available.

The Commission expects that, during the new licence term, the licensee will:

  1. provide audio description wherever appropriate;
  2. acquire and broadcast the described versions of a program wherever possible; and
  3. take the necessary steps to ensure that its customer service responds to the needs of viewers who have visual impairments.

Once more, let’s unpack:

  1. The applicant, already raking in more than $10 million on its network, bellyaches that it would cost 2% of that value to caption 90% of one part of its programming.
  2. The Commission completely ignores the fact that music videos are a core component of MuchMoreMusic’s programming and yet again, for the umpteenth time, refuses to require captioning of videos. (Here as elsewhere, it is not clear why licensees’ statements about voluntary captioning of music videos are worth repeating but a discussion of required captioning can never take place.)
  3. We have the usual blandishment from hearing people at a “regulator,” in the course of renewing other hearing people’s broadcast licence, that only deaf groups have a viable opinion about captioning.
  4. MuchMoreMusic talks up its non-video programming, which it is now required to caption, but pretends such programming does not exist in the context of audio description. Videos and non-video programming can all be described.
  5. It argues that its broadcast plant is not set up to transmit description, which might well be a deliberate decision to make such an argument possible at a later CRTC hearing. In any case, neither the applicant nor the Commission bothers to mention that open description can always be broadcast.
  6. The Commission provides the blandishment that MuchMoreMusic should air described versions when possible, which the licensee went right ahead and ignored. (To give two examples, Moulin Rouge and, inexplicably, Daddy Day Care were two movies aired on MuchMoreMusic for which description tracks are available. In the former case, it’s right there on the commercial DVD.)

And one further time, the CRTC rubber-stamps this malarkey.

The current application

Listen, people, time’s up. MuchMusic has been running an inaccessible service for 20 years, aided and abetted by CRTC commissioners who could not possibly imagine why it and its sibling stations could ever be of interest to deaf or blind viewers.

The licensee, from what I can gather from précis of its deliberately concealed renewal documents, proposes to drop its music-video mix from 65% to 50%. Surely if videos are so unimportant now, it will not be a problem to caption all of them. (It’s already happening to music videos inside programs like Much on Demand.) A telecaster cannot caption 90% of its broadcast day, as the wealther stations in this country must do, while ignoring half the broadcast day.

Of course this is going to cost money. CHUM hates spending money, unless of course the result is a schmooze party or a video awards show. CHUM has elsewhere attempted to bargain its way out of a 90% captioning commitment because, by gosh, it would have to spend money on that. And heck, hitting 90% captioning of a mere portion of MuchMoreMusic would have cost two hundred thousand dollars. Imagine what discharging its full obligations under the Broadcasting Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Charter might cost!

But in both those cases, the Commission showed unaccustomed backbone and reminded the applicant that captioning is a cost of doing business. So it is here, too.

No matter how much it bruises the egos of CRTC commissioners and petit(e)s fonctionnaires, it’s time to admit that giving music-video stations a pass on accessibility of music videos was, and is, a mistake. Grow up and admit it, please. You blew it then (in fact, you blew it over and over again), but you can’t blow it anymore. If voluntary captioning of videos is OK because it makes them accessible to deaf viewers, required captioning must also be OK. The Commission and the broadcaster have statutory duties to provide “programming accessible by disabled persons... as resources become available for the purpose.” The resources are there already, as the CRTC has already determined through its test of income thresholds.

Hence, I submit that the licence cannot be renewed without requiring MuchMusic to caption 90% of its broadcast day irrespective of category of programming. Caption the whole thing wall to wall.

Next, audio description. Really, time’s up there, too, people. CITY-TV and related stations air described programming. Technical managers know what equipment needs to be installed. (Even in their worst estimates, installation takes a mere 90 days.) If music videos are no longer all that important to MuchMusic’s programming, then surely the more-important non-music programming is a priority for description. Neither the Commission nor broadcasters gets to pick and choose which entire categories of programming shall remain inaccessible to blind and visually-impaired viewers.

And just a note to the Commission: If you’re thinking of applying your usual nonsense about audio description – in the first instance, misnaming it, and in the second instance, requiring a mere two hours a week, one of which can be a repeat – be advised that partial accessibility is tantamount to no accessibility. Two hours a week was the quota attempted in Europe for a demonstration project 13 years ago (Audetel 1993). Let me put it in terms that Commission staff might understand: If a retail store in Ottawa proposed having French-speaking staff available a mere two hours a week, you’d file a complaint so fast your fleur-de-lys would spin.

Little bits and pieces of accessibility, as with voluntary music-video captioning or a wee bit of description here and there, do not constitute equal treatment on the basis of disability. Since the Commission prefers to work in galactic seven-year terms, how about doing something right for a change, like requiring this exceedingly rich and established station to describe 90% of its non-music-video programming by the end of the license term and, say, some portion of music-video programming? (I’m sure The Wedge or The Punk Show would do fine for a start.)

Now, really, folks, what’s your counterargument gonna be here?


Posted: 2006.04.06

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