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Regional council to fight TVO privatization

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The Northwest Regional Council for TV Ontario has pledged to fight the Harris government's attempts to privatize the public broadcaster.

And the campaign is starting immediately.

At its quarterly meeting held at Ross's Camp last Friday and Saturday, the regional council decided to make people aware of what privatization of the public broadcaster could mean to people living in Northwestern Ontario.

“We have been working extremely hard, in terms of volunteers, on a strategy to let people in our communities know what's happening and the potential impact of losing TVO as a public broadcaster,” chairman Dwight Gessie said.

Gessie stressed privatization is “bottom-line driven," and warned switching to a profit-generating operation would result in "American TV.”

He added the province has cut its budget to TVO from $67 million down to $49 million over the past six years.

“We cannot let Mr. Harris and the government take TVO away,” echoed Sue Flemming, the local rep on the council, who said there aren't a lot of broadcasters available in Northwestern Ontario unless people had cable—and then they were getting American television.

Flemming noted many educators use programs in the classroom, and that others take distance education courses through it. She also stressed TVO carries non-violent, educational programing that reaches 98.5 percent of Ontario households.

And that, she added, boils down to 1.25 cents per day per person—or $1.50 a month for a family of four.

Because of the impact privatization would have on local residents, Gessie said the council has lobbied intensely to bring public meetings to the region

“We expect Thunder Bay will definitely be a site and we're hoping to get Sioux Lookout on there as well because of the significant importance to the First Nations of the TVOntario signal,” Gessie added, with announcement of dates and places expected within the next week.

Kenina Kakekayash, director of Wawatay News, said as a broadcaster, they tapped into the TVO signal to provide 35 of the region's 45 First Nations with radio and television in their own language.

And 23 of the 35 are able to offer a long-distance education link to the remote communities.

“TVO happens to be the key player in our organization,” Kakekayash stressed.

Because of its link is so vital, Wawatay already has started working to keep TVO public. Last month, it went silent for two days in protest of possible privatization.

And in July, it started sending letters to the chiefs of each of the First Nations, as well as the provincial and national chiefs, asking for resolutions from band councils supporting TVO as a public broadcaster.

A spokesperson for Rob Sampson, the minister responsible for privatization, could not be reached for comment by press time.

In related news, the regional council also is looking into fundraising ideas to help generate both awareness and money for TVO.

The councils, which came into being in 1970, monitor programing, advise TVO of the issues and concerns in their region, raise awareness of TVO, and do fundraising.

“Our role is basically the legs in the community we serve,” Gessie noted.

A dozen people currently sit on the Northwestern Regional Council, with three seats still vacant. It meets four times a year—twice in Thunder Bay, and once east and once west of there.

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