Authority seeks to preserve public service television in Cayman

Certain types of programming – deemed to be public service broadcasting – will be retained in any new formula for ensuring viewers have access to local content on television.

The Information Communications and Technology Authority said it would not be enough for cable television companies to meet their local content obligations by “sticking a webcam out the window” or re-broadcasting government television.

However, the authority will not seek to require every broadcaster to run its own television channel as ICTA re-examines regulations related to mandatory community programming.

Managing Director Alee Fa’amoe said they are looking for a formula that preserves access to certain types of television – including news, weather and government information – without putting an undue burden on business.

One possible solution, he said, is for Cayman 27 or an equivalent channel, should one emerge, to become a “must carry” channel on all networks, potentially financed by contributions from all licensees.

He acknowledged this is “fraught with commercial issues,” however, and said ICTA is still working with the companies on finding the right formula.

ICTA’s investigation was sparked after WestStar complained that it was at an unfair advantage because it ran Cayman 27 at a financial loss to fulfill an obligation to produce local content, while new entrants to the market, such as LIME and Logic met their obligations with CIGTV or lower budget lifestyle programming. Logic and WestStar have since joined forces.

ICTA has not yet made a decision on how it is going to deal with the issue, but Mr. Fa’Amoe said that whatever the solution, it will ensure access for all to public service broadcasting.

He said, “We have been talking to the industry about the options and the ways and means of accomplishing what we are calling public service broadcasting.

“You could put a webcam out the window and call it local content, but what we are trying to do is define a set of requirements, modeled on what other countries have put in place, to preserve elements of news, culture and public information.”

He said Cayman’s market is too small to support competing local television channels and suggested one option would be for all broadcasters to carry Cayman 27 and pay toward its production costs. But he said ICTA is hesitant to involve itself in commercial discussions and wants the industry to help come up with a formula that ensures certain types of community programming are available to all.

“We want to ensure the consumer has access to public service broadcasting – how that’s done, whether through advertising or a universal service fund is less of a concern.”

He said it is unlikely that a solution will be reached in the near future, since discussions are on the back burner until next year.

But he said ICTA has made some fundamental decisions already.

“It is a certainty that we won’t ask each licensee to set up their own television station, that would be too great a burden for not a lot of return for the consumer.

“Public service broadcasting isn’t about choice, it is about access to certain types of information of interest to the community. CIGTV cannot be the only choice and would not meet the intention of public service broadcasting – it is the mouthpiece of the government in power on the day. There needs to be more diversity and independence on the public broadcasting menu.”

Currently new entrants to the television market, such as LIME, have an obligation written into their license to produce a certain amount of local content every day. WestStar has no direct licensing obligation but argues that Cayman 27 was set up in response to a mandate from government requiring it to produce local news and other community programming.

The company argued, in submissions to ICTA during a consultation on local content this year, that the definition of such content needed to be more strictly defined to avoid WestStar being at an unfair advantage.

The company suggested that the other networks could purchase Cayman 27 to fulfill a more stringently defined obligation to produce community programming.

The issue has been complicated by the company’s takeover by Logic. There is no record of Logic’s response to the ICTA consultation.

LIME, in its response to the call for inputs, argued that local television rules should be as light as possible and rely to a large extent on market forces.

“Otherwise, the resources of the competitors risk being wasted on complying with needless bureaucracy, instead of being used to provide the highest quality services possible to their customers and audiences.”

Mr. Fa’Amoe said it is a complicated issue with “a lot of moving parts,” but he said he is confident that a solution could be found.

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