2 min

Struggle for your TV set

PrideVision, viewers challenge cable giant

MUST CARRY. PrideVision's Anna McCusker says Shaw and Star Choice are breaking the rules. Credit: Xtra files

Just one cent and some remote control button-pushing stands between two million Canadians and the world’s first queer TV channel, PrideVision.

But it’s that one cent that’s being called a human rights violation and a breach of Canadian broadcast regulations.

“It’s singling out PrideVision and treating us differently than the other stations,” says Anna McCusker, the channel’s vice president of marketing.

PrideVision launched with 40 other new channels on Sep 7. The 2-million Canadians who have digital TV service through cable or satellite were supposed to get three months of free previews to entice them into subscribing.

They’re getting previews of all the channels on Rogers and Bell ExpressVu (where PrideVision will cost $7.95 a month). But Shaw Cable and Shaw-owned Star Choice satellite is making it hard to get PrideVision. For the gay-themed channel, they must perform a complicated operation on their system, call the company and pay one cent.

After a complaint from PrideVision, the Canadian Radio-television And Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruled last Friday that Shaw and Star Choice must treat it like other the other stations. When Xtra went to press Tuesday, Shaw and Star Choice had still not complied with the ruling, though a customer service rep with Star Choice said compliance would be happening soon.

“The CRTC states all channels must be treated equally,” says McCusker. They’re also asking that Shaw and Star Choice extend PrideVision’s availability so it has three full free months’ trial.

Shaw has been mum on the issue (it didn’t return calls to this paper), but it’s hard to speculate their reasons are anything other than discomfort with gay, lesbian and trans-themed material.

In its written response to the CRTC, Shaw maintains that it is not discriminating against PrideVision.

“It would be irresponsible of us,” wrote Shaw CEO Jim Shaw, to broadcast “adult entertainment” into people’s homes without their permission. Offering the gay channel on a “request-only basis” is the best solution.

Shaw and Star Choice do carry Sex TV and have for years carried Showcase – famous for steamy shows like Oz and The Red Shoe Diaries and even the raunchy British show Queer As Folk. PrideVision’s programming includes Queer As Folk and some late-night erotica.

“We say that limited erotic content meets all applicable standards,” says McCusker. “There is other more explicit content elsewhere.”

While PrideVision fights over broadcast regulations, a Vancouver man is filing a human rights complaint about Shaw’s behaviour.

Peter Cook says that he’s being discriminated against as a gay person by Shaw. His lawyer, Barbara Findlay, says Shaw must offer PrideVision free for three months, that they must include PrideVision in their advertising and that the must apologize for their handling of the channel.

“Shaw is denying Mr Cook a service being made available to the public, on the basis of his sexual orienation,” says Findlay. “By doing this, they’re say that anything for gays and lesbians is about sex and that’s not true.”