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Legislative assembly returns to the airwaves

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - When the 15th Legislative Assembly convenes for its last session Aug. 15 before this year's territorial election, a new system designed to broadcast proceedings across the NWT will be tested for the first time.

"We're hoping to have it up and running for the territorial leadership committee which follows the election," said Tim Mercer, clerk for the Legislative Assembly, of the meeting where newly-elected MLAs select their premier. "It's a pretty high-profile event so we want to go live with it."

Removed from live television broadcast two years ago after financial wranglings between the territorial government and Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), debates in the legislature were relegated to the internet, radio and sporadic pre-taped community broadcasts.

Mercer said the new system, created by Telesat Canada, will beam debates to a satellite, which will then redirect the feed to local cable providers and through the airwaves in real time.

"If your community doesn't have a cable provider and you just have rabbit ears, you'll now get a legislative assembly channel in addition to CBC and APTN," Mercer added.

Under the previous $100,000 contract with APTN, debates from the assembly were broadcast three times a day in two languages: generally English and the aboriginal "language of the day." Mercer said APTN wanted $180,000 to continue its relationship with the assembly.

The new Legislative Assembly broadcasting solution cost $250,000 to establish, and will cost $250,000 annually to maintain.

Coverage can be broadcast in up to four languages.

"This is much better than APTN as they were only going to give us one rebroadcast a day," said Mercer.

"This will allow us to broadcast whenever we want and it will allow us to add committee meetings, and public events in the Great Hall. And further down the road we could offer satellite time to other organizations."