Volume 41, Number 6: November/December 2007

Taking On Big Media in Canada

Progressive-minded Canadians have long been concerned that private media concentration threatens democratic values. In June, 2006, even the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications Report on the Canadian News Media warned that there are “areas where the concentration of ownership has reached levels that few other countries would consider acceptable.”

Consolidation was supposed to aggregate resources to allow for the production of quality programming for a relatively small but diverse and dispersed population. In actual fact, consolidation has meant the loss by Canadians of crucial access to a diverse range of information and viewpoints about our communities, our country and the world – and lost access to a means of expressing ourselves to a mass audience.

As the focus of governments and policy makers has shifted toward strengthening commercial media, public broadcasters have been defunded (forced to rely increasingly on commercial revenue) or privatized outright. The CBC, for example, receives from Parliament half of what it received twenty years ago on a per-capita basis, and Canada ranks sixteenth out of eighteen industrialized countries in terms of public financing for public broadcasting. The community-media sector – a vibrant site of domestic programming and public participation, in some countries – remains relatively weak because of a lack of dedicated funding and regulatory support.

The result is that our media reinforces a narrow frame of public debate and dialogue, diminishing Canadians’ sense of new and different possibilities and alternatives to everything from political issues to our everyday lives. This loss is especially felt by progressive movements for social change, and by people who in general have less access to power in society.

In media as much as in healthcare, most Canadians do not benefit when private profits are put ahead of public responsibilities. But public-interest decision-making can only be brought about by a popularly based common front that challenges those who currently dominate the policy process: well-organized corporate-media lobbies that are laying the groundwork for widespread deregulation of the industry.

Fortunately, such a common front is emerging. Canadians for Democratic Media (CDM) is a campaign-oriented, movement-building media-reform organization. Its primary goal is to increase informed public participation in Canadian media-policy formation. It seeks to generate policies that will produce a more competitive, diverse and public service-oriented media system with a strong non-profit and non-commercial sector. Participants of this building network include civil society, labour and media-advocacy groups, prominent academics, grassroots media activists and Canadians from across the country.

Campaigning to diversify Big Media is a classic David-and-Goliath struggle. But in the U.S., led by flagship organizations like Free Press, an estimated three million Americans successfully petitioned politicians and the American broadcast regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, to forestall the FCC’s efforts to further erode limits to media concentration. Backed by a growing mass base, Free Press and its many public-interest allies are now recognized policy “players.”

There’s no reason we couldn’t achieve something similar in Canada. Working with existing progressive organizations, CDM has already run a “Stop the Big Media Takeover” campaign, generating several thousand e-mail letters and briefs to the CRTC’s call for input on media diversity and concentration last summer. Polls show that the Canadian public is already onside on media issues. It’s just a matter of getting organized and giving the issue political traction.

For more information about Canadians for Democratic Media, please visit www.democraticmedia.ca.

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