"The Shattered Mirror" and "Canadian Content in a Digital World" Ignore Community Media
Two reports were recently published concerning Canadian media: "The Shattered Mirror" by the Public Policy Forum regarding news and "Canadian Content in the Digital World" by Ipsos Reid, under contract from Canadian Heritage. The latter report deals more generally with Canadian content production in the dynamic digital environment. Canadian Heritage also provided some of the funding for "The Shattered Mirror".
The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) and the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec (la Fédération) agree with the reports' main observations: increasing media concentration among ownership groups, falling revenues from traditional news resulting in less regional content, and the rise of social media as sources of news and information of questionable credibility.
However, if 'Information is as vital to democracy as pure air, safe streets, good schools and public health', as states The Shattered Mirror' (CACTUS cited the same 2009 Knight Foundation report in our submission to DigiCanCon), we are surprised and disappointed to find no mention of community TV and media and their long-understood contribution to democratic local expression and civic journalism.
For 50 years, community TV and media have ensured a participative and democratic media landscape, and a local information offering that has all but disappeared from the big media groups, not to mention our role in enabling emerging and established journalists and creators to learn new skills and test ideas on low-risk local platforms. Community media are the 'farm teams' that drive our creative industries.
If civic journalism is marching rapidly 'to the precipice' as The Shattered Mirror states, it is a disservice to the reports' readers that the alternative offered by our members goes unmentioned. Our members, along with those of the National Community Radio Association, the Association des radios communautaires du Québec and the Association des radios communautaires du Canada include almost 200 CRTC-licensed entities, in addition to 50 incorporated but unlicensed production groups that contribute what little civic journalism remains on the community stations of cable companies, such as Rogers TV, Shaw TV and TVCogeco.
Community media are stated in the Broadcasting Act as constituting one of three pillars of our system. Canada is widely credited with having invented the institution. As a nation we figured out 50 years ago that our geography is too vast and our population too dispersed to serve everyone with public- and private-sector news bureaux. We have TV stations in Valemount, British Columbia (population 1400) and in Wikwemikong First Nation in Ontario, and a newly launched radio station in Baie Verte, Newfoundland. It's a lesson we seem to have forgotten. Canada has always had a small and fragile media economy, dependent on government support. Community media are our secret weapon.
In any process of taking stock of our media resouces moving forward, how was it possible therefore to ignore a whole sector? The public- and private-sector broadcasters that everyone agrees are not filling the gaps were certainly mentioned.
Unlike online-only platforms that are the subject of 'fake news' concerns captured in the two reports, community broadcasters are licensed, and directed by trained journalists who catalyze, guide and curate content in communities that would otherwise have no voice. And we do this for 1/10th the cost of the public and private sectors. Put another way, for every federal dollar spent on the public or private sector, we can produce 10 times as much or serve 10 times as many communities, while fulfilling civic engagement and creative incubation roles for our media industries to boot.
We note that the Ipsos Reid report captures ideas from roundtables held across the country to which our members were not invited, overseen by an 'expert advisory panel' from which our sector was excluded.
If the report-writers had considered our written submissions, they would have seen that we proposed an Option C (community), alongside the Options A and B proposed in "The Shattered Mirror". It's a system that's already in place, functional, but under-funded and in jeopardy of losing the remainder of its financing if the disastrous recommendations of CRTC 2016-224 go into effect in September (a danger mentioned only in passing in "The Shattered Mirror"). Option C for COMMUNITY is efficient, realistic, and sustainable, compared to propping up the broken private system that is front and centre in the reports. Bandaids, like the CRTC's redirection of almost the entire national budget for community media to private news, are not the answer. Reinforcing community media—rather than destroying it—would fulfill many of the objectives identified in these reports.