Phillip Smith

Letter to the CRTC: Diversity of Voices Proceeding

Today is the last day to have your voice heard on the CRTC's "Diversity of Voices Proceeding." Please take a moment today to send in your own comments -- the future of Canadian media depends on it.

Looking south of our borders, we can see the impact of the concentration of media ownership; the Telecommunications Act of 1996 lead the way by allowing a company to own multiple media properties (including multiple properties in the same market). However, thanks to the work of the Prometheus Project, a further loosening by the FTC was stopped in 2004. The compelling argument for not loosening the regulations further: concentration of ownership means less ownership diversity. Put in plain words, it means that people like you and I will not have access to the public airwaves. (And, if you're part of a traditionally "under-represented" community -- forget about it.)

So, if the media remains in the hands of the old guard, what happens to the under-represented views? Views from the Majority World, women, other political ideologies, and critics of the status quo? Well, basically, you don't get them. I haven't done the digging required to see if there's any research available on this, but my bet would be that there isn't a lot of women-owned Canadian radio or TV stations; double that for people of colour.

Many will point to the Internet as the alternative to corporate-owned media, as our safe place from increasing the impact of media mergers that streamline the life out of daily news. However, that is simply a distraction, and as quaint an argument as invoking the CBC as protector of the public voice. Again, the US has lead the way in demonstrating that the "Blogosphere" -- if you look across the spectrum of the A-list bloggers -- is still presenting the (predominantly Caucasian, and almost entirely male) established and entrenched perspective on most issues. Add to that the "digital divide" that still exists right here in Canada -- especially when it comes to computer literacy -- and you've got less diversity online than you do in the traditional media marketplace. One thing is for sure: the Internet will not be Canada's saviour.

These airwaves are owned by the Canadian people, so radio should not be controlled exclusively by corporate, or foreign, interests. The cable and fibre that delivers TV to Canadian homes would not have been possible without the infrastructure -- roads, electricity, and human resources -- that has been paid for by Canadian taxpayers. Even the printed news benefits from the collective resources that belong to all Canadians, or that have been subsidized by Canadian tax dollars. Corporate media gets a free ride on Canadian roads: it's that simple.

And what do Canadians get in return? We get McRadio and McTV. We get flavourless, un-critical, mass-produced news. We get stories that don't upset advertisers. We get stories that play to a national audience, when what we need more of is local reporting. We get Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, when what we need more of is objective reporting on issues that effect Canadians.

Just take an hour to catch-up on the Conrad Black trial proceedings to get a sense of the intentions -- and the motivations! -- of corporate media moguls. If they're not trying to influence editorial with their own political bias, then they're trying to stretch every last advertising dollar as far as it can go. The result of this streamlining is dwindling and overworked editorial staff and less resources in the newsroom for original reporting, which all leads to more press-released-based reporting without time or resources for fact-checking or proper editorial oversight. This all leads to a shift toward the safe "middle ground" on all of the issues (don't want to upset those advertisers), or hard right into the fast lane of the corporate PR machine.

What Canada needs from the CRTC, and from our elected officials, is well-articulated policy that benefits all Canadians, and not just the Canadians who own large media outlets. We need to protect the diversity of our media ecosystem, and that means more financial support for community-based media and public broadcasters, and less "voluntary" compliance with rules, regulations, and contributions to community media funds. And, finally, we need policy that ensures that large, corporate, media companies are not allowed to continue to consolidate their holdings and to monopolize markets at the expensive of Canadian programming and a diversity of voices.

Today is the last day to send your comments to the CRTC on these issues. You can either use the pre-filled letter provided by the Canadians for Democratic Media, or use the CRTC's comment submission form. My (less colourfully worded) comment submission is attached below for reference.

About

Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.

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