Canadian media democracy movement finds new focus

by Antonia Zerbisias, Toronto Star

Coming to a TV near you!

More commercials! More simulcasts that clip your favourite U.S. shows! Higher cable fees! Less Canadian drama and local news!

Kidding.

None of these are on the horizon. They've already arrived, so slowly that, like that proverbial frog in the pot, citizens didn't notice how badly they were being burned.

You can thank the cozy relationship between Canada's corporate media and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Yes, that's the CRTC, probably the most hated government body after the Canada Revenue Agency, especially when those much-hyped Super Bowl ads get replaced with Canadian commercials.

Which is why, yesterday, during a conference call of media activists, lawyers, academics, labour groups and cultural nationalists, the CRTC became the target of a new media democracy movement.

Yesterday's first order of business was to organize a grassroots campaign to get Canadians to write to the CRTC by July 18, the deadline for its September hearings on media concentration and diversity.

You can bet big media interests will be well represented and their submissions well covered. But what about the public interest?

"The movement has been kind of asleep for the last few years," says Steve Anderson, founder of the Center for Information Awareness, who moderated the conference call. "But there's been a lot of news lately and I think that's woken a lot of people up."

Trouble was, the "movement" lacked cohesiveness and a focus.

Yesterday, it found both.

There was consensus that the concentration hearing was the perfect flash point for getting CRTC-haters, once they were made aware of the issues, to fire off emails.

After all, media companies solicit comments – complete with suggested wording – from clients and community groups. Why can't citizens' groups do the same and force the CRTC to stop ignoring the concerns of ordinary Canadians?

Consider two recent CRTC proceedings. One is on the application by CTVglobemedia to take over CHUM. (Torstar, which owns the Star, has a 20 per cent stake in CTV.) The other is the decision that allows the networks to increase the ads they air every hour.

Last week, the Globe and Mail, which is in the same corporate stable as CTVglobemedia, ran an opinion piece by professor Paul Boin of the U. of Windsor's communications faculty. He argued that the CRTC, under its current chair Konrad von Finckenstein, was more intent on protecting corporate profits than consumers.

"Canada's private networks have forgotten that the public owns the channels their content is distributed on," he wrote.

Yesterday, the Globe ran an editorial shooting down Boin's arguments as well as the Broadcasting Act, which dictates that the system must "serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada." The editorial called for less regulation, not more.

Fine. So how about dropping the regulatory protection of simulcasts? CTV, which just picked up the NFL, should not be blocking and tackling the U.S. feed. Right?

As if the editorial mentions that.

Instead, the CRTC tells us we can regulate broadcasters with our remote controls.

Oh yeah. We can click to another channel, likely owned by the same companies.

What the media reform movement hopes to do is show that Canadians can pull the plug on this arrangement with another kind of click ... a click of their mouse.

article originally published at http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/221490.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey