Canadians in five federal ridings have so far petitioned Parliament for support for community-operated TV and media centres. The petition was presented first by Rodger Cuzner of Cape-Breton-Canso on December 2nd, and then last week by two other Liberals (Karen Ludwig of New Brunswick Southwest and Will Amos of the Pontiac) and two NDP members (Pierre Nantel, Culture Critic and Anne Minh-Thu-Quach from Salaberry-Siroît). The petition asks for community media centres to ensure that Canadians have access to adequate news and information that reflects their communities, and to develop skills to participate in the digital economy.
The petition is timely. The CRTC announced a new local and community TV policy in June that redirects the majority of Canada’s community TV budget to private news stations, just when communities need this infrastructure the most, according to Catherine Edwards, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS). “In an environment of intense media ownership concentration, we need a balance for commercial news, which is now almost all produced by the same vertically integrated companies that sell us cable, satellite, and Internet. There’s no CTV and Global anymore… it’s just Bell, Rogers, Shaw, and Videotron. And they produce news only in large markets.”
The Heritage Minister also recently concluded a consultation with Canadians called “Canadian Content in a Digital World”, in which the role of different media and their contributions in the digital world are being evaluated. Community media has long been a launching pad for new skills and talent. Community media organizations such as CACTUS member Regent Park Focus in Toronto teach video game production, coding and web design in addition to traditional media including video and audio.
Finally, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage has been conducting a study into “Media and Local Communities” since the spring. Community media can produce local content for one tenth the cost of public or private media sources, by leveraging community partnerships and the contributions of ordinary citizens. CACTUS and other witnesses pointed out that with Canada’s huge geography and sparsely distributed population, community media continues to be the only viable option outside major centres.
William Amos, who presented the petition on behalf of residents of the Pontiac north of Ottawa, said he supported the petition because community media centres “render democracy more accessible and transparent” by enabling all Canadians to have a voice.
CACTUS is partnering with other organizations to develop the community media centre vision, including public libraries. John Savage, who represented public libraries in the CRTC review of community TV policy explained “Many public libraries are evolving into community media centres. They need to be more than just passive information sources. They need to facilitate communities to see themselves, engage in dialogue, and to participate actively in our democracy. Public libraries are an extensive, underutilized network; funding and strategic partnerships with government are necessary to grow them into fully functional digital community media centres.”