The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced an ultra-important public hearing scheduled for Fall 2007 to decide on foreign ownership regulations for media in Canada. The Commission is inviting written submissions – deadline July 18, 2007. All Canadians are invited to submit their recommendations and comments. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that most Canadians never hear of these public hearings and most of the submissions received by the CRTC are from industry representatives. This is a critical opportunity to intervene to ensure what few protections that do still exist for diversity in the Canadian broadcasting system remain in place, and maybe to re-invigorate and expand them.
Under the “diversity of voices” provisions of the Canadian Broadcast Act, the Canadian broadcast system is supposed to “ensure that the broadcasting system offers a diversity of voices…
“…and that programming reflecting the concerns of all Canadians has reasonable access to the system”. One of the key areas of regulation to ensure diversity of voices is ownership, i.e. who should be allowed to own Canadian media and how much media should single owners be allowed to own. The CRTC wants to re-write ownership regulations and is asking Canadians for their input.
Over the past 20 years, we have experienced in Canada a steady erosion of ownership restrictions. Foreign investment restrictions for Canadian telecoms and broadcast companies were introduced in 1987 requiring that Canadian media companies be 80% Canadian owned (and operated by Canadian-citizen directors). This figure has dwindled to 53.3%. This hearing could very well be a prelude to a further erosion of these the restrictions.
For an excellent summary of Canadian media ownership policies see Losing Canadian Culture: The Danger of Foreign Ownership of Telecom by Julie White.
The questions being asked by the CRTC for the Fall hearing include:
*What criteria should the Commission use in order to evaluate the impact of ownership transactions on the diversity of voices in a market?
*Does common ownership of distribution undertakings [i.e. cable companies] raise concerns with respect to diversity of voices? If so, how should these concerns be addressed?
*How should the Commission balance the need to encourage strong broadcast undertakings capable of contributing to the objectives of the Act with the need to ensure a diversity of voices in the broadcasting system?
*Many Canadian broadcasters own both television and radio undertakings in the same market. Does this raise any significant concerns with respect to diversity of voices?
*Should the Commission consider measures to encourage greater diversity of voices in respect of the ownership of both radio and TV? If so, what measures might be effective?
*The Commission has permitted the ownership, by one entity, of both distribution and programming undertakings. To what extent, if any, has this affected the diversity of voices in the broadcasting system?
*The Commission has no policies with respect to the cross-ownership of licensed broadcasting undertakings and new media undertakings. Is such a policy necessary or appropriate? If so, why? If not, why not?
All Canadians have a stake in this decision-making process. Spread the word. Encourage individuals and groups with an interest in Canadian media to respond. The more the CRTC hears from Canadians (and not just large telecom companies and broadcasters) the more likely the regulatory changes will reflect democratic needs rather than market needs.
Check out CRTC Notice of Public Hearing 2007-5 for more information.
Also check out
Our Cultural Sovereignty – The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting: Report by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (June 11, 2003) for a comprehensive review of the Canadian broadcasting system.