Community media can play a pivotal role in Canada’s disrupted news environment
Date: Monday April 3, 2017
Editor’s note: Following the publication of The Shattered Mirror, our report on news, democracy and trust in the digital age, the PPF is continuing the conversation on this crucial policy topic. Today, we are sharing an article from CACTUS, The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (@CACTUS62), which participated in our roundtables and made a submission to our consultations.
The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) and the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec (la Fédération) believe community media have a pivotal role to play in the evolving news ecology.
Community media offer a cost-effective and nuanced response to the woes outlined in the Shattered Mirror―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―and deserve more attention.
While the report briefly mentioned the CRTC’s 2016 decision to redirect almost the entire national community TV budget―the better part of $150 million―to support for-profit local TV news, we would like to elaborate on why the decision will have a net negative impact on communities. Enabling BDUs (Broadcasting Distribution Undertakings) to redirect monies meant to support community media to their own news properties will further reduce editorial diversity and undermine the capacity of community media to fulfill its mandate.
In an environment in which traditional journalism is challenged to serve all but the largest markets on the one hand, and there is a concern about ‘fake news’ on the Internet on the other, community media are the magic bullet in the middle
Community media constitute one of three pillars of the broadcasting system under the Broadcasting Act, along with the public and private sectors. There are 170 licensed community radio stations in Canada and about 150 cable and not-for-profit community-operated television stations. These entities operate primarily in markets not served by the public and private sectors.
In an environment in which traditional journalism is challenged to serve all but the largest markets on the one hand, and there is a concern about ‘fake news’ on the Internet on the other, community media are the magic bullet in the middle that:
i) serve smaller markets with local news and information.
ii) are led by trained journalists who co-ordinate the efforts of citizen journalists on licensed platforms overseen by the CRTC.
iii) produce local news and information for one-tenth the cost of the public and private sectors (averaging $500/hour of content compared to over $6000/hour in the public and private sectors).
The CRTC figured out 50 years ago that in a country as geographically large and with as dispersed a population as Canada, community media are the only answer to serving smaller markets and minority voices. This is equally true today, as we see in the widespread concerns expressed about the lack of standards in reporting on the open Internet. Community media provide the licensed and accountable infrastructure by which small markets can be served. It is vital that the impacts of the CRTC’s recent policy decision (2016–224) in undermining this sector be considered in the evolving national policy discussions begun by the “Shattered Mirror”.
To read the full submission of CACTUS to the Public Policy Forum’s consultation, click here.
Related links and research:
To read the submissions of la Fédération (not specific to the PPF report, but capturing recent data regarding community TV and its impact in Quebec), please see the following links: