It's not a question of if we can have a digital media revolution; it’s a question of what kind of revolution we want to have.
The signs of a media system in transition are everywhere, visible both through our use of media and in media policy. Canadians now spend more time online than in front of the TV, the government has collapsed the Canadian Television Fund and the Canadian New Media Fund into one $350 million dollar "Canadian Media Fund" with a focus on content for "multiple platforms", and the government is about to embark on a national consultation concerning Canada's digital strategy.
The questions become: do we want a media revolution where the same big media and telecom giants reestablish and expand their control? Or do we want a media revolution that provides new opportunities for Canadian media makers and consumers -- a media revolution that produces platforms for arts and culture, innovation, sharing, dialogue and debate, and community building?
You can make the difference
The good news is that there are ample opportunities for Canadians to get involved in the transformation of media. If together we engage at the right moments, we can work with policy makers and politicians to guarantee a new media ecology that is by and for us.
The immediate challenge is that the government is not openly inviting us into upcoming key historic media policy decisions. For example, the Canadian Media Fund is currently undergoing a consultation process with industry to define its priorities. From what I've heard, much of the independent media world isn't being invited to contribute to this process. Big Media like CTV, Canwest, and Rogers/CityTV on the other hand, have guaranteed "envelopes" of millions of dollars each. For some reason the CBC will receive $6 million less than it received under the previous arrangements.
Why would a media fund dedicated to "innovation" and "leveling the playing field" provide guaranteed envelopes of cash to old media outlets that are the least likely to innovate, while not even consulting with many of the media innovators in this country? Furthermore, why has neither the public nor many media innovators in this country been consulted, especially when there exists clear evidence that public and independent media organizations are more likely to provide innovative content and services.
Most importantly, the industry consultation neglects citizens -- you and I -- who will be responsible for contributing $134.7 million per year to the fund. Shouldn't we have a role in deciding how the money is spent?
Digital strategy for who?
As I've previously written, the process of digital strategy policy formation presents us with a key point of engagement for the advancement of Canadian culture, innovation, and social justice. Last month, Industry Minister Tony Clement announced a national consultation on Canada's impending "digital economy strategy". The policies that come out of that consultation should address issues like broadband access, Internet Openness (also known as Net Neutrality), support for Canadian culture, media and telecommunications ownership and mobile Internet/phone access, cost, competition, and openness. Considering that these issues are of public importance, it is essential that any public consultation truly engage Canadians across the country, and not act simply as a rubber stamp for policies already developed through exclusive industry stakeholder-government consultations. The digital strategy consultation needs to be a citizen-led and framed process.
In 2009, Clement and Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a series of closed-door meetings with representatives from the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). ITAC is Canada's most powerful lobby group for the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. Between Jan. and Nov. 2009, ITAC reported 21 meetings with top federal officials and cabinet ministers involved in developing national digital strategy policies.
Furthermore, the government is basing the public consultation on a soon to be released "discussion paper" that we can only assume will be framed through the ideas that came out these closed-door meetings. The government plans to seek input on this discussion paper through Facebook, email, or Canada Post. All Canadians should have the opportunity to both drive the consultation process, and to verbally discuss the contents in face-to-face meetings. Asking Canadians to send messages to the government is not a transparent or engaging way to consult the public.
The government also plans to set up an advisory committee to interpret input from the public consultation. This makes sense, however, the advisory panel must be predominantly comprised of representatives from industry watchdogs, consumer groups, and the public interest community in general -- those who represent Canadians regarding media, culture, and telecommunication issues. To date, it has been clear that the telecom and broadcasting industries have not prioritized the interests of Canadians and therefore it is imperative that this advisory committee not turn into yet another way to insulate the communications industry from democratic will and change.
Dear Minister Clement, please meet
I have requested a meeting with Clement and hope to speak with him on behalf of Internet users and Canadian citizens concerning media, culture, and telecommunication issues. If the government can make time for 21 meetings with ITAC, as well as other industry groups, I think Clement can find time for one more meeting with someone who actually has the best interests of everyday Canadians and Internet users at heart.
It can be a private meeting if that's what Clement would like, but I'd prefer to leave the door open.
Media Links is a syndicated column supported by CommonGround, TheTyee, Rabble.ca, and VUE Weekly. Media Links by Steve Anderson, Common Ground, Rabble.ca, TheTyee, The Vancouver Observer, VUE Weekly is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License. You must attribute this work to Steve Anderson, Common Ground, Rabble.ca, TheTyee, Vancouver Observer, VUE Weekly (with link).