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Canada/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.6 Media pluralism and content diversity

The early history of cultural policy in Canada used to focus primarily on broadcasting, the "high arts" and heritage in which the federal government has been and remains actively involved for many years. With the rapid growth of the cultural industries, particularly evident over the last forty years, federal intervention in the cultural sector was broadened considerably. Individual components of the cultural sector including the media received support given their perceived importance in producing and distributing Canadian cultural content. While the precise nature of federal cultural support programmes and regulatory regimes varies considerably, the trend in cultural policy in Canada is towards a more holistic approach from creation and production, through distribution, exhibition and marketing, to consumption, participation and preservation. The media, both print forms and electronic media, are essential vehicles for the distribution and consumption of cultural content in Canada.

In regard to anti-trust measures to prevent media concentration, media firms, like other commercial entities in Canada, are subject to the Competition Act (1985), a law of general application. While the government recognises the importance of ensuring a diversity of sources of news and information, the Competition Act (1985) is neither intended nor designed to address non-economic issues. The role of merger review under the Act is to preserve competition in all industries, including the media sector. It is important to both the stakeholders and the economy as a whole that economic competition is preserved.

On the other hand, based on its authority under the Broadcasting Act (1991), the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is mandated to monitor and regulate the broadcasting systems, and to pursue social, cultural, and economic goals which complement the Competition Bureau's application of economic criteria in reviewing mergers. Moreover, while legislation and regulations do not prohibit broadcasters from purchasing newspapers and vice-versa, the CRTC has imposed safeguards on a case-by-case basis as a condition of licence. It has also established maximum thresholds regarding the number of radio and television stations an owner may operate in a specific market through its radio and television policies.

In regard to training programmes to sensitise journalists to culture-related issues and conflicts in order to ensure diversity of views, the government indirectly supports creators through the Canada Magazine Fund, particularly through the Support for Editorial Content components. The government of Canada respects the independence of the press and supports the ability of journalism associations to direct and manage journalists' professional development. The roles played by media and culture also affect the relations between identity and diversity. Some argue that identity helps to shape the form and frequency of cultural engagement and participation. Others contend that culture shapes identity and that consequently, there is a possibility that a dominant world culture could reduce or marginalise multiple domestic identities. As part of its research programme, the Department of Canadian Heritage is beginning to explore the interactive synergies and mutual impacts between culture and identity and between culture and citizenship.

The government of Canada employs the term, "diversity" in positive, nation reaffirming terms in its public declarations. Canada believes that countries must have the capacity to promote cultural diversity by:

  • acknowledging and treating cultural diversity as a public good and ensuring that citizens have the opportunity to make their voices and opinions heard in a changing world;
  • striking a balance between remaining open to other world cultures and promoting local, regional and national cultural expressions; and
  • sharing their cultural perspectives so that each country's stories and experiences contribute to enriching world culture.

Diversity, including cultural diversity, is viewed as a social strength or asset in Canada manifested in values of recognition and acceptance of difference, compromise, negotiation and peaceful resolution of conflict, and in the accommodation of and openness to the different practices and values of "the other". Diversity of cultural expression arguably promotes creativity and should promote new ways of understanding complex issues, global connections with countries or heritage of origin, and the building of new social and cultural capital in support of economic values such as skill development and enhanced productivity.

Canada's official goals of diversity encompass a wide range of anticipated and achieved results that reflect its multicultural population, two official languages and recognition of the unique place of Aboriginal peoples including their rights, cultures and languages. In order that these goals stand out and receive public recognition and support, diversity is focused by the application of a "diversity lens" to many cultural policy initiatives. The diversity lens helps to assess policy objectives and outcomes against the capacity of policy instruments to achieve overarching goals of inclusion, equality of opportunity, community strength, social cohesion, citizen engagement and attachment to Canada, intrinsic to the Canadian diversity model. The diversity lens may also help ensure that in developing resources to promote the broad public interest, there are not unintended negative impacts on cultural minorities.

Canada has a long history of relying on communications media as a tool for nation-building and cultural development. For example, the Broadcasting Act (1991) states, "The Canadian broadcasting system should ... through its programming and ... employment opportunities ... serve the needs and interests and reflect the circumstances and aspirations of Canadian men, women and children, including equal rights, the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society and the special place of Aboriginal peoples within that society." In 1999, the Commission introduced a new policy for television, which is still in effect, stating: "... all conventional television licensees ... (will) make specific commitments to initiatives designed to ensure that they contribute to a system that more accurately reflects the presence of cultural and racial minorities and Aboriginal peoples in the communities they serve." (CRTC Ethnic Broadcasting Policy 1999).

Media transactions in Canada require a review process by the CRTC and the Competition Bureau, in accordance with current rules and legislation. Currently, the CRTC evaluates transactions based on its common ownership policy. For television, the policy generally prohibits a television licensee from owning more than one station operating in one language in the same market. For radio, the policy prohibits a licensee from owning more than three stations in one language in a market, and in large markets, no more than four. While the CRTC does not currently have specific policies in place that limit a single entity from owning radio, television and print assets in the same market, when evaluating proposed ownership transactions, the CRTC generally considers:

  • concentration of ownership, which is the level of market presence that a single entity could have in terms of number of outlets or market share (revenues or audiences). The CRTC considers the overall public interest to ensure effective competition and a diversity of voices, and has from time to time required the divestiture of specific undertakings or imposed conditions of license. For example, in 2007 CTVglobemedia was denied its proposal to acquire the CHUM City TV stations because of concentration of ownership concerns.
  • cross-media ownership (also called horizontal integration), which is the ownership by a single entity of several types of media outlets (television, radio, print) in a given market. The CRTC has in the past imposed special conditions on licensees to ensure that separate and independent news management and presentation structures are maintained. For example, when Quebecor acquired TQS in 1997, it was required to submit a professional code of conduct which outlined the structural separation of newsgathering activities as well as the separation of news management and decision making on content and presentation.
  • vertical integration, which is where broadcasting, production and distribution undertakings are commonly owned by a single entity. In these situations, the CRTC applies appropriate safeguards either broadly by regulation or on a case-by-case basis in the form of conditions of license or expectations. For example, when a broadcaster is affiliated with a production company, the CRTC has often imposed limits on the amount of programming that may be used from the affiliated production company. Similarly, when a BDU owns a digital specialty service, the CRTC has specified that the BDU must carry 5 non-affiliated stations for every affiliated service.

In the wake of a string of media transactions, the CRTC announced in March 2007 that it would begin examining its ownership policies as they relate to the Broadcasting Act's objective of ensuring that the broadcasting system provides Canadians with a diversity of voices. In September 2007, the CRTC held a public hearing to further examine the issue. Over 160 interveners submitted comments to the process, including individual Canadians, large and small broadcasters, broadcasting distribution undertakings; independent production companies, interested associations, unions and guilds, and community radio and television groups, and approximately 50 interveners appeared at the hearing. The issues raised during the process focused on three main areas: plurality of commercial editorial voices, diversity of programming choices, and safeguards for journalistic content in situations where different media outlets in a given market are controlled by a single entity. The CRTC released the results of its examination in January 2008 based on the following revised policy framework which includes:

  • the reaffirmation of common ownership policies governing the number of conventional television and radio stations a person may control in the same market;
  • the establishment of a new policy restricting cross-media ownership in order to maintain a plurality of editorial voices - under the new approach, a person or entity may only control two of the following media that serve the same market, namely a local radio station, local television station or local newspaper;
  • the imposition of limits on the ownership of broadcasting licences to ensure that one party does not control more than 45% of the total television audience share as a result of a transaction; and
  • a refusal to approve transactions between companies that distribute television services (such as cable or satellite companies) that would result in one person effectively controlling the delivery of programming in a market.

The foregoing decisions apply only to private broadcasters but the CRTC will consider the contribution public broadcasters and community broadcasters make to the diversity of voices in during separate proceedings planned for 2008.

CBC / Radio-Canada reflects the special role of a national public broadcaster that operates in two official languages across the country. Official-language minority media provide local community content to both Anglophone and Francophone minority communities. The media constitute key tools in promoting cross-cultural understanding and exchanging good practices in the fight against racism. For example, the Northern Broadcast Access Programme and the Northern Distribution Programme of the Department of Canadian Heritage, as well as several Portfolio agency programmes, promote the production and distribution of radio and television programming in Aboriginal languages, especially in three Arctic territories and the northern portions of seven provinces. Other examples include Arts Presentation Canada, Cultural Spaces Canada, the National Arts Training Contribution Programme and the Canadian Arts and Heritage Sustainability Programme which monitor arts-related results and evaluate the adequacy of the process for culturally diverse populations, including Aboriginal applicants (see  chapter 8.1.2). The Publications Assistance Programme has also taken measures to improve access to ethno-cultural magazines and non-daily newspapers. The Multiculturalism Programme of the Department of Canadian Heritage encourages, supports and facilitates fair representation of ethnic minorities in the media by initiating community projects and collaborating with media associations in the area of diversity representation and positive portrayal.

The importance of relating the media as communication tools with privileged ties to diverse audiences was one of the rationales for conducting the Ethnic Diversity Survey in Canada, which the Department of Canadian Heritage helped to finance. Released in 2003, this Survey was based on responses from 42 500 respondents that focused on ethnicity conducted in Canada (Statistics Canada - Canadian Heritage collaboration). It used ethnic self-definition exploring both ethnic origin and ethnic identity in relation to place of birth, religion, language and population group (visible minority). It was also inter-generational by exploring and comparing the backgrounds of respondents with those of their parents and grandparents. The Ethnic Diversity Survey looked at questions of participation and discrimination and showed that data from the 2001 Census of Population make its clear that Canada is a very diverse society, and that this diversity is likely to increase in the years to come. It also helped the Multiculturalism Programme show that the government of Canada has a key role to play in ensuring that government policies, programmes and services are adapted to the needs of an increasingly diverse population. The results also showed that immigrants were more likely than people born in Canada to report a strong sense of belonging to their ethnic or cultural group. It also found that the participation of immigrants in all types of groups and organisations increased with time spent in Canada.

The growing importance of diversity in Canada can be assessed according to trends in the changing composition of the arts labour force (see  chapter 3.4.6). There are 131 000 artists in Canada. (Statistics Canada Census of Population 2001) Recent findings show a rapid increase of visible minority artists who are growing in number at a rate more than twice as fast as all artists, although the visible minority artists make up a smaller per cent of all artists (8.9%) than do visible minorities  in the total population (over 14%). Visible minority and Aboriginal artists earn substantially less than other labour force workers while immigrant artists earn less than other immigrants and all Canadian workers although the difference in earnings is on a par with other artists (Hill Strategies Diversity in Canada's Arts Labour Force 2005).

Diversity research is becoming more prevalent in Canada as the phenomenon itself grows. The Department of Canadian Heritage organised a forum in 2005 to assess the future demographic landscape of Canada and released a Report, Serving Canada's Multicultural Population for the Future: Canada 2017. Papers were produced at the forum on labour market barriers, access to health and social services, the social geography of cities, the representation of visible minorities in public institutions, and the generational challenges of diverse families. The media play a prominent role in each of these and other relevant areas. Media diversity promotes the development of synergies between a multicultural society and cultural creativity can be fostered and celebrated.

Chapter published: 19-01-2011

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