A digital revolution

Canadians can shape the digital media future

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, both in 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 government is about to embark on a
national consultation concerning Canada’s digital strategy.

The question becomes: do we want a media revolution where the same big media
and telecom giants re-establish and expand their control, or do we want a
media revolution that provides new opportunities for Canadian media makers
and consumers.

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 current challenge is that the government is not openly inviting us into
forthcoming 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. Most importantly,
the industry consultation neglects citizens who will contribute $134.7
million per year to the fund. Shouldn’t we have a role in deciding how the
money is spent?

Big Media like CTV, Canwest and Rogers/CityTV on the other hand have
guaranteed “envelopes” of millions of dollars each.

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 (Net neutrality),
support for Canadian culture, media and telecommunications ownership and
mobile Internet/phone access, cost, competition and openness.

In 2009 Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Industry Minister Tony Clement 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
January and November 2009, ITAC reported 21 meetings with top federal
officials and cabinet ministers involved in developing national digital
strategy policies.

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

I have requested a meeting with Tony 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. V

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator of Media Links
is a syndicated column supported by CommonGround, TheTyee,, and VUE

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