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Government Claims to Support Media Diversity, Yet Leaves Community Broadcasters in the Dark

The Government of Canada has identified community television and radio broadcasters as essential pillars of the nation’s media landscape. These community media outlets are uniquely positioned, offering irreplaceable services that commercial broadcasters cannot match. Unlike commercial media, community media are owned and governed by volunteer boards of directors and managed by a combination of staff and volunteers. Content is produced by professional journalists, producers, and community members eager to share their voices.

Despite being owned by commercial broadcasters and operating under the obligation to provide community access to comply with Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regulations, community access services do not meet the definition of community broadcasters. These access studios, often left underutilized and poorly promoted, predominantly air repeat content, failing to serve their communities effectively.

In contrast, community media platforms such as U Multicultural actively engage with local communities, delivering content on a wide range of local issues, news, and other topics. Additionally, nonprofit community media also provide training opportunities for individuals interested in broadcasting, allowing them to produce and air their segments on TV and radio. These media hubs serve as vital resources for ethnocultural, Indigenous, and racialized communities. U Multicultural offers services to over 30 ethnic and Indigenous communities, and much of its content is produced by community members the organization has trained. Many of these community producers have found employment with U Multicultural, becoming official voices for the ethnocultural communities of Manitoba.

While community access studios rely on commercial funding, community services like U Multicultural sustain themselves through diverse revenue streams, leveraging tools and techniques, including social media platforms and streaming services. However, U Multicultural has faced significant challenges due to the recent implementation of the Online News Act, which has led Meta to block Canadian media outlets from its platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. This blockade has severed U Multicultural’s connection with over 30 ethnocultural and Indigenous communities, highlighting a critical gap in the support for community media.

During the CRTC’s recent efforts to modernize Canada’s broadcasting framework, there were discussions on how to better engage Indigenous and ethnocultural communities in the media sector. Preliminary engagement sessions with industry stakeholders and creators were held to shape a future public consultation. Despite U Multicultural’s Executive Director and Founder, Taya Rtichsheva, and Chair, Paulo Bergantim, providing concrete recommendations to the CRTC, their input was not included in the subsequent steps.

U Multicultural representatives also attended CRTC public hearings in Ottawa in November 2023, advocating for the support of community, ethnocultural, and Indigenous broadcasters. Despite these efforts, the CRTC’s recent decisions have demonstrated a lack of recognition for the contributions of community media. Community broadcasters have been excluded from basic contributions to the Canadian broadcasting system required from online streaming services.

Despite their acknowledged importance, questions remain unanswered regarding the exclusion of nonprofit community media from annual funding. U Multicultural serves over 30 ethnocultural and Indigenous communities by providing media training and helping produce diverse content in various languages. The CRTC’s framework does not address how it will support this engagement or why these groups have been excluded from funding plans. Additionally, community broadcasters carried by commercial cables do not receive contributions from these services, even though they are included in commercial cable packages sold to customers. This exclusion places community broadcasters at a significant disadvantage compared to commercial channels, which receive a percentage of revenue to reinvest in production and operations.

These issues raise serious doubts about the “effectiveness” and “inclusivity” of the proposed broadcasting framework revisions. With U Multicultural being conveniently excluded from crucial platforms and funding, one has to wonder if the CRTC will ever actually consider the needs and recommendations of ethnocultural and Indigenous communities in shaping Canada’s media landscape. After all, actions speak louder than words, right?

–  Taya Rtichsheva, U Multicultural

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