Whose digital revolution is it?


It’s not a question of whether or not we can have a digital media revolution; the question is what kind of revolution do 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 – a media revolution that produces platforms for arts and culture, innovation, sharing, dialogue and debate and community building?

Real engagement is a must

The good news is 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 us and for us.

The current challenge is the government is not openly inviting us into its forthcoming key and historic media policy decision-making process. 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.

Digital strategy for whom?

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, but the advisory panel must be comprised predominantly of representatives from industry watchdogs, consumer groups and the public interest community in general – those who represent Canadians with regard to media, culture and telecommunications issues. To date, it has been clear that the telecom and broadcasting industries have not prioritized the interests of Canadians; it is, therefore, imperative that this advisory committee does not turn into yet another way to insulate the industry from democratic will and change.

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.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.

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