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CRTC should listen carefully to Jessica

Next week in Ottawa, TV broadcasters will tell their regulator, the CRTC, that they want fewer rules and more ways to make money. They will raise the alarm about how difficult it is these days to make money from traditional advertising because of all of the competition for eyeballs coming from new-fangled media, like the internet, pay TV, and cell phones. They will plead for measures to help them climb back from merely profitable to very profitable.

And they may well get their way. After all, they have powerful friends in Ottawa. In fact, the minister responsible for broadcasting regulation, Bev Oda, is one of them. She sat on the CRTC and worked for CTV. And she recently told a group of women communicators in Toronto that her government is “committed to more regulatory flexibility.” She said that she and industry minister Maxime Bernier are getting along well, and he’s calling for an “open market” to “enable peoples’ choices.”

It’s worth looking a little more closely at what this all means. Oda, and almost everyone else in the media game these days, likes to talk about the new generation and what it does and likes. The kids download what they want, when they want it, and borders no longer matter.

Let’s call their ideal new generation consumer Jessica.

Apparently, Jessica doesn’t care about prime time TV, or broadcast schedules in general. She doesn’t care about Canadian content rules. She doesn’t care about local programming. She is a neoliberal’s dream: master of her own cultural house. We can’t force her to listen to Canadian songs or to watch or download Canadian programs.

What’s interesting is that Jessica does those things anyway. Many of the most popular podcasts in Canada are produced right here in Canada. Some of Jessica’s favourite music is written and recorded right here in Canada. Why? Because there have long been rules and financial support to nurture homegrown music, and radio and TV programming. There is a national public broadcaster that, while underfunded, is devoted to Canadian programming. These rules and institutions were developed in the bad old media days to make sure that some content was produced here and not entirely mined for profit from the most prolific and promoted source in the world: the USA.

It is fairly obvious to anyone who has ever downloaded anything, but it’s worth spelling out: popular new media broadcasters ? including the CBC ? have not succeeded by abandoning radio and TV to devote their dwindling resources to their websites and podcasts. Nope. The key word is repackaging. For example, some of the most popular podcasts start as popular radio broadcasts, some of which are presumably enjoyed by Jessica’s parents and grandparents.

Unfortunately, Canadian TV has not fared so well in the downloading world. That’s probably because it hasn’t fared so well in the broadcasting world, with notable exceptions such as Corner Gas and the Rick Mercer Report, both of which seem to have good Internet presence. The fact that Canadian content rules were already loosened for TV broadcasters in 1999 is probably a key reason that Jessica downloads so little professional Canadian video content from You Tube.

And what about news? You may be surprised, but it may be Canada’s oldest media outlet ? The Canadian Press, a national wire service ? that has the brightest future.

That’s because the so-called new media couldn’t live without CP’s wire copy. The truth is that, despite the growth of options for receiving news (such as the Internet and mobile TV), many fewer people are now assigned and paid to do original newsgathering in this country than a decade ago.

And where this is most evident is at the local level. Jessica could find out just about anything she wants about the outcome of the mid-term elections in the US. She could find funny commentary, serious data about voting patterns, video clips of ridiculous campaign bloopers. It’s all there.

But what are the odds that Jessica knows who her mayor is? Not very good. And it’s almost certain that she has no idea what’s happening at her municipal council or even her school board. And, if she happened to be interested, it wouldn’t be very easy for her to find out through new, or even old, media.

The most reliable and popular news websites are run by old media companies who repackage ? yep, that word again ? wire copy and their own news reports that were originally prepared for newspapers, radio or TV.

So when CanWest, the company that runs the Global and CH networks, says that it wants very loose Canadian content requirements, including making daytime info-mercials count as CanCon, no rules requiring local news, no new money to public broadcasters, and free reign to increase advertising content, our regulators and government should pay careful attention to what it would actually mean to Jessica and her generation.

Sounds like she should tell them “not in my name.” After all, she won’t be the one to profit.

The Canadian Media Guild is urging the CRTC to adopt new rules to promote and fund quality Canadian TV programming, including local news and drama. Click here to read the brief the CMG submitted to the CRTC.

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