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Letter to Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly: CMG advocates for Canadian culture and media

The Honourable Mélanie Joly, P.C., MP
Minister of Canadian Heritage
House of Commons                             15 Eddy Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6                          Gatineau, QC K1A 0M5

September 21, 2016
Subject: Open Consultations on Canadian Media and Cultural Policies

Dear Minister Mélanie Joly :

As president of the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), I am writing on behalf of thousands of talented, skilled and dedicated media workers who live and work in small and large communities from coast to coast to coast in our vast country. CMG members work at CBC/Radio-Canada, The Canadian Press, ZoomerMedia, TFO, TVO, Shaw/Corus Entertainment, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Thomson Reuters, Private Radio and Vice Media. They create original programming and content that’s available on radio, television, and online and that informs, enlightens and entertains Canadians.

CMG has been engaged with the ongoing review of media and cultural policies since it was launched in April of this year, responding to the initial online survey, taking part in the Public Policy Forum’s study of journalism in our country, and sharing research and analysis with your Ministry.

Given the scope of this policy review – which you have defined as “everything is on the table” – we expect the next phase launched on September 13 will be transparent, thoughtful and inclusive, and we are looking forward to fully participating in the upcoming consultations.

We are keen to share evidence and insights and to have access to other participants’ ideas and proposals in the hope that these consultations will serve to advance and strengthen public broadcasting and all public service media, journalism and original production and creation in Canada, on all platforms Canadians access.

We agree with the pre-consultation document that “Even with the opportunities provided by digital technologies, some communities continue to face barriers to creating and sharing content; and special measures will continue to be needed to nurture and protect cultural expression in these communities. For example, there are different realities between Canada`s French and English language markets.” This is true within Canada, just as it is true for Canada in light of our proximity to the U.S. and to content originating from there. This situation continues to present a unique set of challenges that deserve serious consideration in a policy review of this magnitude.

Specific areas we hope will be addressed directly in these consultations are as follows:

–>In survey after survey – including the online pre-consultation questionnaire results you have made available – a strong majority of Canadians say they value and rely on CBC/Radio-Canada as our national public broadcaster. This Heritage cultural policy review is an opportunity to enhance CBC/Radio-Canada’s role as an independent news organization, a place for original Canadian production, and a talent incubator with a robust presence in communities across Canada and on all the platforms Canadians use. CMG will continue to make the case for increased public funding and a guaranteed arm’s-length relationship with the government of the day for CBC/Radio-Canada, including an open, non-partisan selection process for the President and Board, to allow CBC/Radio-Canada to serve the public.

–>We are heartened to see in the pre-consultation paper that one of the stated goals of the review is to ensure “that Canadians can actively participate in our democracy by having access to high-quality news information and local content that reflects a diversity of voices and perspectives.”

Indeed, a strong majority of Canadians report they value and rely on local news that reflects their communities. Yet, as we have already shared with you, CMG research shows that over 16,000 media workers’ jobs were lost between 2008-2015. This indicates a steep decline in the number of journalists on the ground that has put local news coverage in jeopardy.  We are keen to be part of a fulsome discussion on innovative funding solutions to sustain independent journalism with newsgathering capacity, full-time reporting and coverage across the country and for all platforms Canadians use.

–>In addition to the vital role cultural institutions like CBC/Radio-Canada play in connecting us with each other and reflecting our unique stories, experiences and values, Canada’s cultural and media industries contribute tens of billions of dollars to our economy and employ hundreds of thousands of Canadians. However, employment in this sector is increasingly precarious, casual and even unsafe.  

We are seeing this development in areas such as reality or factual programming where temporary production companies pump out product and in the process often abuse workers by not following the same health and safety or other labour regulations as other employers.  We hope these cultural policy consultations will emphasize quality Canadian jobs as part of a healthy industry.  As a union, we know that nothing sustainable can be achieved by pitting workers against one another, whether by age or employment status. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed last month in Ottawa, “labour is a solution and not a problem”.  A more meaningful objective is to commit to ensuring these vital industries are a place where talented and creative workers of all ages, experiences and backgrounds can count on decent working conditions when creating programming that Canadians trust and enjoy.

–>This is why, while we recognize the importance of pursuing opportunities to export Canadian culture, we believe a first priority is to establish the conditions and supports necessary to produce quality, compelling programming and content here at home, on all platforms.  This, in our view, is the surest path to any success of true Canadian content on the international cultural marketplace.  As you know, many Canadian creators and cultural products have attracted attention in other parts of the world over the years, we believe largely thanks to the policies and infrastructure we, as a society, have chosen to put in place. We need more of those supports. Only guaranteed, long-term funding for Canada’s cultural production will energize the industry and increase the production of works that can be successful at home and abroad.

–>To this end, we believe that just as the terms of this Heritage review have from the start placed a particularly strong emphasis on online media as a delivery mechanism, the review must take an equally serious look at the new ways in which money flows into the system as a whole. Let’s use these consultations to identify the best approaches for newly profitable side of the industry to contribute fairly to the creation and production of Canadian programming and content. For example, as Canadians watch more and more videos online, the large, massively profitable Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – which in Canada are also the broadcasting distributers – are drawing great revenues from the increased streaming by Canadians, but are not required to do their part and contribute to Canadian content creation.

If we don’t look for ways to have these profitable players in the industry support the production of original Canadian content, we do generations of citizens a disservice. Canadians may find themselves paying more and more to large ISP companies to stream videos made elsewhere in the world, while our own production an content creation declines, and our cultural community risks massive downsizing.

As one creator/blogger wrote for the Canadian Media Guild’s website, “The present may be about “how we watch” but the future, much like the past, will be about “what we watch.”

We hope and expect these consultations will take a serious and transparent look at this pressing issue.

The Canadian Media Guild will contribute to the cultural policy consultations with the long-term view of building a strong and vibrant industry that will serve and entertain generations of Canadians while providing employment and creative opportunities for their children and grandchildren.

With this significant review, continuing our common heritage and Canada’s cultural legacy is in your hands, and we are happy to contribute as much as we can.

Carmel Smyth, National President, Canadian Media Guild (CMG)

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