Rebuilding Community Media, One Amendment at a Time

Broadcasting giants have starved the community media sector of much-needed funds, leaving Canada’s media landscape marked by large news deserts. Now, community media is fighting back.

Canada once had a vibrant community media landscape, with hundreds of community newspapers, radio, and TV stations providing resources, training programs, and job opportunities to aspiring journalists and producers. Unfortunately, since the 1990s, independent community media organizations have closed in droves across Canada due to regulatory capture favoring media giants like Shaw and Rogers. 

Due to a lack of definitions in the Broadcasting Act and regulatory capture at the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), broadcasting giants have been able to starve the community sector of funds—in favour of corporate programming. 

Hundreds of stations were shuttered as a result.

On June 14th, community media took a major step toward rebuilding the sector. The House of Commons Heritage Committee unanimously passed an amendment that clarifies the role of Community Media in Canada as including not-for-profit and democratic organizations. 

The amendment was passed after a decades-long fight by community organizations, which have long advocated for local media against the trend of ever-concentrating corporate media conglomerates. 

Canada needs community media

The role of small media outlets in rural and remote areas is invaluable, allowing local residents to tell their own stories and discuss issues important to them. The closure of these outlets has had dire consequences. Canada’s media landscape is now marked by large news deserts. Like real deserts, these areas are inhabited by snakes and scorpions. Predatory social media channels and toxic news services fill the void left behind by community media. 

The fraying of social fabric, particularly in rural areas, has fueled the urgency of the community sector’s efforts to update the language in the Broadcasting Act and to solidify the role of community media in Canada. 

In 2020, Bill C-10 was introduced to revise the Broadcasting Act, and community media organizations like Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec (the Federation), the National Campus and Community Radio Association (the NCRA/ANREC), and Community University Television (CUTV), began mobilizing to ensure the new Broadcasting Act clearly defined what community media is: not for profit and democratic. When the federal election was called in 2021, the Bill was tabled until early 2022, when a newly elected Heritage Committee was established to oversee Bill C-11. 

Rebuilding community media

The Rebuild Community Media campaign was publicly launched in April 2022, with a website, petition, and mobilizing toolkit. This campaign caught the attention of people across Canada, with over 600 petition signatures and 39 community not-for-profit and media organizations endorsing the campaign.

Behind the scenes, representatives from CACTUS, CUTV, the NCRA, and the Federation—with some capacity-building support from the McConnell Foundation—were meeting with members of the Heritage Committee to discuss the role of community media, and members of CACTUS and the Federation were welcomed by the Heritage Committee to provide testimony. 

“Bill C-11 could be a game-changer for community TV,” CACTUS Executive Director Cathy Edwards said when the Bill passed the House of Commons. 

After the closure of close to 300 stations that once existed, Edwards explained, communities have begun to set up their own not-for-profit community media centers, but these outlets are struggling with minimal funding. 

The new language included in Bill C-11 will, for the first time, provide recognition of the value of the community-run model and what this model can do, especially for rural areas, Indigenous communities, and racialized communities in urban areas. 

Barry Rooke of the NCRA also celebrated the victory, saying that the almost 300 community radio stations across Canada “play a vital role in serving rural communities and minorities in urban areas that the public and private sectors can’t reach”. 

While the crisis in reliable, local news is widespread, Rooke added, “the huge potential of the community sector to fill this gap—due to its lower cost structure and involvement by community stakeholders—has been neither understood nor acknowledged, until now.”

There is still work to be done. The bill must now pass the Senate, and the community sector will continue working to ensure these amendments remain in the Act until it is written into law.

If you want to help, consider signing the petition to Rebuild Community Media. If you are part of an organization that would like to work directly with or endorse the campaign, sign on here or get in touch.

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