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Stewarding Community Media into the Digital Future

National Online Survey Launched

by Michael Lithgow

Local media is finally getting a nudge into the 21st century.

A national citizen's group has launched  an online survey to ask Canadians what they think about community media, the first of its kind in Canadian history. Media activists are elated that someone is finally paying attention.

“The survey is an historic first,” said Sid Tan, long-time media activist and current executive producer of ACCESS Community Television. “My feeling is this survey and the results will strengthen and grow community media into the social, cultural and political force we want.”

David Murphy, a video gamer with Dames Making Games in Toronto, concurs.

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a flourishing of new community groups working on local game production, but existing policy has yet to account for the civic potential of the medium. Community media is long overdue for a 21st century overhaul, bringing the video gaming community together with community media volunteers.”

The survey was created by a coalition of stakeholders supported by high-profile figures like former Chair of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, Clifford Lincoln, and former Chair of the Working group on Broadcasting Policy, Florian Sauvageau.

The survey comes in preparation for a three-day conference, the Community Media Convergence, a major gathering of community media and video gaming stakeholders to be held in Ottawa, Nov. 22-24.

According to Cathy Edwards, spokesperson for the group, their goal is to “draft a national community media policy that takes into account the emerging realities of a digitally networked 21st century.”

The policy initiative was launched in preparation for a major review of community TV regulations announced by the CRTC last Spring. Rumours have been circulating that the CRTC wants to use some of the $130 million spent on community access television each year to save failing private broadcasters. The CRTC is being tight-lipped about its plans, but comments made by Commissioners at the Let's Talk TV public hearings last September suggest this is one of the ideas being considered. 

Advocates like Edwards and Tan would like to see the $130 million used to support community-based media centres that would offer digital media skills training and equipment access on all new and old media, including radio and television, web and online tools, and community-focussed gaming, which is a growing in importance.

"Canadians want cable companies to be accountable for the $130-million of subscriber money they spend annually on community television,” said Tan. “This has not been forthcoming for over a decade now.  The majority of cable community channels that once existed across rural Canada have been closed as cable has consolidated in big cities, and the big city cable channels aren't offering any media training, and especially not new and digital media....  The world has changed.  The money needs to be deployed to enable genuine community media, not to simply sit idle in cable company coffers."

Edwards said that Canadians have until Sept 15, 2015 to fill out the survey online in order to have their comments included in the drafting process.


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