Canadians know all too well the consequences of a highly concentrated media landscape. Thanks to the dominance of the big telecom companies, our vice-like cellphone contracts are among the most expensive in the developed world. It’s a similar story with our internet access: Canadians pay the third-highest price for high-speed service in the developed world. The big telecom companies have such a strong influence over the regulator that only a widespread revolt prevented the destruction of their independent competitors last year.
Control of our broadcasting rests in precious few hands, and the big telecom companies would like to maintain their stranglehold by predetermining what kinds of digital content we can access easily and cheaply. There is very little to prevent them from doing this at the moment. There would be even less in a world without the CBC.
Canada lags seriously in the four key indicators of a healthy digital economy: speed, openness, affordability, and diversity of content. Looking around the world, it is clear that privatizing the media landscape would not inform, engage, entertain, and connect us better, but would instead increase the dominance of those at the top of the media pyramid – the same companies that have shown such disregard for the needs of ordinary Canadians.
As the federal budget announcement looms large over Parliament Hill, those from the big telecom lobby who would dismantle the CBC are out in force, championing concentration over diversity. They have some unwitting allies in those who doubt the CBC’s representativeness and importance in a digital age. The questions they ask – such as whether the CBC is open enough or innovative enough to deserve the public support it gets – are fair and important questions that need to be asked. However, public media is an absolutely crucial part of a healthy media ecology precisely because it operates differently from the private big telecom empires. The CBC is unique because we, as citizens, can get involved directly in shaping its future.
If you feel the CBC has shortcomings, your voice is needed now more than ever to ensure that our public media better serve Canadians. We have to seize the opportunity to make the CBC a leader in participatory, creative, and engaging media.