How to create a public broadcaster for Nova Scotia

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Photo: George Rex/flickr

It is not a new idea -- just a new approach to an old idea: how to create a public broadcaster for Nova Scotia.

For over 20 years the idea of Nova Scotians having our own educational broadcaster has popped up, in fits and starts, but it has never put down roots. This new idea is built on the premise that the roots are already here, but they need nourishment in order to be nurtured into productivity. If we had a kick start, could that ongoing attention come from our many universities?

With that question, I began to talk with university presidents and academics to see if there might be an interest in some form of participation in the creation of a PBS-style of broadcaster. I knew that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, an important source of funding for universities, wanted to see research initiatives better explained to the public. Our own PBS could help facilitate that. Thinking further, universities, in return for access to the public purse, are feeling pressure from governments to defend their value not just to the economy but also to the public at large. Most universities have outreach programs. A public broadcaster might extend this outreach to make it more inclusive, more effective, especially with minority audiences. If even a small part of the resources now used to connect universities to the public they serve could be reallocated to a locally operated PBS, we would have a good beginning.

Not unexpectedly, these ideas received a warm reception in my early conversations. We all could envision a future where our many universities could be a significant source of content for a public broadcaster to be.

Other factors weigh in. We are an aged province -- a province that, because of this demographic, watches more TV than anywhere else in the country.

In my own experience as a documentary producer, I share the frustration with other producers, artists and writers, who now have little to no connection to the public of Nova Scotia with their ideas and works and have been left with almost no sources of production funding. True, CBC and CTV have local news and sports coverage and both Bell and EastLink have community channels, but these are not substitutes for documentaries that will bring the world to Nova Scotia and vice versa. Or, perhaps, in co-operation with university and college journalism programs, these community channels could themselves evolve into production facilities serving a new public broadcaster. Some of them are already licensed broadcasters themselves.

Something new is needed, a multi-platform broadcaster dedicated to local tastes and concerns and giving voices to local producers and artists. It would breathe new life into an industry that may otherwise disappear.

A small group of us are pushing this idea forward. I am joined by Don Gaudet (a broadcast consultant), Kevin Deveaux (an international development consultant) and by Darrell Varga (a NSCAD professor and film historian.) Together, with some research funds from the Canada Media Fund and Telefilm Canada, we are conducting a feasibility study. The study is pointing to a conclusion that a NS PBS is possible, providing certain conditions are met. Knowledge Network is doing it. Could we have a scaled- down version of Knowledge Network, perhaps a "Knowledge East?"

That idea will be explored in a public lecture in Halifax given by Rudy Buttignol, president and CEO of The Knowledge Network itself. A Q&A will follow the lecture -- a rare chance to see the inner workings of Canada's most successful public broadcaster. The event will give all of us an opportunity to imagine what it would be like to have a public broadcaster of our own.

Photo: George Rex/flickr

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