The need for the CBC in Hamilton is an issue about a lack of local broadcast media diversity.
By Sonja Macdonald and Paul Shaker
Published March 14, 2005
Late last year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the federal agency responsible for regulating Canada's broadcasting and telecommunications systems, brought down a ruling that could have a significant impact on the Hamilton region.
The Commission ruled that a Toronto television station, Toronto 1, whose mandate and broadcast area included Hamilton, would have to provide locally-focussed content to this city. Prior to this ruling, Hamilton was totally ignored by the Toronto-focussed station. The station owners had argued that this community was served by local Toronto news and programming simply because of Hamilton's proximity to Toronto.
This is clearly a ridiculous assumption but this line of thinking has been one of the central reasons why Hamilton is underserved in terms of local media. All of the Toronto-focussed television stations include the greater Hamilton area, and its 700,000+ citizens, as part of their local market for which they can sell advertising. Essentially, they profit off Hamiltonians without providing them any local service.
However, the CRTC's recent decision clearly acknowledges that Toronto 1's local programming must reflect the particular needs and interest of Hamiltonians, recognizing that those needs are not automatically the same as Toronto's. This may seem like a technicality, but this reasoning can now be applied to other broadcasters who are supposed to serve Hamilton.
Living here, it is hard to think of the mainstream press as anything more than one local major daily newspaper, one semi-local television station, and a handful of local radio stations. However, when you compare Hamilton to similarly-sized Canadian cities, such as Quebec City and Winnipeg, you gain a better appreciation of how drastically low the number of mainstream media sources is in this community.
Just looking at TV, our national counterparts have at least three times the number of television stations. Simply put, a city of Hamilton's size should have more media with a local focus that would naturally add to the quantity and quality of local debate on the variety of issues that make up life in the Hamilton region.
Just think of the number of issues that would have received more substantial coverage if there were more media to cover them: the Silverberg affair, the Mayor's illegal campaign contributions, the City's court case against the federal government, rising spending on the Red Hill Creek Expressway, budget deliberations at City Hall, and the list goes on and on.
This lack of focus and attention would certainly not happen down the road in Toronto where there has been copious coverage of everything from Toronto police chief Julien Fantino, to the computer leasing scandal at Toronto City hall, and that city's challenges with their own budget issues.
So where do we go from here? Locally, many alternative forms of media have emerged, including Raise The Hammer, CATCH or H Magazine, and they are working to provide citizens with a more complete picture of community news.
Despite their efforts though, they do not have the reach of traditional mainstream media outlets like CH, or the Hamilton Spectator and Toronto private media, whose broadcast area includes Hamilton, have to be pulled by the teeth (or directed by the CRTC) to cover important Hamilton stories.
However, the private sector is only one option for expanding mainstream media diversity in Hamilton. The CBC, Canada's public broadcaster has a mandate to serve all Canadians and all regions of the country. Yet, Hamilton is grossly underserved by the CBC. In fact, Hamilton is the largest urban region in Canada without a local CBC presence, despite the continued contribution by Hamiltonians, through their taxes, to its operating budget:
|Census Metropolitan Area (CMA)||2004 CMA Population||Local CBC/SRC Radio Station||Local CBC/SRC Television Station||Local CBC/SRC Website|
The need for the CBC in Hamilton is not just about fulfilling the public broadcaster's mandate to serve the regions of Canada. Here this is also an issue about a lack of local broadcast media diversity.
A diverse media environment is a necessary component of Hamilton's ability to develop and retain a healthy local culture; whether, artistic, economic, or political. A local CBC presence would provide an additional, wide reaching forum for citizens to be informed of and have a dialogue with their community, and for that dialogue to be part of a national network.
The CBC is currently reviewing its regional expansion strategy. This is a significant opportunity for Hamilton to gain another major media source. As part of developing this expansion strategy, it is important for Hamiltonians to impress upon decision-makers the need for a local CBC presence in both television and radio.
Given that this city is the largest underserved market in Canada, a fact that CBC highlights in their own research, expansion into Hamilton should be at the top of the priority list.
Unfortunately though, like many other issues in this city, we cannot assume that the federal government will be automatically responsive and informed of Hamilton's needs. In fact, according to the public broadcaster's draft regional expansion plan, Hamilton is not even on CBC Television's radar screen and we are placed behind smaller communities like Saskatoon in terms of being granted a CBC Radio station.
The issue of media diversity has been a central focus of the work at the Centre for Community Study; an important component of which is the role of the CBC in Hamilton. During the current process of developing the public broadcaster's regional expansion strategy, we are informing decision-makers of Hamilton's needs, and would invite those interested to express their opinion to the CBC.
For further information on expanding CBC to Hamilton, visit http://www.communitystudy.ca.
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