Canadian television broadcasting policies: multiculturalism and diversity

This critical response focuses on Canadian television broadcasting policies, particularly referring to multiculturalism and diversity. Canadian broadcasting policies exist to create identifiable national culture and national sovereignty for Canadian citizens. Television broadcasting policies are critical to the development of nationhood. Canada sits right beside America, one of the world’s most powerful broadcasting nations. Hence, it is not that difficult to get Canadian audiences’ attention away from Canadian content. Canada does not want to be homogenized by American media. Canadian programing ought to portray Canadian culture and demonstrate the values of Canada’s national identity rather than American national identity. In fact, the Canadian Broadcasting Act is a public service essential to the maintenance and enhancement of national identity and cultural sovereignty. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) requires broadcasters to develop corporate plans to improve how visible minorities and persons with disabilities are portrayed and represented in broadcasting. Multiculturalism and diversity is one of Canada’s characteristics that enhances nationalism, which is then implemented in television broadcasting policies.

Historically Canadian broadcasting policies focused more on building “nationalistic ideals about how broadcasting should serve the cultural, social, and economic infrastructure of the country” (Beaty and Sullivan 30).  In other words, Canadian broadcasting policies were more focused on cultivating and maintaining Canadian sovereignty through regulatory systems. However, today it is about broadcasting systems that reflect a Canadian identity that embraces racial diversity, disability, aboriginal diversity, gender diversity, demographic diversity, and equal rights. In fact, during the early years some concerns for Canadian broadcasting systems focused on American domination, Anglophone and Francophone equality, and private and public ownership. During the 1960s the development of private television broadcasting and cable television distribution was a major concern. Many Canadians had increased access to American programming. The regional division in the country became critical because regions marginalized on a national scale found new and better markets. The promotion of national culture was supposed to be multicultural, but was more focused on Canadian content in French and English. By the end of the 1960s CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), which operated as a national broadcaster and protector of broadcasting, created regulatory systems that would maintain Canadian sovereignty over the airways for indigenous productions and ethnic broadcasting. The broadcasting policy system started to expand its notion of multiculturalism beyond just Anglophone and Francophone equality in order to provide true equality by promoting Aboriginal viewership. When the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission was launched it was a tool for protecting and promoting Canadian culture through Canadian broadcasting.

The rapid expansion of immigration in Canada has changed policy reports to enhance equality in the country. In particular, television policy reports were altered to compete with private media for diversity and plurality on the airwaves from digital cable and satellite convergence (Beaty and Sullivan 32). The main difference of policies during the early years and today is the dominant culture rhetoric versus collective culture that stresses consumer choice rather than the dominant government’s role in culture promotion via broadcasting. This critical reflection also focuses on how current broadcasting policies focus on invoking diversity compared to the earlier years. It is clear that policies today are critical not only for protecting Canadian culture from American culture but for actually representing and focusing on more cultural plurality. Two of the many focuses of broadcasting policies are aboriginal broadcasting and ethnic diversity.

The Broadcasting Act recognizes the special space of Aboriginal people and the importance of Aboriginal culture in Canadian broadcasting systems. Native broadcasting policies not only promote sustainability for Aboriginal culture in Canada, but also promote the acceptance of their values as part of Canadian identity. Northern Native Broadcast Access Program (NNAB) funding program is critical in delivering valuable broadcasting services for Aboriginal viewers. NNAB should get more support from the government in order to reduce budget cuts to Native communication systems. If the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) was not created, the broadcasting policies would not have recognized the importance and significance of Native broadcasting to the nation. In fact, CBC’s involvement in recognizing and promoting Aboriginal broadcasting illustrates that public broadcasters who are supposed to represent national identity and values are doing their job. If CBC did not promote and develop Aboriginal broadcasting it would be an action of segregation towards Native communities. However, according to the public notice on the CRTC website, “native television services have been slower to develop and, in all instances to date, the programs produced by the aboriginal television networks are distributed by either the CBC or TVOntario” (Public Notice CRTC 1990-89). Can this be read as an action of neglecting Aboriginal television networks? It would be highly effective for the CRTC to include a small quota for public and private networks to feature Native content as a part of fulfilling Canadian content. This will allow more equality and diversity in network while providing the public with more knowledge about Native communities.

The Ethnic Broadcasting Policy forms criteria for radio and/or television services to broadcast as an ethnic station. Ethnic television and/or radio stations must dedicate a minimum amount of time to ethnic and third-language programming. Local ethnic broadcasters must also reflect local issues and concerns (“Offering cultural diversity on TV and radio”). In Roth (1998), she states that “some have proposed that ethnicity should not be defined as broadcasting content at all, but rather that all persons should be considered for a wider variety of mainstream broadcasting roles without regard for skin colour, ethnic origin, or audible minority” (Ethnic Broadcasting Policy Framework-Paragraph 2). It is true that ethnic diversity should not solely be depicted through broadcasting. However, what is important about broadcasting is that it mirrors society. If broadcasting segregates or demonstrates a lack of ethnic diversity, it can be argued that it is a reflection of society. Additionally, on channels like OMNI TV ethnic broadcasting appear to be lower quality than other programing. CRTC should set regulations around the quality of broadcasting. Obviously, more quality requires more funding. There should be funding programs for ethnic broadcasting in order to enhance production quality. The commission continues to require ethnic television stations to broadcast the same minimum Canadian content levels as non-ethnic private television stations (60% Canadian content overall, 50% during the evening broadcast period) (“Offering cultural diversity on TV and radio”). This is a great way to congregate both Canadian non-ethnic values and ethnic values because it brings equality. This is also a method to deliver Canadian nation identity to ethnic groups while giving them part of their culture. However, cable networks should have regulations that do not take away the diversity and equality of Canadian broadcasting systems. There are some ethnic organizations and communities that are more interested in lobbying their cultural values, traditions, and identities while excluding Canadian culture (Roth 1998). This is why regulations should enhance equality that promotes ethnic and Canadian identity.

In conclusion, this critical response concentrates on Canadian television broadcasting policies, focusing on Aboriginal broadcasting and ethnic broadcasting. The development and tensions in policies during the early years and today demonstrate how television broadcasting plays a critical role in constructing and preserving national identity. Multiculturalism and diversity is one of Canada’s distinctive features that heighten national identity. The construction of policies is key in sustaining Canadian culture.

Tinu Silva

External Source:

“Public Notice CRTC 1990-89” N.p., n.d. Web. 4 June 2014. <>.