“Language is at the heart of cultural identity; it shapes who we are and our perspectives. When we speak our languages, we share stories, pass on knowledge and create bonds for generations.” Department of Culture of Canada – Ottawa, June 14, 2021
By Aldo Di Felice*
Canada’s Broadcasting Act was last updated in 1991, over 30 years ago. And for the past two years, Canadian Parliament has been moving towards updating the legislation for the modern era. While the issue of regulating online services and content has attracted almost all of the attention in Canada, we in the ethnic broadcasting sector have been working to ensure that other long overdue priorities are recognized.
In 2021, the Canadian Ethnocultural Media Coalition (CEMC) was formed. We are a group of organizations advocating for better inclusion of diverse communities and ethnic programming in our laws and industry support programs in Canada. The initial group has expanded and now includes the most active and prolific independent ethnic media organizations in the country.
After a false start last year, interrupted by a national election in the fall, the House of Commons completed Third Reading of Bill C-11 (an Act to amend the Broadcasting Act) in June 2022 and the legislation is now before Canada’s Senate. And we are happy to report that the current version of the bill now includes specific new provisions which we believe have the potential to transform and supercharge Canadian multicultural content creation and broadcasting in the years to come.
The background is that unfortunately, the Canadian ethnic media industry has never been recognized and allowed full membership in our broadcast system. Multicultural content creation and ethnic Canadian broadcast media, especially TV, have generally been ignored, marginalized and/or under-supported by both the regulatory commission, the CRTC, and by our leading content creation support institutions such as Telefilm Canada and the Canada Media Fund.
For almost 20 years, the overreliance on foreign sources of multilingual ethnic TV channels has meant that Canadian interests, whether cultural, political, or economic have been subordinated to foreign cultural, political, and economic interests — and embarrassing fiascos involving foreign channels from Russia, China, the Middle East, and even Italy have made headlines in Canada and done more to harm those communities here than help them.
Some find this hard to believe. After all, Canada was the first nation in the world to adopt an official “multiculturalism policy” in 1971, a half century ago. And Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has completed its 40th anniversary, contains a Section 27 that calls for all of the rights and freedoms enumerated in the charter to “be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.”
And of course, our nation has never been more ethnoculturally and multilingually diverse as we are today. One in three Canadians (over 11 million) report themselves to be ethnic Canadians. And one in four Canadians (9.4 million) speak at least one language besides English or French.
We believe that all four pillars of Canadian society should be recognized, reflected, supported, and participate in our broadcasting system: Canada’s French and English founding cultures, Indigenous communities, and the diverse ethnic minority communities of Canada, including “racialized” communities (the diverse ethnic minority communities of Canada).
And Canadians have a tremendous appetite for multilingual made-in-Canada TV programming. Several years ago, we conducted a custom in-person study of 128 Canadians in Toronto representing 25 different immigrant languages, and not only do they crave in-language information and entertainment, they also believe in cross-cultural appreciation and understanding through subtitling and closed captioning:
- 95 percent of study participants believed it was important to have multilingual TV channels based in Canada.
- Nearly 94 percent said closed captioning into English or French is important for programs produced in another language.
Furthermore, in additional online surveys of 1,000 English Canadians and 400 French Canadians the importance of multi-lingual TV being available to all Canadians was supported by over 54 percent of those surveyed (60 percent of English Canadians and 38 percent of French Canadians).
Given all of the above, we have been determined to see our value acknowledged and our place in the system secured. The results? Well, the current version of the legislation updating the Broadcasting Act includes lan-guage in Clause 3 of the Bill, which, if passed, will hopefully ensure that regulatory action focuses on concrete measures to address systemic inequities and provide full and equal participation in the broadcasting system by diverse ethnic minority and racialized communities. It is critical that these sections become law. That language states that the system should “support the production and broadcasting of programs in a diversity of languages that reflect racialized communities and the diversity of the ethnocultural composition of Canadian society, including through broadcasting undertakings that are carried on by Canadians from racialized communities and diverse ethnocultural backgrounds.”
Given the pressures being exerted on our sector by a fast-changing media content industry, we desperately hope and remain determined to see our value acknowledged and our place in the system secured. For the benefit of the creators of ethnic content, the broadcasters of that content and of course the viewers, in Canada and worldwide.
*Aldo Di Felice is president of Toronto-based TLN Media Group and a co-founding member of the Canadian Ethnocultural Media Coalition.
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