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Question 12: Values and Culture

What are the best means for Canada to make its culture and experience known abroad?



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Date: 2003-05-01 15:05:24
Subject: A Dialogue on Foreign Policy

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is a Canada-wide voluntary organization supported by 60,000 households whose mission is to defend and enhance the quality and quantity of Canadian programming in the audio-visual system. We welcome this opportunity to dialogue with you on foreign policy.

In requesting input, you suggest submissions respond to specific questions. We have chosen to focus our remarks on Question #12:

“What are the best means for Canada to make its culture and experience known abroad?”

The question itself deserves comment. There are good reasons to ensure articulation between domestic policy and foreign policy. Canada enjoys the benefits of a substantial matrix of programs, regulations and institutions that reflect our determination to celebrate and share our culture and experience, as well as to defend a distinct identity on the northern half of the North American continent. Cultural industries create economic wealth and nourish our sense of time and place as Canadians. We applaud your determination to examine the correlation between domestic and foreign policy and to recognize the value in “exporting” Canadian culture and experience abroad.

1. Cultural Ambassadors

Popular and celebrated artists have enjoyed increased visibility over the past century - and are frequently considered to be the new royalty of our times. These individuals - and Canada boasts a great many - possess a tremendous potential to define our country to the world. Cost-effective strategies to celebrate these Canadian icons could make a very positive contribution to any effort we make to add texture to Canada’s image abroad.

The government should deploy the CBC as a cultural ambassador. Its wealth of high production value Canadian content is of near-cult interest to many Americans, yet its signals are hard to find just south of the border. While CBC has toyed with broadcasting to Americans over the years, this has been done in a desultory fashion, without encouragement in policy or finance from the government. Three years ago, CBC sold two satellite-delivered channels in the United States to American interests. Several CBC Radio transmitter changes from AM to FM have greatly reduced CBC’s presence in border states.

Canada’s investment in Radio Canada International, 50 cents per Canadian per year, is much lower than that of many other countries, including countries much smaller than Canada, for example, The Netherlands. Cuts to RCI’s budget have resulted in programming designed for ex-patriate Canadians rather than international audiences. The number of languages in which RCI broadcasts has been greatly curtailed since the 1980s. An estimated 200 million persons listen to shortwave radio daily. It’s as if the government thinks we have nothing to say to the world.

2. Culture and Trade

International Trade arrangements, such as NAFTA, FTAA and the GATS, present important challenges to Canadian cultural policies. There are very good reasons to sustain or improve existing efforts to ensure adequate “shelf space” for Canadian cultural expressions within our audio-visual system. Consider these facts:

* less than 1% of movie theatres in English Canada screened Canadian movies in 2001;
* 95% of the audience Canwest Global assembles during prime time watch non-Canadian fare, 88% for CTV, vs. 14% for CBC (1999 data); and
* Canada already tolerates greater foreign ownership of broadcasting enterprises than the United States and endures far greater media concentration than is legal in either the United States or most EEC countries;

English-speaking Canadian children, who grow up spending twice as much time watching television as they do studying in school, learn much more about life- at least as television presents it - in Los Angeles, or Miami as they ever do about life in Edmonton, Halifax or Montreal. Canada must defend its capacity to redress this imbalance.

3. Democratic Values

Canada should address the credibility gap that exists between our professed adherence to democratic institutions and reality. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is our most significant cultural institution. Appointments are made by the Governor in Council, in practice by the Prime Minister’s Office, and research demonstrates that partisan political connections are, in fact, a prerequisite.

Outside Canada, leadership of national public broadcasters is widely acknowledged to be a task requiring top flight management skills and a Board of Directors reflecting the breadth of political, broadcasting and business experience. In Canada, the independence of the public broadcaster is tainted by the appointment of Government partisans. This reflects badly on Canada’s international reputation in audio-visual circles.

The appointment process to the CRTC is similarly flawed. By contrast, appointments to the Federal Communications Commission in the United States follow a statutory practice that ensures that at least two of the five commissioners are unaffiliated with the Administration party.

There are countries that favour the Canadian-style political patronage system for cultural institutions – many that we may characterize as “developing”. Friends would urge Canada to enhance our foreign policy credibility by adopting more transparent and merit-based appointment processes within the cultural arena.

4. Conclusion

We applaud your efforts to revitalize Canadian foreign policy. To be effective, Canada’s domestic and foreign policies must be aligned. Cultural expression plays an increasingly important role in shaping our world view, defining our nation’s character abroad, and providing economic opportunity and prosperity.

Living next door to the world’s most predominant cultural force has helped shape many of our domestic policies - and in consequence, has contributed to our success as one of the top exporters of cultural products. We believe that more can be done to celebrate the success of our greatest artists - which in turn can better define Canada’s international profile. We urge the government to protect and enhance our capacity to ensure adequate “shelf space” is available for the expression of Canadian artists. We urge the Government to adopt non-partisan appointment practices to major Canadian cultural institutions.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Morrison
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting
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