Friday, April 29, 2005

CBC In Hamilton?

I received an email, this morning, from the Hamilton (the city I moved from to come to LA) chapter of the Council of Canadians, a moderate, non-partisan, left-nationalist organization that has been quite involved in opposing neoliberal globalization and privatization of public resources, and trying to strengthen communities in Canada. The email included a link to this site, which briefly describes a study and lobbying effort to get Hamilton a local CBC radio station.

Hamilton is, apparently, the largest local market in the country without such a station. In addition, I can attest to the fact that broadcast media diversity in the city is woefully inadequate. I was involved in local radio journalism at the campus/community station in the city, 93.3 FM CFMU, for a few years. In particular, my show covered city hall and local social movement activities. CFMU had few resources at all, being a campus/community station, and other local radio stations chose to devote very few resources to news. In fact over the course of the time I was involved there was some kind of a buy-out and merger of commercial stations so there was only one newsroom (of sorts) feeding into the couple of stations that had any space at all on their schedule for news. And as anyone who has listed to local commercial radio news knows, it tends to be shallow and with a fairly conservative slant.

On all of those grounds, having a local CBC station would probably be a good idea. They would probably have more resources to devote to local news, which might force other stations to devote more resources to local news as well. While CBC is still an institution of the dominant media, with all of the limitations that implies, it still does tend to be marginally more balanced than market-driven dominant media institutions. I also have a certain irrational fondness for it: While I have not listened to CBC radio much as an adult, when I grew up, every time I was going anywhere in a car with my parents, CBC was on the radio, and I have many pleasant memories of the voices of Alan Maitland, Peter Gzowski, Lister Sinclair, and even, when he was carefully sequestered on "As It Happens" and not allowed to run rampant on the morning show, Michael Enright. Many a time I dozed off in the car coming back from a canoeing adventure with my Dad while "Ideas" or some other late-night documentary or even radio drama played as the soundtrack to my snoozing. My very first memory of things from the public sphere was the "Royal Canadian Air Farce" radio show that was broadcast on Sundays in the early afternoon -- and which was much funnier on the radio than it has ever been since it moved to television -- making fun of Pierre Trudeau's famous "walk in the snow" during which he decided to step down as Prime Minister.

So, yes, I think it would be good for Hamilton, and good for democracy in the city to have a local CBC station.

On ther other hand, I'm not as enthusiastic about such a thing as I once would have been, since my stay in the United States. I'd rather have CBC over NPR (National Public Radio) any day, but in this country there is the amazing phenomenon of state and foundation funding going into actual community-based broadcast media. In other words, there are state dollars in this right-wing nation going to support much more progressive media than the CBC (as well as much more conservative media, of course, in some parts of the country). My local favourite station, KPFK, exists mostly on donations from listeners that roll in at a scale unimagineable in Hamilton, but I think something like 10% of its budget comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a federal government entity. And it is a much more particiaptory and democratic media space than the CBC has ever pretended to be. Of course most cities in the U.S. don't have a Pacifica station like KPFK, and the CPB is apparently under pretty concerted attack from the Bush administration and its allies. Nonetheless, it would be exciting to promote a model of broadcast media in Hamilton and in all of Canada that involved substantial support for genuine participatory, grassroots media. The country's campus/community stations, particularly outside of Toronto and Vancouver, are an incredibly under-utilized resource for social movements and communities. So while I support a CBC station moving to Hamilton, I'd love to see Council of Canadians members and other people concerned with social justice in the city give money to CFMU and figure out ways to contribute their labour to the station, to IMC Hamilton, and to whatever other media options can be created.

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