Exploring the pedagogical challenges to provide a critical perspective on media policy in Canada, Dr. David Skinner in this paper argues that giving students both strong historical and theortical perspectives on policy processes is essential to help them appreciate its impacts and interlinkages in a comprehensive sense. The Indian Medialogue publishes the paper in two parts. Below is the first part.

My talk as advertised is about how we teach media and communication policy in Canada and as you see there are some similarities and how different instructors and institutions approach the subject but there is no standard curriculum in this regard, so in the absence of that curriculum, in the absence of consensus I get to define the field and how we approach it.

Media policy in Canada: Now and then

Before we get the details I do have a few preliminaries on whose ground I want to sketch out. First of all what do I mean by media policy; with media convergence and ongoing development of web based media I mean the field is now obviously constantly  shifting and changing. For instance, in Canada, 25 years ago we had a tension in public policy between content and carriage. In the telecommunication, companies were disallowed to produce content, but today telecom companies own all the broadcasters as well as the web portals. Well, 25 years ago media policy were somewhat distinct from telecom policy, today it is increasingly has poked on both the production and distribution of media content.

This happened during the period of my engagement with the field: since I was a student and now by the job here. It has shifted so quickly that it’s really hard to keep up with. With the merging of the ongoing field issues and stuff, it really is quite fluent in this regard. So in terms of issues, it means media policy of course were reeling from media content to carriage to ownership, to accesses, to copyrights, to net neutrality, to privacy, etc ever shifting.

In terms of media industry and technologies, basically we deal with the film, television, radio, magazines, newspaper, the internet and more recently the ICT in general. So again very diverse. Students see media policy as a very dry and technical subject. Far removed from lights and glamour often associated with media which is generally the reason to end up coming to communications program in the first place as they are goanna be media stars. So obviously media policy is important because it’s a prerequisite to production concerns, and at this level, decisions about what gets to producer are made, the resources are allocated, some ideas and perspectives are given voice and others are left silent, right. And today particularly when we see a massive restructuring  in communication media and  media systems, it’s still in tunes with importance of media policy and its raw in ensuring that people have both the access to media systems as well as access to wide range of ideas and perspective  within those systems, I think it’s a particularly important task. So I think we are charged for an important thing to do here for sure.

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Scholars listening to the presentation of Dr. David Skinner

One more thing to note here, in Canadian communications program media policy is generally framed holistically in terms of critical and cultural perspective, not from administrative or technical perspective. And we see this largely as a product of historical domination of Canadian media by US media products. This is not to suggest that the US or the US media products are inferior, they play a really important role in Canadian media and they define and talk media as well. There is an enemy and there is a fine answer, this is really odd contradictory relationship. But as media policy survey evolved in Canada they made a defensive strategy regarding the US.

Teaching media policy in Canada

First of all I want to establish some of the basic principles to teaching media policy in Canada. After discussing these principles I will like to address some of the challenges faced in teaching policy and then go on to look at some specifics of curriculum and pedagogy.

So for approaching media policy in classroom I think there are basically two key points or principles that first need to be established in the students mind.

  • First is the importance of media in general, particularly in terms of what Ted Friedman calls media as agents of social reproduction and this is of course the key role media plays in our experience of understanding of the world. Or in other words, the role it plays in [communicating] common ideas, values and perspective that it follows to citizens in a particular place or country.
  • The second point is the importance of public policy in creating and actually establishing media. That is driving home the point that media don’t just rise up naturally out of the ground like plants. Like other institutions there, creation and development [of media] is product of particular political and economic ideas and circumstances; circumstances that are constantly shaped by policy makers, business people and others.

In Canada the usual way to establish the first point is the talk about the social and geographic circumstances of the country: how large and complex it is, and how without media, basically it would be impossible to govern or understand the experiences of our fellow citizens. For example I should mention Canada is a very large country. I think it’s the second largest country in the world with relatively small population, about 3000 miles (4500 kilometers) across, population of about 35 million people spread in largely long thin line across southern border with the United States. It is divided in ten provinces with highly regional nature with five quite distinct regions. It’s also divided linguistically with about 65 percent of people speaking English as their first language, about 35 percent speaking French. Obviously it’s not as many people or languages as India or China. It’s a different kind of thing in that regard obviously that’s for sure. But physically it’s very large and sparsely populated. It has five time zones, so communicating across the country has always been an issue.

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A slide from the presentation of Dr. David Skinner

Media as an agent of social reproduction

Of particular importance in terms of media and communication policy, as I mentioned, Canada’s southern neighbor is the United States, the world’s largest producer of English language media products. And it’s all important and never to be forgotten fact when you start talking about media policy. So in this context media is seen basically as stitching the country together as central to the social, political and economic life of the country. And here rising out of the geography lesson, we try to drive home the idea that media is very important then in terms of social reproduction, in terms of keeping the country together. And we drive home the point by illustrating these kinds of change or homilies like just as the railways binds the country together with a ribbon of steel so too the media binds it together with idea. And we have this in Canada actually spread through the railways from the east to the west, so vision of the railways is big and everybody minds right. And when you tie these ideal ideas like that, hopefully you drive the point home.

Canadian media are overrun with the US media products

Once this point is made that media stitches the country together, we have to confront the other fact which is very ironic that given the proximity of the US, Canadian media are filled with American media product.  Promised statistic are 70 percent of television watched is mainly American, 95 percent of films we watch are American, 65 percent of books we read and music we listen to are not Canadian. And generally the reason for this is that there is simply much more money to be made by importing American media product, be it TV programs, books, feature film, than by producing Canadian product. It’s not that the Canadians sincerely prefer American media or foreign media but American economic scale in production simply makes the US product much cheaper than their Canadian counterparts. So large private media corporations generally are looking for ways to make money, they all are looking for ways to import US products rather than produce Canadian ones.

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A slide from the presentation of Dr. David Skinner

Don’t get me wrong I am not completely knocking US media here because I would say without US media there would be a lot less Canadian media but that’s not the story we are going to deal with it later. So making the second point that Canadian media are overrun with US products illustrates that without positive intervention in the market by government, there will be very little in the way of Canadian perspectives in the media.

( Dr. David Skinner is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. )