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. Below is the last part of the paper. The first part is available here.

Challenges before media educators & policy makers in Canada

Trying to make the second point brings us to our first challenge in teaching media policy in Canada and that’s particularly English speaking Canada particularly, people often see American TV programs, books and films as their own, and they defend them as such. They don’t identify them as foreign. It’s so much different in Kabach where there is strong appreciation for and defense of French culture but in English Canada the inability to distinguish between foreign and domestic media not only complicates the process of media policy making but it makes teaching media policy difficult as well.

So in face of this problem most people teaching media policy in Canada do tricks, for example to convince students for the need of Canadian media but it’s a bit of the problem. Also in the current situation establishing importance of media policy is further complicated by at least three other factors, ideology, new media technologies and media convergence.

  • In terms of ideology in Canada, particularly in the English Canada again, new liberalism has become the dominant ideology. Students usually show up in the class with the idea that the free markets are the best markets and state intervention is generally both bad and unnecessary. But not all students have this perspective. We had seen radical students arrive with anarchist ideas. So radicals are against government’s policy as well. So you are on one side or other. So either way one cuts, its usually lot of work needed to convince students: first year students or even longer than that second, third, fourth year students, graduate students that media policy is an important issue to study in the first place.
  • As for the explosive new media technologies, of course here many argue that they give many people more choices. In the face of increasing media choices, there is simply no need for positive media policy. In Canada though the opposite is true because increasing range of media choices and the fragmented media market that follows generally, undermine the economics of Canadian media productions, again we are swimming against the seeming common senses situation.
  • And finally the media convergence. They say 25 years ago, there was reasonably firm distinction between the content and carriage but today larger telecom companies are also the largest broadcasters, are also the largest internet service providers while we still have separate legislations governing broadcasting and telecommunication. It’s only a matter of time until those two acts are merged. Consequently, developing an understanding of media policy really means you have to have some backgrounds in telecom policy as well because the two are becoming so and so much entrenched.

Prof David Skinner 1

A slide from the presentation of Dr. David Skinner

So we have two prerequisite ideas to understand policy in Canada as well as some of the challenges in developing those ideas. I think getting soon to understand these basics is really key to getting them [students] interested in media policy because simply teaching about structure and process of regulation is just not enough. There have to be a larger historical understanding of context of policy before we can begin to develop its appreciation for policy itself. That brings us to curriculum.

Undergraduate courses in Media Policy

Now developing these ideas and its appreciation for policy of course is a part of curriculum so we have to look at here. At the undergraduate level for the Bachelor of Arts much of Canada offers a four year program. Here communication generally begins with one or two large first year courses that provide an introduction to the broad field of communication and the course in the following years gets more specialized. In Europe we have first year introduction to communication studies this is at A Level where in terms of policy we work on the basic ideas outlined earlier.

In second year, we provide much specialized courses in three streams: Politics and Policy, Media and Culture Studies, Critical Technologies Studies. At this level the Politics and Policy course really deals with media policy. And here the scope is still quite broad but gets into more details about specific policy fields and processes.

The third and fourth year gets more specialized through dealing with courses that focus particularly on things like broadcast policy, film policy, internet or perhaps courses that compare different types of media policy in different countries, so it comes to that specialized level.


A slide from the presentation of Dr. Skinner

The graduate program is very similar in both MA and PhD. Students join to take two general courses that touch upon some of the backgrounds of policy and then they proceed to more specialized courses in a similarly named three streams.

Ok, so we deal more specifically about the curriculum.

Talking about the ideas identified earlier, that’s the social geographic context of media in Canada and communication and social reproduction, they are generally framed in the context of two elements of curriculum: media history and media as representation. One particularly important thing is to develop a sense of history of how media has developed in the Canadian context. So the first and second year courses are to contain a large element in media history as well both description of structure and process of regulation. It’s in this historic element and the idea that at this level media policy is a historical struggle of ideas that really seeks the attention. Drawing them into history also entails an understanding of media as a system of representation. The idea that media is not simply a mirror on reality but a system that influences and particularly structured by politics, economics and other forces.  So here then we develop the idea that media are a product of material forces in the world and what we see in them depends upon how those forces are at work. Consequently, if we leave media market simply to the profit motive, we end up at the hands of private corporations controlling the market and the media sees, largely as American way of seeing and understanding world. So here policy is important and you cannot stop that from happening.

In the first and second year courses, we begin to develop this critical perspective and equipped with that, move into third and fourth year courses as things get a bit more specific. We begin to look at nuts and bolts of policy and systematic structure and process.

Pedagogical techniques

So here we have some ideas, various techniques to provide different perspectives on policy to enliven the curriculum, we have guest speakers, we will also use newspaper and magazine articles. Get them [the students] to clip newspaper and magazine articles. I once asked a second year class where I thought would be great idea to clip them all articles on media policy of two newspapers over the course of three months then write a little story about that, write a paper about that. So they clipped them all and had to bring them in to the classroom for hand them in to their TA for guide about doing the marking or TA do the marking. Well, each student showed up with a box like this.


A slide from the presentation of Dr. Skinner

Then we also have marked regulatory proceedings, those actually are often developments of having marked regulatory proceedings, we have weekly journals talking about how the media they consume is associated with media policy. And we also have, and that really worked well,  co-opt programs in experimental courses like internship that go on to deal with elements of government policy or may be elements of media company where they do policy or even media reform organization so those were particularly well and experimental projects.

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

Dr. Skinner presented this paper in the international conference on “Contours of Media Governance: Teaching, Disciplinarity, Methodology”, organized by CCMG, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi on February 25-27, 2013.)