Canada is the world’s second-largest country by land area, occupying most of the northern part of North America between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and extending north to the Arctic Ocean. Originally founded as a union of British and former French colonies, Canada became a dominion in 1867 and gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1982. It is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy comprised of ten provinces and three territories. An officially bilingual nation, nearly 60 per cent of the population have English as a mother tongue, while 23 percent have French. Canada adopted an official policy of multiculturalism in 1988, and its population of nearly 33 million people is composed of no fewer than 34 ethnic groups that number at least 100,000 people. Canada is a technologically advanced and industrialized nation whose diversified economy is heavily reliant on trade with the United States, with which it shares land borders to the south and northwest.
Canada’s communications sector has been particularized by three factors: the country’s close and often ambivalent relationship to the United States, its policy of official bilingualism, and its avowed dedication to the principle of multiculturalism. Of these differences, it is Canada’s bilingual status that most clearly separates it from the American model. With seven million French-speaking Canadians, the vast majority of whom are located in the province of Quebec, nationalist and nation-building projects have long had to contend with the issue of “two solitudes” existing side by side. Although some French-language radio and television services are available across the nation, they have limited audience outside of Quebec, and French-language daily newspapers have almost no circulation outside of that province. Concerns over the linguistic divisions among Canadians, as well as the perceived threat of American culture to English-Canadian identity formation, have characterized many governmental interventions into the media system.
Canadian newspapers derive their origins from the influence of the New England colonies. John Bushnell, a printer from Boston, started Canada’s first newspaper, the Halifax Gazette, on March 23, 1752. Early newsweeklies were dependent on governmental patronage and, consequently, were rarely critical. The first significant expansion of the press occurred in the first half of the nineteenth century, as settlers arrived in Upper and Lower Canada. During this period, newspaper editors were often politicians, and their newspapers, including Stephen Miles’ Kingston Gazette (1810) and George Brown’s Toronto Globe (1844), reflected their political orientations. The westward expansion of the late nineteenth century spread the press across the nation, and events such as the Confederation (1867) and the Riel Rebellion (1885) created an interest in domestic news. Canada’s population exploded at the turn of the twentieth century, when it was the fastest growing country in the world. Newspaper circulation doubled between 1901 and 1911, and by 1938 there were 138 daily newspapers in the country. In 1917, Canadian newspapers formed the Canadian Press, a cooperative news agency, which allowed for a greater level of integration of news reporting across the geographically vast nation.
Since the 1960s, Canada’s newspaper industry has been dominated by a shrinking number of increasingly large chains, including CanWest Global, Hollinger International, Quebecor, Torstar, Osprey Media Group, and Power Corp. While most major Canadian cities have competing daily newspapers, and while the country is served by two English-language nationally distributed dailies (the Globe and Mail and the National Post), diversity is limited considerably by the trend toward conglomeration. Specifically, by 1999 chains controlled 95 per cent of Canadian daily newspapers, accounting for 99 percent of total circulation. Currently, only four daily newspapers are classified as independent by the Canadian Newspaper Association, and only one of those (Le Devoir) is considered to be a major newspaper.
In the area of press freedom, a significant body of law covers matters ranging from libel, to contempt of court, and copyright. As well, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, passed as part of the Canadian constitution in 1982, guarantees “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”
Canada’s magazine industry differs significantly from the newspaper industry insofar as it is largely dominated by American publications. In 1961 the Royal Commission on Publications, the O’Leary Commission, reported that 80 percent of Canada’s magazine industry was foreign-controlled, and recommended the imposition of a tariff on “splitrun” editions, or foreign-owned magazines that print a second edition in Canada in order to benefit from Canadian advertising revenues. This recommendation became law in 1965, and has been a source of controversy between Canada and the United States for decades. In 1997, the United States successfully challenged Canada’s laws on split-run magazines through the World Trade Organization, and two years later, after negotiations with the US, the Foreign Publishers Advertising Services Act was passed as a compromise position.
Broadcasting And Digital Media
Canada’s national broadcasting system was initiated as a response to the Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting (1928 –1929), also known as the Aird Commission. The Aird Commission reported a widespread concern about the Americanization of Canadian airwaves, recommended that broadcasting be publicly owned, and advocated for the establishment of a national public radio network. In 1932, this network, known as the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC), was established by the government of R. B. Bennett, when it took over a number of stations operated by the Canadian National Railway (CNR). Four years later the passage of the Canadian Broadcasting Act changed the CRBC into a full-fledged crown corporation and altered its name to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
In 1955, spurred by the arrival of television in Canada (1952), a second broadcasting commission, the Royal Commission on Broadcasting (1955 –1957), otherwise known as the Fowler Commission, was convened. The recommendations of this commission resulted in the Broadcasting Act (1958), which stripped the CBC of its regulatory powers by establishing the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG) as an oversight body, opened the door for the creation of national private broadcasting networks, and established the first Canadian content regulations, requiring a threshold of 45 percent Canadian content as a condition for receiving a broadcasting license. In 1968 the Broadcasting Act was amended, expanding Canadian content quotas to 60 percent, requiring Canadian ownership of the broadcasting system, and establishing the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as a replacement for the BBG. The CRTC was charged with granting and renewing broadcasting licenses, maintaining programming quotas, and ensuring the ongoing Canadian ownership of the broadcasting system. In 1971, the CRTC introduced a point system for Canadian content intended to clarify Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act. This checklist awards points for the number of Canadians involved in the production of a film, song, or television program, and became the basis for calculating Canadian content from that point forward.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, CBC Television’s role as a public forum has been challenged by a series of funding cuts. In 1990, CBC closed eleven regional stations as a result of cuts to its budget, and in 1995 the resignation of CBC president Anthony Manera over the issue of funding highlighted the crisis situation for the public broadcaster. By 1999, the CBC’s budget had been reduced to $820 million, far below the 1990 budget of $1.2 billion. Critics of the CBC point to the fact that Canada has one of the most diverse television spectrums in the world as evidence that there is no longer an important role for a public broadcaster in the system. Cable television was introduced to Canada in 1952 and was an important feature of the television landscape in urban centers by the 1970s. Subscriber specialty channels were introduced in 1983 and significantly expanded in 1996, and again in 2000 when the CRTC approved the licenses of 283 new digital television channels.
Canada’s current television landscape is comprised of six types of channels: (1) basic service analogue stations comprising local over-the-air affiliates; (2) analogue specialty channels such as TSN, CBC Newsworld, and the Weather Network; (3) digital specialty channels such as OutTV and the Documentary Channel; foreign channels from (4) the United States (A&E) and (5) other nations; and (6) premium movie services. Generally, satellite and cable providers offer packages ranging from approximately three dozen (basic service) to more than two hundred (digital) channel options. Despite the broad range of viewer options, television viewing in Canada is dominated by dramas, situation comedies, reality television programming, and sports broadcasting (particularly professional hockey). Consistently, the most popular programs in English Canada mirror the most popular programs in the United States, with the notable exception of CBC’s Hockey night in Canada. By contrast, almost all of the most popular programs in French-speaking Canada are produced in Quebec and feature local celebrities.
Despite the creation of two Canadian digital networks in 2005 (Sirius Canada and XM Radio Canada), radio remains a predominantly local phenomenon in Canada. While the CBC has two national radio networks that attract approximately 11 percent of all listeners, the bulk of the radio audience tunes in to one of the 515 commercial AM and FM radio stations offering a range of options from adult contemporary and contemporary hit music, to news, sports, and talk radio. One of the defining features of Canadian radio is the Canadian content regulatory framework that governs it. The CRTC requires that 35 per cent of popular music played between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. be of Canadian origin, as defined by the MAPL criteria that assign points based on a song’s music, artist, production, and lyrics. French-language radio stations, which comprise 20 percent of the total, are further required to broadcast 65 per cent of their musical selections in French, and must also meet the minimum Canadian content requirements.
Unlike television and radio, the CRTC has largely left the Internet unregulated, allowing it to be developed by the private sector and academic communities. Canada is a world leader in broadband access, a nation in which 17 million adult Canadians (68 per cent of the population) reported using the Internet for personal or nonbusiness purposes in 2005. Increasingly, the Internet has become an important domestic communications technology, with almost two-thirds of users who access it from home doing so daily. Nonetheless, a notable gap has arisen between cities and rural areas, with urban Canadians significantly more likely to access the Internet.
Conglomeration In The Canadian Communications Industries
The conglomeration that has defined the Canadian newspaper industry is increasingly a reality for the entire media system. As convergence becomes the norm, a small number of corporations have seized control of much of the media. The largest players in the media field include CanWest Global, CTVglobemedia (formerly Bell Globemedia), Rogers Media, Quebecor Media, Corus Entertainment, and Alliance-Atlantis.
CanWest Global owns the Global television network, the smaller CH television network, and a number of digital specialty channels; a small number of radio stations; and the former Southam newspaper chain, which includes a number of major dailies as well as the National Post. CTVglobemedia is the owner of the CTV television network, and a large number of specialty television channels, as well as the Globe and Mail newspaper. In 2007 it acquired the CHUM television network, a large number of specialty television channels, and a radio network from CHUM Limited. Rogers Media controls a large portion of the cable industry, more than 70 consumer magazines (including the newsweekly Macleans), 46 radio stations, and numerous specialty television stations. In 2007, Rogers agreed to purchase from CTVglobemedia the Citytv stations formerly owned by CHUM. Quebecor Media owns Vidéotron, the largest cable provider in Quebec, as well as the 18 newspapers in the Sun Media chain, the TVA French-language broadcasting network and its affiliated French-language specialty channels, and the group of publishing houses Éditions Quebecor.
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