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Vancouver, British Columbia,
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  • Volume Eight, Number Eight: December 2003

    Finally Getting the Message

    Sid Chow Tan

    The BC Liberals may want to close down independent media, as evidenced by their recent attempt to remove the status of the Georgia Straight as a newspaper. But if they do, they have their work cut out for them, if the latest Media Democracy Day event has been any indication.

    CartoonModeled on Earth Day and launched in Vancouver and Toronto in 2001, Media Democracy Day has become an international day of action within three years. This past October 18, the festivities included solidarity teach-ins, protests and independent media happenings from Chicago to Madrid and from Argentina to Bangladesh. More and more, citizens are beginning to understand how commercial media perceives our world and infiltrates our democracy.

    Media democracy is the idea that the media must provide us with the range of information we need to be active and responsible citizens. It seeks to inspire media that serves us as citizens and not just as consumers. The movement is gaining momentum and presence. Its slogan:
    • Know the media.
    • Change the media.
    • Be the media.

    Judged by attendance, the third annual Media Democracy Day recently celebrated at the Vancouver Public Library was a resounding success. Workshops and the keynote evening panel neared standing room only as local media activists discussed how to improve public communication and citizenship in our corporate media landscape. The independent media fair in the library foyer and moat was filled with the hustle and bustle of independent media organisations and practitioners, an on-the-ground testament of growing media activism.

    In a surprise turn, the day's fill of progressive media activism in British Columbia was provided by veterans of the Vancouver Sun. David Beers, Denny Boyd, Nancy Knickerbocker, Deborah Jones and Charles Campbell talked about the hollowing out of mainstream journalism and what might fill the vacuum.

    While each had their own stories to illustrate the downward direction of journalism at the Vancouver Sun, it was the paper's unwillingness to properly cover leaky condos that became the hot discussion topic. Seems the launch of a "New Homes" section was problematic because advertisers did not want stories about poorly built homes.

    "Media Democracy Day highlights what is at stake - the imagination of the Canadian public who vote. ICTV is about community television, which gives Canadians the legal right to demand and receive access to their local cable channel," states Michael Lithgow, executive director of Independent Community Television co-operative, currently with two hours weekly of scheduled programs going out to Shaw cable's 650,000 subscribers.

    "Canadians need to realize how fortunate they are to have citizen access to cable distribution enshrined in the Broadcast Act."

    The information fair had well over forty tables ranging from the Georgia Straight, Shared Vision and Columbia Journal to CFRO Co-op and CJSF Simon Fraser radio. While Lithgow collected signatures for a petition to the House of Commons titled "End Corporate Control of Community Television," other ICTV volunteers were archiving the workshops. At the next table, Tammy Meyer and Dave Maidman of Indy Media hawked T-shirts and logo-wear amidst a whirl of beta and mini-DV cameras. Those nearby mugged, knowing of the capture for broadcast on the Indy Media web site and ICTV on Shaw cable 4.

    "Now that the door is once again opened by regulators to community-based television, it is up to citizens in their communities to start producing programming with a little more substance," comments Geoff Scott, working on a broadcast version of Media Democracy Day for ICTV. "How can community television in Vancouver be democratic when Shaw cable gets all the money and community groups get nothing?"

    In this case, the rules are stacked against ICTV. Scott and Lithgow point out Shaw in Greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley collects close to $5-million dollars annually from subscribers for community television.
    Meanwhile, ICTV relies on its membership for contributions and fundraising to produce shows and operate its office at Pigeon Park. There were over sixty signatures on the petition addressing this regulated inequity. More than enough for ICTV to claim a successful Media Democracy Day.

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