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.
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
"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.