Progressive grassroots community media is not in good health in Victoria. Despite a relatively affluent population, there is almost no financial support for grassroots news and commentary, or indeed for any media that differs in style and focus from Canada’s corporate media.
As a result, community media has been starved, strangled, and generally ignored in this city. Interviews of local community media producers, conducted as part of a Community Fellowship at the Centre for Co-operative and Community-Based Economy (CCCBE) at the University of Victoria,1 have revealed that even a high level of personal commitment to a media project is by itself not sufficient to guarantee long-term financial sustainability.
Only in a few cases where the community media project is providing a marketable product or service that attracts government or private funding, can a community media project pay its producers a living wage. Mostly, Victoria’s community media producers are required to support their projects out of their personal finances, often an requiring an exceedingly frugal personal lifestyle or necessitating supplementary employment.
Although a non-commercial or even an anti-commercial attitude could be regarded as being one of the hallmarks of community media, there is no justification for requiring such a high level of personal self-sacrifice from its producers. Through its role as a critical watchdog and promotion of marginalised voices and views, community media increases social vitality and augments democratic vibrancy.
Media corporations take over the Cable Fund
Canadian media corporations, and locally Shaw Cable,2 a major western Canadian cable, digital TV, Internet provider and television network owner, have in recent years deliberately withdrawn their support for community access programming.
With the tacit support of the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC),3 Canada's media regulator, Shaw has funneled its share of the $116 million a year mandatory Cable Fund, originally intended to support community programming, to subsidise The Daily, its own in-house current affairs and lifestyle program.
Although community groups supposedly still have access to the community cable TV channel, local community TV producers reveal that Shaw consistently has pretended that such access no longer exists. There is considerable anguish among the community television community about this.
Despite a comprehensive proposal by the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) to use this fund to set up Community Media Arts centres in cities across the country,4 the CRTC has turned a blind eye to the use of the cable fund by the telecommunications corporations.
Formerly the British Columbia Institute for Co-operative Studies (BCICS). CCCBE is currently accessible at http://www.bcics.org. This will soon become http://www.cccbe.ca to reflect the change of name. ↩