Converging in Parallel
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[Panel 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5]

Panel 2: Reconfiguring Regulation
15:30 - 16:45 -- Thursday, November 9, 2006

Moderator: Jeremy Shtern (Doctoral Candidate, Département de communication, Université de Montréal).

Jump to panellist: Fremeth, Gaylard, Grimes, Taylor, Wagman.

1. Howard Fremeth (Doctoral Candidate, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University). What role can researchers play in connecting the public discussion on communication policy with the communication policy process?

My research examines a curious moment in Canadian communication policy: the 2004 federal election.  This now forgotten political moment teaches communication scholars many lessons about how to connect the discussion of communication policy with the policy process.  The main lesson is that communication scholars need to question their support of either cultural or corporate organizations in the policy process.  Instead, interested scholars should directly engage politicians and political parties by reaching out to constituencies and citizen groups.  

With only 60.9% voter turnout, the 2004 election has the ignominious honour of having the lowest turnout in Canadian history.  The explanation for this poor state of public interest was that there lacked any substantive political issue.  Instead, it was largely an antagonistic campaign focusing more on emotions such as fear than actual policy.   Occurring before the release of the Gomery Report, the news media with the help of the Liberal Party framed the election in terms of how a Conservative government under leader Stephen Harper would affect Canada's social fabric and government sponsored programs such as healthcare.  Although the Conservative Party began the campaign leading in the polls, the Liberal Party's fear mongering eventually turned the tide and Paul Martin won a minority government.   One such issue that arose was how a Conservative government would affect communication policy (included in this broad heading are culture, telecommunications and broadcasting).

Considering the election was called before the new Conservative Party held an official party policy meeting, the party distributed a series of ad hoc briefing notes to all candidates.  One of such notes was leaked to the press, which declared that a Conservative government would both reduce the CRTC's mandate and also allow American satellite television into Canadian homes.  Interestingly, the issue became a front-page newspaper story on both the arts and business sections of the National Post and The Globe and Mail.  

As for the corporate interest, business columnist Eric Reguly  of The Globe and Mail warned Canadians that an end to content regulations would diminish the impetrative to keep broadcasters Canadian: "CTV might become ABC Canada."  As for the cultural interest, fears were most adamantly expressed by the then Minister of Heritage, Helene Scherrer.  Scherrer who was in a fierce contest to keep her seat in the Quebec riding of Louis-Hebert announced at the Banff Television Festival that a Conservative government would abolish the CRTC, the CBC and the Canada Council.    Her biggest supporter was the executive director of ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), Stephen Waddell.  Waddell put on a news conference with celebrities such as Paul Gross, Sarah Polley, and Ken Finkleman to warn that a Conservative Party victory would mean that Canadian actors "would all be working for the Americans."

Fears over a change in the policy status quo highlighted the intimacy and similarity between the corporate and cultural interests.  Both interests framed the debate in terms of economic considerations especially over fears of American ownership.  Missing from this discussion was any substantive argument connecting national identity with culture and communications.  It is in this vacuum that communication scholars have a role to engage the public and politicians by connecting communication policy to non-economic considerations.

2. Teisha Gaylard (Director of Policy, Canadian Broadcast Standards Council). What academic research, if any, has the CBSC drawn on in its own analysis and research? What type of academic research would most usefully enable the CBSC to better meet the goals outlined in its mandate?

The CBSC does not rely directly on academic research in its decision-making process, nor does it conduct any extensive research of its own.  In the exercise of its mandate to administer the codes of standards established by Canada's private broadcasters, it responds to viewer and listener complaints about television and radio programming content.  Those codes cover a variety of issues, including the presentation of violence, sexual content, coarse language and other mature subject matter; the representation of identifiable groups; accuracy and fairness in news and public affairs programming; full, fair and proper presentation of comment and opinion; and gender portrayal, among others.

Research related to those areas is far more relevant at the code-development stage than it is once the codified standards have been drafted and are being applied.  After all, academic and other research identifies areas of concern and potential solutions; the codes then reflect the broadcasters' commitment to resolve such concerns by providing guidance for their programming decisions.  To choose a recent example, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) has just presented the CRTC with a new draft code dealing with the portrayal of visible minorities and persons with disabilities.  The text was based in large measure on research in the form of consultations with stakeholders, interviews, focus groups, content analyses, and reviews of best practices in other areas.  Once the text has been finalized, additional research will be less important to the CBSC.

Moreover, the CBSC is also aware that much academic research is open to debate or even reflects contradictory positions.  Research into the effects of television violence on children is an obvious example.  Although the consequences of such broadcast violence are unresolved even today, in 1994 private broadcasters codified a position reflecting one side of the issue and their desire to be part of the solution rather than a part of the problem.

The CBSC determines whether a challenged broadcast is in violation of any of the codified rules.  That evaluation, in the form of a decision, is taken by Adjudicating Panels composed of equal numbers of individuals from the broadcasting industry and the general public.  The Adjudicators reflect gender equality and diverse backgrounds in terms of nationality, ethnicity, religion, education, professional experience and so on.  This diversity enables a broad reflection of current community values, an important consideration in the CBSC's decisions.  In addition to their understanding of those values, the Panels rely primarily on previous CBSC decisions, which serve as precedents.  They rarely review any academic research, although they occasionally refer to codes and decisions taken by similar bodies in other jurisdictions.

Given its role as a body representing both the public and the broadcasters, the CBSC is sensitive to general concerns held by both groups.   In its decisions, the CBSC aims to balance these viewpoints so that there is neither infringement of the broadcasters' creativity and freedom of speech nor of other important Canadian societal values.

3. Sara M. Grimes (Doctoral Candidate, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University). Disciplines such as psychology and education have long histories of research on children. Does policy-oriented communications research bring insights formed in other disciplines to bear on the communication policy process? Should that be part of its responsibility?

Within the context of children and the media, Canadian policymakers have a long history of drawing upon a variety of academic disciplines and special interest groups to inform regulatory practices and other government initiatives. As a result of the wide diversity of fields and perspectives involved in the study of children and the media, policy-oriented communications research in particular has had to adopt an interdisciplinary approach in order to maintain a comprehensive grasp of the various issues and debates involved. However, although communications research grounded within other disciplines-including psychology, health research, education, and sociology-may hold a higher relevance and applicability than studies that assume a more narrow focus, this very interdisciplinarity can also produce contradictions and contribute to regulatory impasses. This has been experienced recently in the US, where conflicting academic evidence (from psychologists on the one hand, and 'cultural studies'-oriented media scholars on the other) and ongoing high-profile controversies have resulted in a legislative quagmire, wherein new state legislation aimed at regulating video games is systematically shot down mere months after passing into law. As Kline (2005) suggests, the lack of consensus among children's media scholars and the "contested role" of media effects research, both across and within disciplines, has as much impact upon the public discourse on children and the media as the studies themselves. In some cases, the very lack of consensus, or lack of undeniable causal "evidence," among this heterogeneous set of experts seems to have delayed or even prevented important issues from progressing much beyond the stage of public debate. The history of interdisciplinarity within policy-oriented communications research is thus somewhat contentious, at times enabling comprehensiveness and at times obscuring the issues.

As media technologies and content continue to converge, however, an interdisciplinary research approach is becoming more crucial now than ever before. Today we see a continued homogenization of content across media platforms on the one hand, and the integration of content and advertising (such as product placement and online "advergames") on the other. Traditional understandings of "programming" and "advertising" are no longer applicable, and interactive media (such as video games) do not conform to the regulatory standards originally outlined for film and television. Meanwhile, Internet and social networking technologies have broken down other traditional boundaries, between producer and consumer, for instance, and between audience research and content provision. Just as media components are merging, media producers and marketers are now able to integrate the once distinct (though always compatible) activities of entertaining, advertising and market research. Over the past thirty years, the media and marketing industries have established themselves at the forefront of children's media research, cultivating a level of expertise that is now articulating itself within sophisticated, "intertextual" (Kinder 1995) media brands that traverse across various media forms and fulfill a variety of functions in children's lives. While existing Canadian media regulation deals with the media in a highly specialized and fragmented way-through various, somewhat uncoordinated, federal and provincial policies, as well as industry-generated guidelines, each dealing with specific mediums and advertising formats individually-the commercial media are reaching new heights in coordination, integration and intertextuality-both in terms of content as well as in terms of the research they rely upon to construct this converging digital children's culture. In order to be relevant within this "digitized" media environment, Canadian policymakers will need to adopt a similarly integrated framework, one which maintains an emphasis on interdisciplinarity-despite the methodological and ideological 'stalemates' that have stunted this approach in the past.

4. Gregory Taylor (Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University). How can comparative research into coregulatory regimes contribute to discussions of Canadian post-convergence communication policy?

Canadian work in the area of co-regulation has effectively stalled since the introduction of the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council in 1989.  Canada, once at the forefront of media governance, must now take its cues from studies from Germany and the UK and look to the extensive adaptation of co-regulatory practices in Australia.  While there is some scholarly research and analysis on co-regulation in advertising and broadcast standards, little work has been done on the broader implications of a more comprehensive application of co-regulation to the Canadian media system.  In 2002, Monroe Price noted that Canadian media policy "has had a consistent dimension of international concern"; in areas of co-regulatory regimes I would argue the international approach must become a Canadian concern. The historic distinctiveness of the Canadian media climate (proximity to U.S. broadcasts, pluralist society, public/private system) is no longer unique to the Canadian experience and as such there is much to be gained from comparative research.  

Distinct from self-regulation, which is industry initiated and administered, co-regulation is typically a government initiative that allows for considerable industry autonomy under clearly defined parameters set out in a statutory framework, such as the Broadcasting Act. Co-regulatory (or 'regulated self-regulatory') initiatives in broadcasting are currently being expanded in countries as diverse as the UK, Australia, and Malaysia. While self-regulation has generally been limited to media content, some jurisdictions, such as the UK and the European Union, are seeking to develop co-regulatory regimes that will further limit the recourse to public regulatory bodies, thus expanding the role of the private sector in media governance. An obvious sign of the increasingly global clout of the private media sector, co-regulation is portrayed as a means of reducing the bureaucracy to which media corporations have historically been subject, while helping governments establish competitive advantage in the global media marketplace.  The industrial benefits of co-regulation are relatively straightforward but will that come at a price of democratic accountability?

The rationale for co-regulation is deceptively simple: according to its proponents, it allows for greater flexibility and efficiency within the system while offering the same levels of protection afforded by more traditional means of regulation.  However, detractors view the situation differently, characterizing co-regulation as allowing the fox to guard the henhouse.

Self-regulation in Canadian broadcasting is currently embodied by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), an industry creation which has a very specific, self-imposed mandate (as opposed to co-regulation) to address content issues relating to violence, sexuality and children's programming.  The CBSC was a unique policy direction when it received CRTC approval in 1989 but there has been little change since.  Convergence at both the technical and corporate level has evolved dramatically since that date.  There is now a body of work outside of Canada that has addressed the issue of co and self regulatory regimes and this is a necessary resource for Canadian research.  Far greater study is required before the inevitable question arises of co-regulation's applicability to the Canadian context.

5. Ira Wagman (Assistant Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University). What forms of knowledge have successfully influenced Canadian broadcasting policy? Have these forms been absent from mandated broadcasting studies whose recommendations have largely been ignored? Are they present or absent in communication policy research today?

When the 1957 Report of the Royal Commission on Broadcasting (or "Fowler Commission") described Canadian broadcasting as a "mixed, single system," comprised of private and public broadcasters working in the national interest, it also established the discursive foundations for the creation of a vast regulatory apparatus.  The implementation of Canadian content regulations extended the policy reach to the production community.  Any changes to the system since Fowler has been technical (such as raising or lowering the content amounts for broadcasters), or lateral maneuvering (such as extending policy domain over cable and satellites).  The proliferation of new technologies, industrial transformations, and shifting media consumption practices has not altered the "mixed, single system" model of Canadian broadcasting.

How can we characterize the knowledge formations supporting this durable regulatory ethic? For me, three explanations usually offered -- cultural nationalism, broadcasting as a public resource, and industrial development -- are too vague.  An appreciation of the complexities of policy begins at the point where the cultural and industrial spheres meet. With this in mind, I argue that Canadian broadcasting policy has a profoundly automotive character. What I mean here is that Canada's broadcasting policy drew inspiration from policies from other areas of the Canadian economy, including those affecting the country's automotive industry in the early twentieth century.  These included support for foreign investment to encourage branch plant production, barriers to entry of foreign products, and "Canadian content" quotas to assist Canada's fledgling automotive parts sector.

Considered this way, I see numerous elements of Canadian broadcasting policy as driven by what I consider to be "automotive knowledge." The determination of a "Canadian program" is based upon whether the production has the right number of Canadian components in key creative positions.  Franchise programs like Idol allow producers to keep the basic British "engine" and supplement it with Canadian "parts."  Stations like the Food Network Canada and "industrially Canadian" programs like Stargate SG-1 are based on the notion that access to Canadian and foreign airwaves depends upon a certain amount of space for Canadian independent producers and other creative labour in the end-product.

The dominance of this model is evident when one considers the forms of knowledge absent from discussions of broadcasting policy.  Why don't many individual Canadians "testify" before public hearings determining the direction of their beloved media? The answer may have to do with the fact that federal broadcasting policy is oriented more towards national industrial objectives that have little to do with broadcasting or the mediated experiences of Canadians.  I suggest then that there exist parallel broadcasting publics; one identified in policy driven by automotive discourses of "import substitution", the other largely ignored.

I argue that to investigate the automotive and industrial components of Canadian broadcasting policy we must have an understanding of the evidence used to bring "economy" to broadcasting and make it a zone for regulatory activity.  This turns the analytical attention towards a discussion about epistemology, where policy problems are problems of knowledge about "culture," a concept notoriously elusive to easy definition.  As conventional notions of broadcasting undergo significant transformations, the time is ripe to reconsider the inspirations and rationale for regulating Canadian broadcasting.