Or is the lack of diversity of information a threat to democracy in Canada?
Nowadays, in this era of the ubiquity of commercial speech and concentration of the media, the mediated public space is in crisis, a crisis caused by the media\’s dependence on the elites of political and economic powers, by the heavy presence of advertising and the commodification of information and cultural media content. The evolution of the media as the arrival of the Internet marks the most important advance in the field of communications since the invention of the printing press, but its grouping between global giants and the exploitation of its vulnerabilities by individuals and organizations, determined to destabilize our democracy runs counter to its original promise and threatens the public interest. This is the reason why we wonder about the diversity of media and its hold on democracy.
On the one hand, to alleviate this crisis situation of the public space mediatized that alters the democratic vitality, Alain Touraine, a French sociologist designates the features of a cultural democracy in which each individual or group poses as a free actor and capable of recognizing the other actors, in their diversity, and of composing with them a multicultural society based on intercultural communication. This model of democracy implies the recognition and respect of cultural rights, one of the three interdependent conditions of democracy with political representation and citizenship (Touraine, 1994). Fundamental rights in the same way as political and social rights in recent years, cultural rights, as formulated, among others, by Council of Europe bodies, aim to protect the public\’s right to information and cultural diversity, as well as the diversity of formats and media sources, while the concentration of commercial media companies, which has become the norm in many Western countries, represents a threat to the exercise of these same rights.
This is the case in Quebec. From now on, the private ownership mode largely dominates the Quebec media space, very marked by a concentration that takes the form of the duopoly. In this sector, competition, the quest for the largest audiences, markets and profits are sources of homogenization and merchandising programs. At the same time, the so-called public service media are declining as the Canadian government, poured into economic neoliberalism, deregulates to facilitate the merger of Canada\’s major commercial broadcasters, and disengages by reducing the parliamentary appropriation periodically of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. All this clarifies the sociopolitical issues and the consequences of the concentration of commercial broadcasting undertakings in Quebec on the diversity of information and cultural content, public space, and democracy.
In this context of privatization and increased commercialization of the media, the recognition and respect of cultural rights, as well as of the public\’s right to information, outline the features of the public service media (management and content) that are part of a process of democratization and revitalization of the media and public space. This is why Sénécal\’s writings highlight some characteristics of these public service media that can be seen in today\’s community media and radio. This author allows us to put into perspective the notions that have historically supported the development of community media in Quebec: horizontal communication, the diversity of words and social experiences obscured by the mass media, the innovation of practices and programs, the participation of citizen-receiver’s representative of groups or social movements that constitute civil society. It is also important to understand what is happening to these notions supporting the democratization of the media, while the changes and contradictions of some of these community media, which are struggling with financial difficulties caused by changing political moods, push them into case, to enter them also and to varying degrees in a commercial and commercial logic.
On the other hand, nowadays the media, and in particular commercial mass television, which is omnipresent in the life of the citizens, do not serve the democratic action, but contribute, on the contrary, to impoverish the public space, which, like these media, is now invaded by advertising. Subject to competition and survival based on increasing advertising revenues, the commercial media systematize the increased commercialization of their cultural and informational content, convey representations of the consumer society and serve as a promotional showcase for its multiple products. This commercial media logic, by decreasing the diversity of voices and altering the content of political and social debates, contributes to the revitalization of the public space and to the maintenance of two distinctive corollary phenomena of post-industrial societies that weaken the political and legal system and its institution.
This erasure of the conscience of the citizen in favor of that of the consumer of programs and political personalities generates de-socialization. Voters do not have to look at the political, cultural and social orientations of political parties, these topics being partially or completely removed from the electoral debates and, between two mandates, from the decision-making scene policies that are taken in parliamentary spaces. This is why the electorate is becoming more and more indifferent, suspicious and resigned to politics. It feels deprived of its right of representation by parties that have gradually become \”political enterprises\” more concerned with producing elected or winning governments, among others by using the media and the services of firms that are experts in political communication and marketing, than to defend the \”social interests of their constituents\” according to John Street. In the elections, according to John Street, the vote of the voters-consumers is the purchase of the elected officials provided that they defend their particular interests. But this democracy of individual and consumerist interests is at the antipodes of a participative and citizen democracy based on collective interests and the common good, in which the equal and different democratic rules of \”living together\” prevail.
It is then that we can make a state of media content, more particularly of television programs, characterized by the omnipotence of public figures, by the personalization of political events and by the “politics-spectacle”, derivative product of the “information-spectacle”. More specifically, in the political field, the reduction of political decisions or programs to their simplest expression, the formulation of arguments in the form of advertising slogans, serve very well the imperatives of headlines or headlines of newspapers, but very few public debates. This is the reason why political figures hardly expose their ideas, their programs or their choices, but rather \”the feeling of a policy. \”
Moreover, community media play a vital role in the development and vitality of official language populations. They are both a reflection of their language, culture, and community. For more than twenty years, we have witnessed the steady growth of the commercial media, at the same time that the Canadian state periodically reduces CBC\’s annual parliamentary appropriations, leading to the increased privatization of public television and the weakening of its radio station unequally financed from one year to the next. It is therefore important to look with optimism on \”new ways of thinking about public broadcasting\” (Raboy, 2000). They result in the creation of autonomous, independent, free and alternative media that serve neither the interests of the state nor those of capital. In a context of concentration and commodification of content and audiences, these public media guarantee \”the expression of the diversity of points of view, the only way to democratically defend the interests of citizens\” (Raboy, 2000). While public service accountability should ideally apply to the broadcasting system and be based on respect for cultural rights and the right to freedom of expression, it appears that in the current Canadian media space, many community media (radio, print, television, Internet) are the only ones who take up this function. Even if they have recurrent funding problems, many of them assume a public service function and are therefore vectors of democracy.
Indeed, despite the changes and certain contradictions mainly related to their mode of financing, two ingredients still make community media places of democratization of the communication and public service processes. The first ingredient relates to the dissemination of diversified words and social experiences and representations of minority groups that are always overshadowed or discriminated against in the mass media, even if they claim to broadcast pluralistic content. According to John Street, supported by the state or commercial broadcasters, pluralism liberal version is a myth that refers to a purely economic creed, and only admits ideas, opinions, values, speeches, logics that comfort them. As for the logic of competition, it does not combine with the pluralism of media companies, sources, and programs, but serves the law of the strongest broadcaster and the concentration of the media. The second ingredient relates to the right of citizen-receivers or their representative groups to not only be media consumers, mere receivers of content, but to participate, engage in their community media, to varying degrees and various ways.
In addition, multiple community media nowadays assume a social responsibility of public service usually associated with the media in a democracy, and defend this principle of independence of the political and economic powers for the purposes of democratization and revitalization of the public space. Their impact on the revitalization of the public space is dual. On the one hand, they ensure the right of their respective publics to a range of political, social, economic and cultural information, which enables the formation of an informed public opinion that reflects the actors, concerns and the society. On the other hand, by diffusing in their local or regional communities’ various points of view and contents, they contribute to fuel public debates in many areas of social life. Indeed, many of these media do not consider their audience as a sum of program and newspaper consumers, but as a public-citizen involved in the communication process, citizens who can take inspiration from their contents to discuss political orientations. social, economic and cultural issues that concern them, formulate and convey to the rulers’ enlightened opinions and proposals for action in the context of a democratic society. Such efforts can only contribute positively to revitalizing a democracy weakened by a climate of de-politicization and de-socialization.
To conclude, by offering innovative and diversified content, reflecting the socio-cultural interests and the realities of the communities neglected by the traditional media, community media make it possible to realize to a certain extent the application and respect of cultural rights, including the right of the public information (to inform, produce and share) and culture. While these fundamental rights, along with political and social rights, are one of the three interdependent conditions of democracy with citizenship and representativeness of elected representatives, the existence and permanence of free, independent media are therefore more than never at stake of democracy.
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