Originally published in National Post, Monday,
March 30, 2009.
The recent announcement by federal Heritage Minister James Moore
of the creation of the Canada Media Fund (CMF) is a welcome sign
that the federal government recognizes the need to address the
protection of Canadian culture in the Internet age. But much more
will be required if Canada is to hold its ground as a leading
player in the coming years. We need a comprehensive strategy to
enhance Canadian competitiveness in the digital economy, a strategy
that includes but extends beyond a consideration of the role the
federal government might play in promoting Canadian culture.
The CMF is a step in the right direction. By combining the
Canadian Television Fund and the Canada New Media Fund into one
agency and giving that agency a mandate to ensure that quality
content is made available on multiple platforms, the government is
acknowledging the need to ensure that Canadians can find compelling
Canadian programming on multiple platforms.
But will it actually result in the creation of the "cutting
edge applications and content" Minister Moore has promised?
Detailed guidelines for the CMF have yet to be drafted, but what
appears to be the CMF's early focus on funding dramas, comedy
and kids programming, together with the suggestion that television
should be one of the platforms on which content financed by CMF is
offered, suggests that the CMF may be less oriented toward
incentivizing the creation of new forms of online content than
making traditional Canadian "television" programming
available across platforms. And it is difficult to see how
combining the allocations of two existing programs will contribute
to the creation of more new media content.
Traditional media are being challenged worldwide for a variety
of reasons, including the flight of advertising revenue to online
platforms. Other countries --Britain, France and the U. S., to name
a few -- recognize this and are actively assessing how to remain
competitive in the Internet age. Canada should be among those
What could be some of the elements of a made-in-Canada digital
First, we need to ensure that content creators for both new and
traditional media are able to benefit financially from the content
they create while still ensuring that consumers are easily and
legally able to access the entertainment and news they want. This
means, among other things, finally passing amendments to the
federal Copyright Act intended to make it more relevant in
the digital age.
Second, we need to ensure that Internet-focused businesses of
the future have the funding they need to grow. As a result of the
current economic crisis, funding has virtually disappeared for
early stage Internet technology and new media firms. The lack of
early stage funding poses a very significant risk to Canada's
future and should be addressed.
Third, the financial incentives that support the creation and
promotion of Canadian culture need to be updated to reflect the
fact that cultural expression is increasingly occurring online. The
establishment of the CMF is a start, but should be supplemented
with new funding more directly targeted at the creation and
promotion of new forms of online content and applications and with
updated guidelines for existing incentives.
Finally, we should consider the role to be played by public
broadcasters and agencies in promoting Canadian content online,
particularly but not exclusively in the area of news.
If we do not create the next Facebook, at least let's
develop and implement an Internet strategy that will encourage
Canadian creators to be among those contributing applications and
other content for the next one. And let's find a way, while
doing that, to ensure that distinctly Canadian voices do not
disappear altogether from the media landscape.
Andrea Wood, Barry Reiter and Gary Solway are leaders of the
technology, media and entertainment practice at Bennett Jones
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