Written by Barry J. Reiter, Andrea L. Wood, Gary S.A. Solway
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 countries.
What could be some of the elements of a made-in-Canada digital strategy?
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.