chapter  8
25 Pages

Broadcasting and National Culture in Canada

The contradictory and antagonistic relationship between Canada’s political institutions (the Canadian state) and the internationalizing tendencies of the capitalist market is an enduring theme in Canadian history and Canadian studies. Nowhere more than in broadcasting has this perennial conflict been identified as both baleful and pervasive. In studies of international media relationships (and in the literature of media imperialism in particular) the Canadian case is frequently also taken as representative. Schiller’s pathbreaking Mass Communications and American Empire cites Canada as a paradigm of media imperialism:

Canada’s radio and television air waves are dominated by American programs. Many Canadians feel consequently, that much of the broadcasting they see and hear is not serving Canadian needs. (Schiller, 1969, p. 79)

Moreover Canada has also been taken to foreshadow anticipated developments in European broadcasting (see inter alia Collins, 1989; Juneau, 1984; Gerlach, 1988). The Free Trade agreement between Canada and the United States (negotiated in 1987/8) exempted the ‘cultural industries’, including broadcasting, from its provisions. This exclusion testifies to both Canada’s deep commitment to what it has termed ‘cultural and communication sovereignty’ and a very significant concession by the United States. For the USA is in (chronic) deficit in international trade; one of the few fields in which it enjoys a positive balance of trade is in cultural/information goods and services (the US surplus on films runs

to approximately $1 billion annually). Canada-US relations in the field of the cultural industries are particularly important for both countries. Canada believes its national identity, sovereignty and continued existence are at stake, the United States has in question one of the few economic sectors in which its producers are internationally competitive. Conflicts of interest are apparent in most areas of international trade, but information trades, though becoming economically more important as the ‘post-industrial’ or information society develops, are peculiarly vexed. For not only do information markets exhibit in intensified form a general characteristic of capitalist markets, to expand as a division of labour takes place on the basis of comparative advantage, but information trades also put in question the continuing existence of the values, beliefs and identities of the trading partners.