Media Governance in Action: Our Experience at the CRTC Hearing

          As a student interested in the field of Communication Studies, it is common to hear peers ask questions such as, “What kind of job can you get with Communication Studies? What opportunities are there in the real world?”. After reading a wide range of theories, and applying them in dozens of papers for courses, it can be quite difficult to answer such a question with a simple response. Communication Studies, as a field, is unique in that it can translate into a variety of areas from policy and media governance, to advertising and public relations. It is important to explore what goes on beyond academia in your field of specialty.  Attending the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications (CRTC) Hearing regarding the Bell/Astral merger was a wonderful engaged-learning opportunity, which allowed students to see what it was like in the media governance field.

On Wednesday September 12th, members of OpenMedia McGill’s campus chapter ventured to the Palais de Congrès to sit in on the public hearing.  The hearing can be categorized as the third phase in the CRTC’s decision-making process. To provide a bit of background,  in phase one Bell/Astral submitted their merger to the CRTC.  During phase two the CRTC notified the public about the merger, and called for public comments that responded to the news.  All parties presenting at the five-day hearing were groups or individuals who had previously commented on the merger during phase two, and were called to the CRTC to clarify and expand upon their comments.  In the context of the hearing, groups or individuals who had submitted comments to the CRTC were termed “interveners.” Essentially, the hearing acted as an interactive forum and provided the CRTC commissioners a chance to question, clarify, and expand upon and statements made by interveners.

Before entering the hearing room itself, we were greeted by Denis Carmel, the CRTC’s Media and Parliamentary Relations director.  This was a wonderful stroke of luck, as we were able to ask him background questions about this particular hearing, as well as general questions about the CRTC.  Soon after, he brought us to a room where you could find anything from transcripts documenting the hearing, from the first two days, to intervener’s individual submissions. He also kindly arranged a quick photo-opportunity with Chairman of the CRTC, Jean-Pierre Blais, during an intermission in between interveners. It was an incredible opportunity to meet Mr. Carmel, as he acted as a personal guide to the Bell/Astral Hearing.

We arrived at the hearing around 9 AM and stayed for a couple of hours. The presenters we saw included the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), L’Équipe Spectra, Première Bobine Inc., and Rogers Communications Inc. In the afternoon Janet Lo from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) was presenting; however, due to time constraints, we had to leave before she spoke. It was amazing how quickly the audience in the room increased as we approached Rogers’ presentation. Rogers’ intervention elicited the largest number of questions from the commissioners, as it was opposed to the merger of Bell and Astral Media. While Rogers had a number of reasons as to why it opposed the merger, it kept referring to the underlying issue of the merger; should Astral Media merge with Bell, the problems of vertical integration and media concentration would run rampant.

In media governance classes at McGill, one key concept discussed is how one determines what the public interest is, and the different welfares (social, political, and economic) that influence what one considers to be in the best interest for the public.  At the hearing, public interest was the key issue, namely whether the Bell/Astral merger would benefit or hinder the public interest.  It was fascinating to see how both proponents and opponents of the merger used arguments that could be grouped under these three common welfares to support their views.  Sometimes it is forgotten that big businesses do not only utilize economic welfare arguments, but they also employ, and sometimes manipulate, social welfare arguments to support their position.  The Bell/Astral merger would decrease consumer choice (social/economic welfare), threaten innovation (social welfare), and increase prices for consumers (economic welfare), which negatively affects public interest.

Most shocking to us; however, was that while the Bell/Astral merger hearing may largely affect members of the public, there was a very small showing. Most individuals who sat amongst us were supporters and interveners. As students interested in media governance and public policy, this was quite alarming. While people are often deterred from such hearings due to the seemingly “intimidating” structure of legal jargon and the complex nature of the issues at hand, the problem may be that people simply are not aware of the effects that such hearings may have upon their interests. At OpenMedia McGill, we hope to make students aware of such media-related issues and guide them in the right direction should they hope to take action. Learning about theories in the classroom is important as it allows students to gain an ideological foundation; however, becoming involved with media-oriented, present day issues is a good way to apply what is learned in the classroom to the real world.

To learn more about engagement opportunities in Montreal and other major cities, we encourage you to visit Anne Turner, the Faculty of Arts Internship Manager in the Faculty of Arts Internship Program. For more information, click on the following link: http://www.mcgill.ca/arts-internships/

Written By: Alexandra Esenler and Stella Habib

 

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