Monday, June 8, 2015

TRC could do more for Aboriginal People's media

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), commissioned to investigate a century of abuse of Aboriginal peoples at Canadian Indian Residential Schools, last week released its findings and calls to action.  Among its 94 calls to action were several dealing with "media and reconciliation", as well as calls related to "educating journalists for reconciliation" (pp. 341-345). While its recommendations are helpful, it could have done more.

The Commission rightly points to the deficiencies of Canadian broadcasting policy, as set by the Canadian Broadcasting Act, which requires the Canadian broadcasting system to reflect "the special place of aboriginal peoples within [Canadian] society" (s. 3.1.d.iii).  However, the Act requires only that programming reflect Aboriginal culture "as resources become available for the purpose" (s. 3.1.o). Furthermore, while the Canadian broadcasting system is required to broadcast in English and French in equivalent quality, the Act sets out no requirement to broadcast in Aboriginal languages.

The TRC discusses the role of just two media outlets in furthering reconciliation: the CBC and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)[1].  It notes that budget cuts have reduced the CBC's "capacity to provide Aboriginal programming".  It therefore calls for greater funding for the CBC.  It also notes that the APTN "is well positioned to provide media leadership to support the reconciliation process." It therefore calls on APTN to continue developing media initiatives to "educate the Canadian public, and connect Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians."

Colby Nash has criticized the TRC for recommending increased funding to the CBC, whose Aboriginal programming has been minimal, rather than recommending increased funding of the APTN.  The CBC, after all, as MacLennan has noted[2], has its own history of cultural imperialism. The APTN, with increased funding he notes, could make many contributions:
APTN could expand into aboriginal-language Web offerings; it could develop totally separate content streams for major aboriginal language groups. It could get into community radio. It could fund scholarship, translations, poetry. You can think of a hundred new ideas without breaking a sweat.
Other entities could also play a role.  Private broadcasters, which receive only a passing mention in the summary of findings, obviously play a significant role in media representations of Aboriginal peoples.  As Fleras writes, "mainstream media provide a key cross over point for intercultural understanding and exchanges" (169).  At the same time, changing mainstream media is a difficult task:
the very changes that minorities want of newsmedia (responsible coverage of minority interests, less sensationalism, more context, toned-down language, and less stereotyping) are precisely the newsnorms that media rely on to sell copy or capture eyeballs.  Challenging the conventional news paradigm will prove a difficult sell. (Fleras, 170)
The CRTC could also play a role; while it recognized APTN as a national network in 1999, its Native Broadcasting Policy has not been reviewed since 1990.

Perhaps most importantly, while the Commission notes that it received submissions calling for revision of the Broadcasting Act to correct the inadequacy with which the Act addresses Aboriginal media, the Commission fails to call for such revision.  The Broadcasting Act  has not been revised since 1991.

The TRC should go further to discuss the role of mainstream media in reconciliation, to recommend a review of the CRTC's Native Broadcasting Policy, and to recommend revision of the Broadcasting Act to better fund, expand, and prioritize APTN and other Aboriginal media endeavors.

[1] See Lorna Roth's excellent book on the history of the APTN.
[2] MacLennan, Anne F. "Cultural imperialism of the North? The expansion of the CBC Northern Service and community radio." Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media 9.1 (2011): 63-81.


  1. see for regional gatherings culminating in national gathering Ottawa June 2017

    and crtc hearing on indigenous radio applications Mon-Wed March 27-29 2017 (w audio streaming)

  2. More here on the CRTC hearings (links to docs, transcripts, audio from the hearings) - including your post here cited/footnoted in the featured intervention

    1. Thank you!! Made a couple of tweets about intervention: and