Access to funding top priority for modernized Indigenous broadcasting policy

The CRTC has published the findings of its initial consultation phase for the modernization of the current Indigenous broadcasting policy.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has published the results of the first phase of consultations in the co-development of a modernized Indigenous broadcasting policy.

The three-phase process was first launched in June 2019 to replace the existing policy – the Native Broadcasting Policy – which was created in 1990. Phase one engaged with First Nations, Métis and Inuit broadcasters, content creators and artists at a number of sessions to discuss current issues and future needs that must be addressed in a new policy.

A key issue raised among the participants is a lack of stable and long-term funding, with the majority of it project-based, according to the report. They spoke of a need for a level playing field between Indigenous and non-Indigenous broadcasters and content creators.

Among the concerns mentioned was the need to overhaul the Northern Aboriginal Broadcasting (NAB) fund, a federal fund that is part of the Indigenous Languages and Cultures Program to support the production and distribution of audio and visual content. Participants said the fund, which provides about $8 million per year, has not increased in 30 years, forcing the growing number of Indigenous content creators in radio and television to compete over “a very small pot.”

“One participant stated that it felt like funding for the Indigenous broadcasting industry in this country is far too meagre, and sadly, perhaps even intentionally designed that way,” read the report.

Other issues identified include ensuring Indigenous-only initiatives receive funding raised through tangible benefit contributions; easing eligibility requirements from organizations such as the Canada Media Fund; providing a database on accessible funds and assistance on navigating the system to make the industry less “inside baseball”; increased funds from the provincial and territorial level, as the majority of funding comes from the federal level, despite the number of region-specific projects in need of resources; and increased support for programming in Indigenous languages.

Some of the participants stated that the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) should be publicly funded as a national Indigenous broadcaster; it currently earns revenue through subscriber fees, ad sales and strategic partnerships. They also called for the creation of an association dedicated to Indigenous broadcasters to represent and advocate for those in remote communities.

There was a wide call for mainstream broadcasters to play a larger role in the creation and distribution of Indigenous content and the support of Indigenous languages. Several participants called for a required minimum amount of Indigenous-led content as well as increased representation at the decision-making level of non-Indigenous broadcasters, with plans set in place for retention and competitive salaries.

Concerns were also raised about content distributed by broadcasters containing long-standing stereotypes of Indigenous peoples, especially in scenarios where Indigenous characters are included in productions from non-Indigenous creators. “While the underlying intent of developing this content is understood, and appreciated, it can result in a lack of awareness of what is appropriate, of who Indigenous people are, and can also lead to misrepresentation of Indigenous practices and traditions,” read the report.

Other issues raised were about broadcasting infrastructure to ensure remote communications have access to required equipment, increased access to Indigenous

Participants did note some aspects of the system work well, including the impact of the Indigenous Screen Office and the success of CBC North, a regional network that includes local Indigenous news and content. However, they suggested the model of CBC North should be expanded to the rest of CBC’s regional and national networks, and used as an example for other non-Indigenous broadcasters.

The CRTC noted that all sessions took place before Bill C-10, a proposed amendment to the Broadcasting Act, was tabled by Canadian Heritage. The bill, which has not been passed as of press time, includes a requirement for broadcasters to fund and distribute Indigenous-led content.

Phase two of the process will be to open up a public consultation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people on potential changes to the broadcasting system to meet the needs shared in phase one; following that, phase three will see the CRTC present comments from the public consultation to the participants of the initial phase for further discussion on the modernized policy.

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