In its decision last week on the proposed purchase of Astral Media Inc. by BCE Inc., the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission relied heavily on its Diversity of Voices policy, which is an awkward splicing together of competition policy with some trappings of the ideology of multiculturalism.
In the past few decades, the word “diversity” has carried a strong connotation of the distinct cultures of different ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations. In this context, “voice” is also a charged word, as in the extremely influential book In a Different Voice, by the American social psychologist Carol Gilligan.
The Broadcasting Act has quite a lot to say about culture and society. Curiously, the “DoV policy,” promulgated in 2008, gives only some nods toward culture, such as this: “Non-information programming genres such as drama...communicate important socio-cultural values.” But it is largely taken up by comparatively prosaic matters of market share – economic issues of imperfect competition and oligopoly of the kind the Competition Bureau is concerned with.
Cultural considerations and market-dominance issues should be kept distinct. The frequent references to DoV in the CRTC’s decision on the BCE-Astral transaction (BCE has a non-controlling, 15-per-cent interest in The Globe and Mail) only muddy the issue. Hardly any connection is made to cultural diversity. The decision is really about competition policy.
The commission did mention, but without elaboration, BCE’s promise to support “different genres of Canadian programming,” including feature film and music (a package estimated at $241-million). And it briefly noted that BCE had not made firm commitments on “local and spoken word radio programming, or promotion and airplay of emerging Canadian artists.”
The fine print of the DoV policy reveals that the CRTC believes there is an inverse correlation between concentration of ownership and a plurality – not a synonym for “diversity”! – of news-reporting media venues. That legitimate opinion should not be dressed up in politically correct jargon such as the phrase “diversity of voices.”