Broadcast research in the Americas: revisiting the past and looking to the future.

Author:Spencer, David R.
 
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Canada, Latin America, and the United States have assumed great international significance in the past few decades as borders wither, goods and people move more freely around the globe, and finance takes on a more integrated and powerful role in global marketplaces. Trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), transnational production ventures such as those springing up in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Miami, and heavily traded regional markets in Latin America, for products such as telenovelas, to some degree advance trends that are likely to grow with little incentive to arrest development. The long experience of almost all the nations in the Americas with various modifications on commercial broadcasting also reveals trends that may be coming elsewhere. In this respect, the United States has been the leader in developing this pattern in both North and South America. Until recently, Canada resisted the trend to prioritize the commercial approach to electronic media. It should be noted that Canada is under no obligation to open its cultural markets to NAFTA. The Canadian government regards broadcasting as a cultural industry (Bird, 1988). Nonetheless, Canadian media are strongly supported by advertising, which has long been a significant force in industrializing nations like Brazil and Mexico and to a degree in smaller, heavily challenged cultures and states like Bolivia and Haiti.

Another fascinating precedent is the burgeoning U.S. Hispanic market, which represents both a settled large minority and a mobile diasporic population of recent migrants. In spite of its growing economic and cultural importance, the Hispanic culture and Hispanic language are not treated as equals to Anglo-Saxon and African American cultures and communities. Its extended history, its size, and its affluence may give some indication where other minority or migrant and scattered audiences in other American nations are headed, and particularly how they relate to the cultural industries and broadcasters in both their cultures of origin and the culture that now holds them. Will they willingly abandon their respective heritage symbols to join the unilingual U.S. market? Will they react as others have done before them and retreat to the protection of culturally defined communities? Will they emerge as a multilayered audience attending to both? In this respect, Canada has greatly outdistanced the United States in dealing with similar kinds of factors.

Globalization, Transnationalism, and Regionalism

Latin America and North America are interesting to other regions around the globe because they are advance harbingers of many trends associated with current market-driven or capital-driven globalization. All of the Americas, with the partial exception of Canada, have been primarily focused on commercial broadcasting since the early 20th century, due in part to the major economic influence of the United States and its models for commercial media (Janus, 1977; Schwoch, 1990). At the time, many Latin American countries saw these relations as top-heavy economic entities that in turn resulted in a cultural dependency on the United States (Cardoso, 1970). However, they can also see them as early developments in what is now called globalization. That is particularly true of economic globalization and cultural globalization.

Here the Canadian experience is a notable exception and to many degrees it remains that way. The first decade in Canadian broadcasting development was as haphazard and confusing as anything produced in the United States (Nolan, 1989). In essence, all licenses granted by the federal Department of Marine and Fisheries were intended for private development. Heavy restrictions were placed on the commercial use of broadcasting almost from the beginning, although the regulations did not hamper the curious and the adventuresome (Vipond, 1992, 2000). The broadcasting scene in Canada in the 1920s was populated by speculators, newspaper owners, churches, a large Toronto-based distillery, a Montreal electronics manufacturer and shortwave broadcaster, a couple of universities, and any one of a number of people wanting to test the waters.

As a result, it became quite easy for Canadian stations to affiliate themselves with the two earl iest U.S. networks when those entities began to stretch their tentacles from coast to coast in the United States and began to look for new markets both north and south. However, when Amos 'n'Andy became the top-rated radio program in Canada, alarm bells went off. In 1929 the federal government appointed a three-person commission under the leadership of banker Sir John Aird to discuss the future of Canadian broadcasting. A towering figure in the private sector, Aird was expected to recommend the adoption of the U.S. model. Shock waves rippled through the financial markets when he did not (Spencer, 1992; Vipond, 1992).

What Aird proposed would prove to be a cumbersome hybrid of public and private partnerships. The government was to establish a governing commission, which it did. The newly formed entity was given the mandate to set up its own stations, purchase others from private owners, and conduct affiliation agreements with the remainder. The restriction on commercial activity had been lifted by this point and it was expected that the newborn Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) would be self-sufficient at best or require a modest subsidy at worst.

Unfortunately, the CRBC was an administrative disaster and by 1936 it had been replaced by the totally public Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC; Nolan, 1986). Like its predecessor, the CBC was to build stations, produce programming, and attract advertisers. Much to the chagrin of the private sector, it was also given the role of broadcast regulator for the entire industry. In spite of demands from some highly influential lobbies such as the Canadian Radio League, the government chose to allow previously licensed private stations to continue to exist, albeit under the yoke of the CBC. Canada did not move to the totally public model of the United Kingdom and at the same time rejected the totally private, commercial perspective of the United States. When Leonard Brockington was appointed head of the CBC, one of his first initiatives was to turn over prime time on CBC Radio to U.S.-produced drama and comedy shows that also contained a lot of paid advertising. Brockington excused his actions by arguing that the new corporation needed to attract funds to produce top-quality Canadian programming. The rhetoric continues until this day (Peers, 1969; Raboy, 1990).

The CBC remained the dominant force in Canadian broadcasting both as a producer and regulator until the late 1950s. Facing continuing pressure from the private sector, which was chafing under CBC rule, the newly elected Conservative government of John Diefenbaker revoked the CBC's regulatory authority and passed it to a new agency, the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG), itself succeeded by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 1968. In 1960, the BBG called for applications for purely privately owned and operated television stations in the country's major markets. The call led to the formation of the country's first privately owned and operated television network, CTV. In 1970, the groundwork for an emerging new private network, Global Television, was laid out and in the mid- 1980s Canada was witness to the emergence of its first cable-only, pay TV channels (Hallman, 1977).

Theories about cultural industries (Pasquali, 1977), dependent development (Cardoso, 1973), cultural impacts of U.S. television (Beltran, 1978), the force of commercialization (Beltran & Fox de Cardona, 1979; Fox, 1975), the impact of U.S. advertising agencies on media development (Janus, 1977), and the impact of U.S. foreign investment in media (Beltran & Fox de Cardona, 1979; Fox, 1975) were developed in Latin America. In turn, the issues experienced here were often applied to other parts of the world in advance of comparable issues raised as part of the cultural imperialism and globalization debates. So were cultural studies theories such as mediation of media by popular or working-class forces (Garcia Canclini, 1999; Martin-Barbero, 1987, 1993) and hybridity (Garcia Canclini, 1990, 1995).

There is little doubt and lots of evidence to support the contention that those issues that were debated in Latin America found a receptive audience in Canada. One Canadian political scientist wrote a book called Close the 49th Parallel (Lumsden, 1970) that remained on compulsory university reading lists for years. With one tenth of the population of the United States and with a third of that one tenth not speaking English, Canada has always been more than sensitive to the impact that U.S. television could have north of the 49th parallel. Both Canadian linguistic communities reside within 90 miles of the U.S.-Canadian border, making U.S. television readily and reliably accessible over the air in most towns and cities. Amos 'n' Andy were long-forgotten characters when U.S. television spilled across the border in 1948. However, they were replaced by Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, and a host of others. Canadian television came 4 years later and from the beginning, Canadian broadcasting policy has been focused on dealing with U.S. penetration of Canada's airwaves (Hardin, 1985; Raboy, 1990).

When the BBG and CRTC came along, Canadian broadcasters were required to develop and promote Canadian-produced programming. This regulation also applied to music played on AM radio. The regulation did not apply to FM radio, which was in its infancy during the 1960s. In the early 1970s, Canadian cable systems had to get permission to add U.S. signals to their distribution networks and many channels...

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