Two-thirds of Canadians believe that foreign ownership of broadcast and cable companies would lead to less Canadian-made cultural content, a poll commissioned by Friends of Canadian Broadcasting suggests.
In an online survey of 2,022 adult Canadians, 77 per cent said they believed that Canadian media was “too important for culture and national security” to be foreign owned. Only 23 per cent said they believed Canadian media owners should be able to sell to foreigners to be competitive.
Sixty-five per cent of respondents said they believed if foreign companies gained permission and acquired control of Canadian broadcasting and cable companies, Canadian content on radio and TV would decrease. Eighteen per cent said they thought it would remain the same, five per cent suggested Canadian content would increase and 12 per cent said they didn’t know.
The poll comes as Ottawa debates relaxing foreign ownership rules in the telecom sector in order to increase investment and spur competition.
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting asked the same questions in previous polls in 2007 and 2010, and the sense that foreign ownership would result in less Canadian content has only grown.
“There is a continuity here,” Friends spokesman Ian Morrison told The Huffington Post Canada. “Canadians fear what will happen when there is foreign control over their communication system.”
“They think that communications is pretty important for the future of the country and it’s too important to allow it to fall into foreign hands. That seems to be the standby position of a good majority of Canadians,” he said.
Current regulations prevent foreigners from owning more than 46.7 per cent of broadcasting or telecom companies. According to the federal government, "Canada appears to be one of the few advanced economies with significant restrictions remaining in place."
Many consumers have complained of a lack of competition in telecoms, particularly when it comes to cellphone service, and the Harper government has shown signs it is interested in opening up telecom to greater foreign investment, such as its decision to override the CRTC and allow Egyptian-owned Globalive to set up Wind Mobile.
But the government’s desire to open up telecom infrastructure may clash with the desire of many Canadians to protect media content from foreign ownership. Owners of telecom infrastructure, such as Bell, Rogers and Shaw, have invested heavily in TV and radio properties in recent and are now major owners of Canadian media content.
At least partly because of this convergence, some media companies are asking to be included in any relaxation of foreign ownership rules. (It was reported last month that Postmedia, owner of the National Post and many other newspapers, has hired a lobbyist for that purpose.)
It’s for these reasons that Friends of Canadian Broadcasting and other groups concerned with protecting Canadian cultural content believe it would be impossible to allow foreign ownership in telecom but not in media.
Some in the industry have suggested a “separation of pipes and content,” to allow foreign ownership in telecom and cable TV, for instance, without foreign ownership in content. But that idea is largely seen as a threat to the business models of large conglomerates like Bell, Rogers and Shaw, and is unlikely to be proposed.
The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting online survey was conducted last year, from Nov. 4 to Nov. 10, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.18 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Asked why Friends waited so long to release the result, Morrison said he wanted to tie the data with a decision expected by the government on foreign ownership in the telecommunications sector.
“Now that Harper has a majority, there have been rumblings about changes in these statutes and we just thought we would put on the table what Canadians think,” he said.