The storytelling framework that we teach follows a simple model: “Here’s who I am, this is the challenge we have in common, and here’s what we’re going to do about it.” We teach the importance of face-to-face communication, but sometimes other tools are needed for activists and organizers to share their story with a larger audience, grow their community, and build power. In these circumstances, the existence of a strong public broadcaster in Canada has been essential to winning real change.
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I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a story on the CBC that inspired me to take action, that led me to feel part of a larger community, or that helped me to understand and empathize with someone from a completely different background.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The CBC was built by people who believed deeply that the power of storytelling, harnessed to new broadcast technologies, could strengthen our sense of community and expand the potential of our democracy.
These pioneers believed that if broadcasters operated just to make profits, those with less influence would inevitably be neglected and ignored, undermining the public good for the benefit of private power. Graham Spry, a CCFer sometimes called the father of Canadian public broadcasting, made the case for the creation of the CBC in the 1930s on this basis:
Let the air remain as the prerogative of commercial interests and subject to commercial control, and how free will be the voice, the heart of democracy? The maintenance, the enlargement of freedom, the progress, the purity of education, require the responsibility of broadcasting to the popular will. There can be no liberty complete, no democracy supreme, if the commercial interests dominate the vast, majestic resource of broadcasting.
Broadcasting today looks much different than it did in 1931, of course, but the dominance of commercial interests, and the accompanying damage to Canadian democracy, is still a live issue. We can see this effect in the shuttering of hundreds of local newspapers and broadcasters across Canada over the past decade, victims of corporate consolidation and downsizing.
Putting a number on the demise of regional media is vital, and there are efforts like the Local News Research Project to count each of these closures, but ultimately what is being taken is not quantifiable. These communities are deprived of more than key sources of public accountability: they also lose platforms that help communities to understand their common challenges, assist them in locating power, and aid them in making the choice to fight for change.