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Dialogue on the Role of the Media in Canadian Democracy

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The media constitute the fourth estate, and act as democracy watchdogs. Their pluralism and independence are indicators of the democratic health of a society. According to the Democracy Index 2019 produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, civil liberties are the bedrock of democracy. Among these freedoms, it is freedom of expression and the presence of an independent printed and electronic press that have suffered the most in the last decades. Canada is no exception. In Quebec, for example, the level of concentration and convergence of the media is among the highest in the Western world and the highest in Canada.

The oligopolistic structure of the media in Canada poses significant democratic risks. This situation is amplified by an increasingly unfavorable economic context for the emergence and survival of independent media. GAFAMs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) capture a growing share of advertising revenue, traditional media consumption habits are changing, and major media empires are optimizing their operations (via convergence strategies) to achieve profitability.

In addition to the important role of democratic checks and balances, the media play a role in civic education and can help improve political literacy. In this regard, a comparative study of the media systems of 12 Western countries, including Canada, details the media-related factors having an influence (positive or negative) on the level of the public’s civic literacy. These factors include the level of public funding, of pluralism, the level of concentration, and the type of media consumed.

Freedom of the press, independence and pluralism of information are essential to preserve the right of all citizens to be adequately informed on matters of public interest. In a context of an increasing amount of fake news, of the growing influence of opinion leaders in the public sphere, and of the rise of populism and public cynicism towards public affairs, thinking about these issues is essential to securing the future of the Canadian media.

A Dialogue on the Role of the Media in Canadian Democracy

This project, driven by the INM in partnership with the Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue at SFU, will convene in November 2020 a group of civil society representatives who are concerned by the future of democratic health in journalism. These conversations will lay the groundwork for a common reflection and issue framing, which could be the subject of a larger public conversation on this issue in 2021–2022.

Over the course of four online sessions, these media specialists will discuss several topics related to the role of media in democracy.

Information Pluralism and Democracy

The media play a fundamental role in a democracy. They help fuel public debate and allow the population to form an informed opinion on various societal issues. Described as the fourth estate, they are the watchdogs of democracy. In this regard, the lack of pluralism in the media can have a strong impact on their impartiality and independence. Are the media able to fully exercise their democratic role? Is Canada facing a lack of pluralism in its information? What consequences could media concentration have on Canadian democracy?

Challenges Faced by the Canadian Media

Whether local, independent, public and conglomerate, the media face challenges in fulfilling their important role in our democracy. The emergence of the Internet, funding issues and competition from the US press are all challenges faced by Canadian media. What are the real issues? What are the obstacles facing our media? Is journalism in danger?

Regulatory Framework and Role of the State

The free flow of information is a foundation of Canadian democracy. Recognized by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, freedom of the press and other media of communication is one of our fundamental constitutional freedoms. But does the existing legal framework allow the media to fully exercise their democratic role? Should the state invest more to guarantee this role? What is the situation in other democracies? Should we be inspired by it?

Approach

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Partner

Project Objectives

  • Address the major issues related to information, public interest journalism and democracy in Canada;
  • Identify the needs for additional information or research to properly document these issues;
  • Identify the best ways to unite the Canadian media and the ecosystem surrounding them;
  • Identify the best ways to mobilize and involve the public in the discussion on these issues.

An Approach Supported by the Secrétariat du Québec aux relations canadiennes

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Resource person

Contact Nicolas Vazeille,
Engagement Agent

Phone: 514 934-5999 / 1 877 934-5999 poste 222
Email: nicolas.vazeille@inm.qc.ca

About the Institut du Nouveau Monde

The Institut du Nouveau Monde (INM) is an independent and non-partisan non-profit organization based in Montreal. Its mission aims at promoting the participation of citizens in Quebec’s democratic life.

Through its action, the INM encourages citizen participation, and contributes to the development of civic literacy, to the strengthening of social bonds, and to the advocacy of democratic institutions. The team behind the INM is driven by the belief that citizen participation bolsters democracy.

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2020-09-25T14:15:43-04:00
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