Today the CRTC announced a new exercise in participatory democracy, directly consulting the public on the future of the television system in Canada.
Although this is meant to be in keeping with the government’s pro-consumer agenda, it also reminds me of the Trudeau government’s public participation initiatives in the early 1970’s.
For years there were public participation groups scattered throughout the federal civil service funding public interest groups to provide participatory input into the policy making process. Many of these groups, as it turned out, had weak support among the groups that they purported to represent. Perhaps someone else will pick up on the interesting topic of direct democracy techniques versus the representative principal. I will focus here on where this seems to be taking the broadcasting system.
Participants can respond to a set of questions and provide their comments by phone, email, regular mail, on-line form, on-line discussion forum or hosting a Flash conference. There is a kit available on how to do that.
At the most general level the questions are:
- What do you think about what’s on television?
- What do you think about how you receive television programming?
- Do you have enough information to make informed choices and seek solutions if you’re not satisfied?
In other words, the topics are programming, delivery, and a combination of what elsewhere would be called Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and the complaint processes including CRTC and the CBSC (Canadian Broadcast Standards Council).
There is a subset of questions on each topic along with explanation in the Public Notice document. Of course the structure of the “conversation”, the backgrounders and the questions can heavily bias the outcome, but they arereasonably fair in my view. The CRTC does take the opportunity to highlight popular and successful Canadian programming.
The more participants who respond positively to wanting Canadian programming including local news, the stronger will be the case for maintaining some form of basic package, simultaneous substitution and a Canadian preponderance rule. This will provide the answer to participants who want to be able to subscribe only, for example, to U.S. sports stations or only to the U.S. networks and HBO, which I will call extreme pick-and-pay. If extreme pick-and-pay is mandated then the programming that many Canadians say they want will be threatened.
The first round of input will be used to generate an interactive questionnaire that will ask respondents to make choices between conflicting objectives. Finally the third phase will take all this to create options for the future to be dealt with during a public proceeding in September 2014.
This process goes around all of the interest groups that normally participate from cable companies to the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting and production groups. But all of these organizations will still have an opportunity to input their views. This is a chance for consumers to get their view in.
Finally, what should be the next topic for this kind of participatory democracy treatment? How about some FCPP favourites, supply management or equalization payments? How about immigration?