Commentary | Hyde Park: Alternative media amplifies diverse voices

Grassroots media, including campus radio, offer a vital alternative to the homogenous mainstream, especially in Canada, where a clutch of corporations own most of our media outlets.

Let’s run down the list: Rogers Media owns dozens of radio stations; CanWest controls Global TV and a raft of newspapers, including the National Post and the Montreal Gazette; the holdings of CTVglobemedia include the largest television network in Canada and the Globe and Mail; and Quebecor is one of the world’s largest commercial print media companies.

While many Canadians regard the CBC as a key source of national identity, it has been forced to endure massive budget cuts over the past decade under successive federal governments. Just last month, the bleeding process culminated with the news that the public broadcaster will lay off hundreds of employees and sell off $125-million in assets.

In the U.S., where political support for public broadcasting is even weaker, enormous private corporations like Time Warner – which are deeply connected through common board members to companies such as General Motors and Citibank – are capable of manipulating the media to limit what is seen and heard. To cite one notorious example, all of the News Corporation’s 175 newspapers supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In this way, media bullies obscure the news to push their agendas. In Canada, CanWest has been caught inserting the word “terrorist” into Reuters news wire copy, replacing references to certain Arab groups.

But even if they have no political axe to grind, media corporations stifle diversity through “rational” economic decision-making. Before CanWest bought out Conrad Black’s Hollinger Inc., the media empire eliminated competition by purchasing daily newspapers across Ontario, forcing some to shut down their Ontario Legislature bureaus. This may have increased efficiency by allowing the chain to share the work of fewer reporters, but it simultaneously curtailed the range of views available to readers. Such situations will likely become more common as the financial crisis further afflicts near-bankrupt media conglomerates like CanWest.

Alternative media institutions are not designed to bolster, supplement or piggyback on the mainstream media, but to offer a competing narratives. Not beholden to private interests or governments, grassroots media rely on community support. Such institutions are vital for the free exchange of ideas. In the words of noted journalist and author Amy Goodman, “We need to bust open the airwaves, allow the great diversity of voices that make up our countries, not just an echo of the voices of the few media moguls who are increasingly controlling the newspapers and the airwaves of our countries.”

The premise is one that is common to alternative media endeavours: provide media access for disenfranchised people and underrepresented issues, ideas, and art forms. The central motivating factor is self-representation.

As such, CKUT-Radio is driven by hundreds of volunteers from all walks of life. Our programming amplifies the voices of Mohawks, Haitians, South Asians, and other groups, including students, that frequently lack access to media that do not filter and stereotype them.

The Homelessness Marathon is an example of radio that empowers the marginalized. For seven years, CKUT has hosted this all-night broadcast, which amplifies the voices of poor and homeless people directly from the sub-zero Montreal streets, rebroadcasting them on more than 36 stations across Canada.

Student broadcasters are involved in shows like Off The Hour (broadcasting news produced by and for the Montreal community), Spitfiyah! (analyzing issues facing women of colour in Montreal), and All Things McGill (highlighting the activities of students on campus and beyond). We can attest to the immediate and inspiring power of grassroots media. FM signals transmit CKUT’s messages from the McGill campus, across the Island of Montreal and as far as the Laurentian Mountains and New York State, and we reach a worldwide audience through our webcasts at ckut.ca.

So support alternative media and get involved. After all, if you don’t tell your story, who will?

Carol Fraser co-hosts All Things McGill, David G. Koch is a frequent Off The Hour contributor, and Malek Yalaoui is CKUT’s Campus Outreach Coordinator. You can tune into CKUT at 90.3 FM or at ckut.ca, and check out Daily/CKUT audio reportage at mcgilldaily.com.


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