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Marc Raboy has taken the hot seat. As recently appointed Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communications at McGill, Raboy has been hired to analyze the often controversial happenings of the cultural industries. His mandate is to monitor and reflect on the impact of convergence, concentration and globalization on print, electronic and online media.
"Someone has to think about these issues and their impact on society," Raboy explains, noting that media from newspapers to web blogs influence public opinion. "Much needs to be examined. Much needs to be done."
The creation of the Beaver-brook Chair is timely, says Raboy, to foster increased analyses of communications. "A new generation of activists, practitioners and thinkers will change the way we think about media as we have about the environment," he says. "Thirty years ago, environmental concerns were marginalized. Today, no major public or private endeavor is possible without taking environmental issues into account."
Raboy, a three-time McGill graduate (BSc '68, MA '81, PhD '86) and former journalist, has returned to his alma mater as a professor in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies after teaching at the Université de Montréal and Université Laval. He's penned 13 books and hundreds of papers on communication policy, communications governance and cultural development.
Raboy's chair was created through an endowment from the Beaverbrook Canadian Found-ation, which was keen to promote investigation of our morphing media landscape.
"Marc Raboy's position is more like a sofa than a chair," says John Hall, dean of the Faculty of Arts, explaining the scope of Raboy's job as senior member of five new communications professors hired this fall. "The issues these professors are examining matter greatly to our students."
Communication debates pull in average Canadians, too. A good example is the argument over the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: Should the CBC obtain more public financing — or less?
Recent CBC slashes have limited regional programming. "Canadians outside metropolitan areas are furious about these cuts," says Raboy. "We must have a public debate on what the CBC should offer."
The solution may be a new funding scheme. "The ideal formula for a public broadcaster is the British Broadcasting Corporation, which gets its funding through TV licensing fees rather than advertising."
On to the internet — a medium that has changed our lives. "We need to examine, critically, how we use the internet and how the internet uses us," he says.
Raboy says certain aspects of the internet should be regulated by an internationally sanctioned body that can govern issues from child porn to spam. Because of its social, educational and cultural value, the internet needs similar constraints as radio or TV. We also need to think about drawbacks — how it allows people to bypass mass-market for specialized forums. "People may be marginalizing themselves by not being in tune with the mainstream," he says.
Raboy is a strong advocate of a diversified media. But given the $250 million cost to launch Canada's youngest broadsheet — the National Post, an unprofitable endeavor since its 1998 birth — Raboy doesn't foresee print launches anytime soon. "There was clearly a need for a second national paper," he says, noting media startups should receive government support. "Fiscal subsidies would allow other players to get into the market."
Canada's most daunting communications challenge is globalization, as international companies lobby Canada's federal government to relax foreign ownership rules.
Canada must team up with other countries to protect its cultural sovereignty. "One cultural superpower, the United States, should not dominate culture around the world," he says, stressing Canada's biggest defense is UNESCO's proposed international convention on cultural diversity.
But fear not — Canada's culture won't crumble under a push for global media sameness. "Canada's CRTC, our public broadcasting system and our funding programs for the arts and culture are studied and copied by public policy makers around the world," Raboy says. "Our country has always innovated new institutional structures and arrangements for the production and distribution of media content through regulatory features."