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Manitoba History: Review: Paul Audley, Canada’s Industries: Broadcasting, Publishing, Records and Film

by Stuart A. Selby
University of Windsor

Manitoba History, Number 9, Spring 1985

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Canada’s Cultural Industries: Broadcasting, Publishing, Records and Film. Paul Audley. Toronto: James Lorimer and Company, 1983. xxxi, 346 pp, tables. ISBN 0-88862-459-x

This is a valuable book for scholars studying Canadian cultural industries. It is, however, an analysis of those industries from an entirely economic viewpoint, as might be anticipated from its sponsorship by the Canadian Institute for Economic Policy. It assumes rather than discusses the relationship between national culture and cultural industries, and it raises but does not attempt to resolve the dilemma of controlling the flow of information within a free society. While this is not to be construed as a fault in Paul Audley’s book, since it does not claim to be more than an industrial analysis, historians and other readers should be aware of its intention.

In more than three hundred pages of text and tables, Audley demonstrates with competence and conviction that for the production and dissemination of print, sound, and moving images, Canada is dependent on the media industries of United States. While dependency on Hollywood and New York for feature film and television material is almost a global phenomenon, no country in the world is quite so dependent as Canada, where 96% of English-language television drama originates in the USA. Canada’s situation is unique in other media as well, such as magazines, book publishing, and popular music. Either language or lifestyle differences protect other country’s authors, journalists, and singers, but Canadian cultural producers share a common North American English language and lifestyle with their American counterparts. To defend Canada’s cultural industries, Audley suggests a variety of economic incentives for Canadian producers and distributors, and a group of disincentives for either the direct supply of material across the border, or for its supply through subsidiaries of “foreign,” i.e. American, producers and distributors.

Audley’s use of the term “foreign” in describing American cultural materials both illuminates and conceals the dimensions of Canada’s problem. It illuminates it in that it both emphasizes the extent of economic domination, and warns of the long-term cultural threat, of American media materials in Canada. However, it also conceals the empirical reality that for most Canadians most of the time, there is nothing “foreign” about Star Wars, The A-Team, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Playboy, or Family Circle. Audley is also only partly correct when he says that “where distinctive Canadian alternatives have been developed and their production is adequately funded...they have consistently proved to be far more attractive to the Canadian public than competing products.” While this is clearly true in those sports, public affairs programs, and magazine such as Maclean’s or Saturday Night which he cites, or the CBC National and Journal or the Toronto Blue Jays which he doesn’t, it is so far from the current reality of truly popular mass media that it constitutes wishful thinking. Even adequately funded recent Canadian feature films such as The Wars or The Tin Flute, for instance, have attracted neither the praise of Canadian critics nor the support of Canadian audiences.

While this does not invalidate Audley’s economic analysis at all, it highlights the difficulty of investigating complex cultural phenomena without an adequate social analysis to accompany it. It is not Audley’s responsibility to create that social analysis, nor does he have available to him for citation an adequate research literature. It is in creating such cultural analyses that the skills of the historian, and other humanities and social science scholars, are called for.

If the media industries in the United States were a simple villain, it would not be difficult to create and muster support for defensive measures. However, Audley shows that Canadian media are generally as profit-oriented as their American counterparts and that, even for the CBC, economic priorities will always demand the broadcast of a popular, well-publicized Hollywood-produced drama—available at one-tenth the cost—rather than a Toronto-produced drama. As Audley notes in his concluding pages, “many studies have argued [that] it is not easy to reconcile profit-making objectives in this sector with social and cultural objectives.”

Because there is neither strong research evidence to support government intervention, nor a clear public mandate for giving priority to social and cultural objectives, government policy has been either weak or misguided or both. If Canadian scholars were as capable of producing convincing social and cultural evidence for policy adjustments as Audley is at producing economic evidence, changes might be stronger and/or wiser, and our national cultural scholarship would certainly be richer and more useful. Within its limits, as an economic analysis of an “industry” whose end purpose is cultural and not industrial, this is an excellent book.

CKY radio studio, circa 1930.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

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