While most of Canada’s conventional media have endured shrinking audiences and revenues in recent years, segments of the ethnic media have seen significant growth thanks to a constant influx of immigrants from all over the world.
In the Greater Toronto Area alone, there are about 120 ethnic media channels targeting various audiences. The number of Chinese daily newspapers has grown from about five in the 1990s to more than 50 in 2015.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2011, 13 ethnic communities had populations of more than one million, and others had sizeable and growing populations. Demographic projections indicate that by 2031, nearly half (46 per cent) of Canadians aged 15 and older could be foreign-born, or could have at least one foreign-born parent, up from 39 per cent in 2006.
With those numbers, the ethnic media sector in Canada is bound to keep on expanding.
The Canada Media Fund (CMF) helps to support this growth. It was created by the Department of Canadian Heritage back in 2010 with a mandate to foster, promote and finance the production of Canadian content and relevant applications for all audiovisual media platforms. Various CMF programs support productions reflecting Canadian diversity.
A closer look at the projects backed by the Canada Media Fund reveals some surprising funding patterns going back to 2010. Several production companies affiliated with New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV) have received close to $18 million in funding over six years compared to the combined total of about $13 million for other ethnic media outlets.
Studios with ties to NTDTV have received 43 per cent of the funding allocated through the Diverse Languages Program and have produced the near totality of funded projects in the Mandarin and Cantonese languages.
According to Wikipedia, NTDTV is a television broadcaster based in New York City with correspondents in more than 70 cities worldwide. The station was founded in 2001 as a Chinese-language broadcaster by practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice banned by the Chinese Communist Party.
NTDTV’s Canadian operation, with offices in North York, officially launched on March 28, 2012 on Shaw Cable. It is also available on Novus Entertainment in Vancouver and on Bell Fibe TV and Rogers Cable in Eastern Canada. It is unclear how many viewers NTDTV reaches in Canada.
So why does this relatively unknown broadcaster outside of the Chinese community, and its affiliated production companies, get what seems to be a disproportionate amount of funding compared to other ethnic broadcasters? Why are almost all funded Chinese-language projects produced for this broadcaster?
And what is known about the content of the material produced for a broadcaster with clear ties to a religious sect? Why, for example, are at least three funded projects linked to Shen Yun, the huge performing arts arm of Falun Gong that tours extensively throughout the world? Many critics have noted that this production’s overtly political content and proselytizing supersede its artistic merit.
When I spoke to the Canada Media Fund to confirm these figures, they pointed out that CMF is an independent non-partisan body and that CMF does not intervene in the subject-matter of funded projects, recognizing each production’s creative value and freedom of speech.
That is fine, as far as it goes. But, in this case an unexpected result is occurring.
Canada takes pride in its pluralistic and nonsectarian society. In spite of the CMF’s explanations, it seems odd and most un-Canadian that so much public funding is being allocated to a fringe religious group.
It is time for a bit more sunshine on what is occurring here.
Stewart Kiff is a former reporter and has more than 25 years’ experience in public affairs. He is the president of Solstice Public Affairs.