Media @ McGill

Errol Salamon

Submitted by hive on

Labour demand: Worker struggles in North American public service media

In April 2011, I was awarded a Media@McGill research fellowship to write a research article and dissertation chapter in the areas of media labour and media governance and to focus specifically on media labour disputes. I aimed to examine two public service media labour disputes in Canada and the United States: the 2005 lockout of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) workers and the 2009 furloughs of workers at affiliate stations of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Communication studies scholars and policymakers, among others, have argued that public service media are important vehicles for democracy (Raboy, 1990). Since at least the 1980s, the public service tradition of media policymaking has weakened (Van Cuilenburg & McQuail, 2003). Concurrently, media workers in Canada and in the United States have been at the centre of a public service media crisis. In 2005, the CBC locked out its employees after the Corporation failed to reach an agreement with the Canadian Media Guild, a CBC labour union, concerning job security for temporary employees. In 2009, PBS initiated worker furloughs to compensate for financial shortcomings. I contend that these labour conflicts were opportunities for media workers to intervene in media policy debates and serve democracy. I initially set out to determine if media labour disputes led media workers to extend the endangered media policy principle of public service media. To analyze these media labour conflicts, I proposed to develop the concept of “labour demand,” via debates about communication labour (Mosco & McKercher, 2008) and the concept of “social demand,” to determine if workers and their trade unions express a “democratic cultural citizenship” (Raboy, Proulx & Dahlgren, 2003, p. 324).

As I began to research, I changed the direction of my project to focus on narratives of media workers’ alternative media during labour conflicts. I planned to lay the foundation for work on alternative media as a means to extend media policy principles and to help resolve media labour disputes. I examined as a case study Canadian broadcasting policy and CBC Unplugged, the alternative media that CBC workers produced during the 2005 CBC lockout. CBC Unplugged was an online and community radio institution comprised of locked out CBC workers. Their programs aired nationally on campus and community radio stations and were available on the Internet as podcasts. I developed the concept of “civil society discursive intervention” (Fairclough, 1992; Fischer, 2003; Lentz, 2011) and introduced it in the context of this labour conflict. I wanted to understand the ways in which the content of the alternative media helped to build a public service media narrative that CBC workers used to resolve the labour conflict with CBC management. To date, I have developed the theoretical framework, contextualized the case of this project, and begun the narrative analysis of the alternative media content. My initial conclusions are that CBC Unplugged redressed the public service media crisis and led the media workers to meet the CBC’s public service mandate (at least temporarily).

I had the opportunity to workshop my ideas and disseminate my work in progress in June 2011 at the Canadian Communication Association conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick and at the Democracy Wager of Communication colloquium in Padova, Italy. I was able to network with Canadian and international media governance and labour scholars, who offered me important feedback. This feedback, in part, has led me to shift my broader dissertation focus from public service media and labour disputes in Canada and the United States to media labour disputes across the public, private, and community sectors in Canada and the ways in which they can be used as a lens to examine a history of Canadian media policy, labour policy, and media work.

I would like to thank Media@McGill for providing me with support to work on this project and the opportunities that stemmed from it.



Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and social change. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Fischer, F. (2003). Reframing public policy: Discursive politics and deliberative practices. New

York: Oxford University Press.

Lentz, R. G. (2011). Regulation as linguistic engineering. In R. Mansell & M. Raboy (Eds.), The handbook of global media and communication policy (pp. 432-448). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Mosco, V., & McKercher, C. (2008). The laboring of communication: Will knowledge workers of the world unite? Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Raboy, M. (1990). Missed opportunities: The story of Canada’s broadcasting policy. Montreal:      McGill-Queen's University Press.

Raboy, M., Proulx, S., & Dahlgren, P. (2003). The dilemma of social demand: Shaping media

policy in new civic contexts. Gazette: The International Journal for Communication Studies, 65(4-5), 323-329.

Van Cuilenburg, J., & McQuail, D. (2003). Media policy paradigm shifts: Towards a new

communications policy paradigm. European Journal of Communication, 18(2), 181-207.