With the assistance of a Media@McGill research fellowship in 2011, I wrote a journal article. In this article, I examine as a case study one recent Canadian media labour dispute: the 2008-2009 lockout at Toronto community radio station, CKLN 88.1 FM. The Palin Foundation, the building manager for the Ryerson University Student Campus Centre where the station was housed, locked out more than 50 programmers, members of competing boards of directors, volunteers, and other staff due to worker infighting. In 2011, this lockout led the CRTC, the regulator of Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications system, to revoke CKLN’s radio licence for non-compliance. On September 11, 2012, the CRTC licenced CKLN’s former frequency—the last available radio frequency in Toronto—to Rock 95 Broadcasting Ltd. for CIND-FM, a commercial rock radio station, and it denied a licence to the community based Radio Ryerson.
In the paper, I aim to determine the extent to which this labour dispute of media workers reflects a broader historical pattern of institutional change (or the creation of new media institutions) within Canadian media; is characteristic of what I refer to below as “labour austerity” measures; and reveals an attempt to confront and resolve these labour issues. I analyze this labour conflict through the lens of the following texts: the content of Take Back Our Radio (http://takebackourradio.blogspot.com/), a CKLN lockout blog, which locked out CKLN workers and community members produced and which included text and special audio that was broadcast on community radio stations across Canada; news about the lockout; Canadian media policy and CRTC regulatory decisions; and Ontario labour regulations.
I then situate this lockout within a brief history of broadcast and print media labour conflicts and institutional change in Canada. For example, the 1872 strike at the Toronto newspaper, the Globe, led Canadian Prime Minister John A. MacDonald to found the Toronto Mail newspaper. I also place the CKLN lockout within a context of austerity politics, which generally refer to a decrease in spending, consequences of which are fewer public services and benefits. These market imperatives have increasingly led media regulators to privilege private sector media at the expense of public service media (Hesmondhalgh, 2007). Media labour disputes over job security are a significant effect of these changes. These disputes have resulted in media lockouts. Community media, however, are not typically included in discussions about media and austerity politics perhaps because of their small share in the Canadian media ecology. Likewise, community workers are not usually part of discussions about labour disputes because they are generally volunteers. I demonstrate that community media and media workers are not immune to austerity politics and to labour disputes.
Finally, I discuss CKLN’s community-based response to austerity and the labour dispute that stemmed from it. In 2011, it became an Internet-only streaming radio station, moving its broadcasts to the Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre. The Centre is a community group that provides media training for marginalized youth in the Regent Park neighourbood of Toronto and that already produced a weekly show on CKLN. Although this move was unsuccessful, it illuminates ways of expanding a community radio mandate from traditional radio broadcasting to online broadcasting and from a university community to a marginalized community.
My broader aims have been to build public awareness and generate debate about labour concerns confronting media workers as well as institutional challenges facing community media in a corporatized media policy environment. These aims complement the aims of Media@McGill: to generate public discussion and to inform media policy. This fellowship helped to fund my study, enabling me to research and write the paper. I would like to thank Media@McGill for providing me with this support.
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2007). The cultural industries (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.