Media and Political Identity: Canada and Quebec in the Era of Globalization

Frederick J. Fletcher (York University)

Abstract: The object of this paper is to suggest some directions for a research agenda to deal with the impact of globalization on political identity in Canada and Quebec. Some of the key themes in the literature on political identity, Canadian's dual media system, and globalization are discussed. The existence of two different communications systems, differentiated not only by language and culture but also by patterns of consumption, suggests that globalization will have a different significance for each. However, to operate as an effective democracy, a political system requires a national public space and a vocabulary of common historical precedents and shared values, according to some classic theories. The paper suggests directions for research to increase our understanding of the operation of Canada's two media systems in a changing domestic and world context, with special attention to the cultural context of production and reception, and to serve as a basis for effective policies to preserve a democratic public space in the era of globalization.

Résumé: L'auteur présente dans cet article des orientations possibles d'un programme de recherche concernant l'effet de la mondialisation sur l'identité politique au Canada et au Québec. Il se penche sur les thèmes dominants qui reviennent dans les publications sur l'identité politique, sur le système à deux médias que connaît le Canada, et sur la mondialisation. L'existence de deux réseaux de communication différents, qui se distinguent non seulement par la langue et la culture, mais aussi par les habitudes de consommation, laisse entendre que la mondialisation aura des conséquences différentes pour chaque groupe. Pour permettre à la démocratie de suivre son cours, un système politique a besoin, cependant, d'un forum national et d'un bagage commun de précédents historiques et de valeurs, d'après certaines théories classiques. L'auteur recommande des sujets de recherche qui nous feraient mieux comprendre le fonctionnement du système à deux médias au Canada, notamment le contexte culturel de la production et de la réception, pour que nous puissions ainsi mettre en place des politiques propres à conserver un forum public démocratique à l'époque de la mondialisation.

Introduction

The pressures of globalization on national media systems have triggered a considerable range of research and analysis. This is particularly true in Canada, where scholars and policymakers have long been concerned about the impact of imported media on domestic culture and politics. The problem has been of particular concern here because of our geographical and cultural proximity to the United States, the world's greatest exporter of cultural products, and our own internal divisions, especially the existence of two distinct media audiences, French and English.

Globalization -- the emergence of transnational communication systems and a worldwide free market in cultural products -- raises many political issues. The potential erosion of long-standing policies to protect domestic cultural production, the topic of most concern in Canada to date, is only one of these. The differential impact of external forces on Canada's two distinct media systems -- French (based in Quebec) and English -- is of considerable importance to the future of the country, but has been relatively little studied. The existence of two media systems, only weakly linked to one another, complicates attempts to respond to the emergence of global communication systems and a global culture. In Quebec, the French-language media have contributed to the emergence of modern Quebec nationalism by focusing their attention inward, often ignoring social, political, and cultural developments elsewhere in the country. It could be said that they have been preoccupied with their own identity crisis, as modernization eroded their traditional religious identity. The combination of external pressures and internal divisions also raises questions about the preservation of a common cultural space in which public issues can be debated and all of Canada's communities can see themselves represented. The necessity to respond to globalization and the claims of both language groups will remain central to Canadian communications policy for the foreseeable future.

These concerns rest on certain theoretical assumptions regarding the relationship between state and nation. Although language and ethnicity are the primary bases for Quebec's sense of identity, the focus of policy and analysis in Canada has been the notion of a civic or political nationality. The idea that a nation is a "multi-purpose communication network," in the words of Louis Balthazar (1996, p. 102), is generally accepted by both Quebec and pan-Canadian nationalists. The basis for this communication network is left open. It may involve shared values and culture or ethnicity and language, as in the more traditional notions of nationality, or it may rest on common economic interests, or simply inertia. The central core of this view is Karl Deutsch's formulation that nationalities are marked off from one another by the flow of communications. In this model, the key indicator of community is that insiders communicate more frequently and on more issues with one another than with outsiders (Deutsch, 1966). From its inception, Canada has had to struggle against the natural flow of north-south transactions to maintain itself as an economic and political unit. Internally, the concentration of French-speaking Canadians in Quebec, a result of historical accident and deliberate policy,2 has created a major communications gap, which was compensated for until the 1960s by an effective system of elite accommodation. Disputes were resolved and common goals arrived at through negotiations between representatives of the two language groups, with varying success. (For a useful discussion of the key elements of this model, see Landes, 1995.)

The elite accommodation system of communication has been weakened by a variety of factors, most notably the spread of education and modern mass communications. Increased communication between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians was accompanied by increased interaction with the United States and the larger world. These underlying changes, which made the Canadian communities more open to outside influences, have influenced popular culture in ways that undermined elite accommodation. American influences have played a role in a decline of deference to elites and increased expectations of popular sovereignty (see Nevitte, 1996). The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is an institutionalized expression of this cultural change and public discourse surrounding the court cases arising from it has helped to change expectations. In addition, the challenge to the duality of French and English by First Nations and more recent immigrant groups has made elite accommodation considerably more difficult. These developments undermined elite accommodation without producing a more populist alternative. Political structures, based in large part on the legitimacy of elite accommodation, are increasingly challenged (Landes, 1995). Because Canada lacks a powerful unifying myth (Balthazar, 1997), it has been particularly vulnerable to external cultural influences, whether from the United States or a more global culture.

With respect to political communication in particular, Canadians have been concerned with the creation and preservation of public spaces in which national issues could be debated and resolved. The key assumption, related to David Easton's (1965) notion of political community, is that a stable democracy requires citizens to share some basic values and beliefs so that the dispute resolution mechanisms of the political system are accepted as legitimate and a common vocabulary of problems and precedents can be employed in public debate. As Neilsen (1997) has put it, "the more widespread the apathy concerning a sense of belonging to a country, the less citizens are willing to participate in the democratic process and the greater the risks to that country of social disintegration" (p. 83). As yet, this kind of apathy has not been reflected significantly in voter turnout, but perhaps it is manifested in "constitutional fatigue" and a sense of hopelessness regarding the prospects for any lasting resolution of the question of Quebec's place in the federation.

It is this concept of an effective democratic community that has led Canadians to be concerned about two key aspects of Canadian political communication: (1) the tendency of French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians to inhabit separate and distinct media worlds and (2) the heavy consumption of imported cultural products, especially in English-speaking Canada. It has been estimated that Canadian producers control only 20% of the domestic market for cultural products (less in English) whereas the average share of the home market for domestic producers in other industrialized countries is about 80% (Audley, 1994). Indeed, it has been suggested that the English broadcast market in Canada is the only known market where domestic entertainment is not necessarily preferred over imported programming of comparable quality (Tracey & Redal, 1995). In 1995, English-speaking television audiences spent about 28% of their time with domestic productions; the figure for French-speaking audiences was 67% (Statistics Canada, 1996). French-English differences appear to be a function not only of language and culture, but also of deliberate government policies designed to foster cultural development in French. Whether the pattern for English viewers is an accident of history and geography, a triumph of American marketing, or a reflection of shared values and cultural preferences with the United States (Jeffrey, 1996), it makes the preservation of a domestic public culture an uphill battle.

With respect to broadcasting, for example, Mark Starowicz (1993) has noted that "a country which does not have the basic tools to conduct even a routine debate on its airwaves clearly has a...dilemma which diminishes every group's ability to arbitrate affairs and help set the national agenda" (p. 95). The problem is not that the facilities do not exist for national debates -- witness the televised leaders' debates during election campaigns -- but that it is difficult to get the attention of citizens, except under extraordinary circumstances, and especially for a debate in the other official language.3 In an era of audience fragmentation, it is increasingly difficult to assemble an audience for a national debate, except as an occasional spectacle, and this is especially so in a linguistically divided country with a great deal of imported broadcast content. Even if the imports did not carry with them values and issues of other societies, they would still divert attention from domestic concerns. It appears that the role of domestic television as a public forum for the expression of culture and politics is waning everywhere in the face of global pressures (as manifested in transnational satellite services, for example) and alternative forms of public communication, such as the Internet.4

It is important to note, however, that despite these difficulties, Canada has persisted and remained peaceful and stable. Richard Collins (1990) argues that this fact raises questions about the theoretical assumptions identified above as the basis for the long-standing concerns of Canadian cultural nationalists. He notes that "the absence of congruence between polity and culture" has troubled Canadian intellectual and political elites and "has consistently been seen as unsustainable and dangerous" (pp. 174, 179), but takes a different view:

The continued existence of Canada as a sovereign state, despite it having little television programming shared by the two national communities and much viewing time devoted to foreign programmes, suggests that the nationalist axiom that political sovereignty and stability depend on cultural and communication sovereignty is misconceived. (p. 179)

If "Canada is a state without a shared symbolic culture," what takes its place as a basis for community? Collins (1990) suggests that Canada has "a distinctive and shared anthropological culture" (pp. 195-196) that includes important political values, but he provides no clues as to how it developed and is sustained. One possible answer might be found in the realm of the political. Canadians share a distinctive political system and complementary, if not shared, systems for reporting on the political process. It is by no means clear, however, that a political nationality or shared anthropological culture can be sustained over a long period of time without a common popular culture, especially in an age when public discourse is heavily shaped by the media. Can our parliamentary institutions survive when most citizens know little of the history or theory underlying their operation? Can we shape a new federal bargain when the forces that have shaped our existing system are not well understood?

Canada and Quebec: Two distinct media worlds?

It has long been said that Canada's two major language groups live in separate, or "distinct," media worlds. This observation applies to the entire range of cultural products -- from books to popular music -- and has led observers to conclude that Canada is divided into two distinct cultural markets, with relatively little interpenetration, which are largely open to external penetration, especially from the United States (de la Garde, Tremblay, Dorland, & Paré, 1994). With respect to television, Collins (1990) puts the case succinctly: "Francophone viewers seldom watch English Canadian programmes and anglophone viewers even less watch French Canadian programmes. But both Canadian language groups consume much American broadcasting" (p. 174). It must be noted, however, that the Quebec public has consistently preferred domestically produced shows to imported U.S. programs, whereas there is no such clear preference for domestic programs among English-speaking Canadians (de la Garde, Tremblay, Dorland, & Paré, 1994). Indeed, it is widely accepted that CBC French television played a major role in the development of modern Québécois nationalism. According to Balthazar (1997):

Because the French network was, for all practical purposes, a Quebec network...the CBC contributed heavily to...making French-speaking Quebeckers closer to one another, reinforcing Quebec consciousness and Quebec nationalism. For the first time in their history, French Canadians living in Quebec were watching, from day to day, a picture of themselves transmitted from one end of the province to the other. (p. 47)

While French-speaking Canadians were seeing reflections of themselves on the magic box, English-speaking Canadians were seeing mostly Americans (Caron & Payne, 1980). The best that can be said for the English television service, in recent years at least, is that it has provided its audiences with a strong continuing presence in news, public affairs, and sports, as well as some important drama and entertainment series. The English service has rarely had the impact on the country that the French service has in Quebec, where some programs attract a majority of the potential audience and become the subject of everyday conversation and debate. Nevertheless, citizens in both language groups continue to obtain most of their news from domestic sources, an important foundation for political discourse.

It is striking that the French- and English-language services of the CBC are, for many purposes, best seen as separate institutions despite attempts to operate the corporation as a single broadcasting system.5 Over the years, the CBC has attempted to produce programs in both official languages, through dual shooting or dubbing, but has rarely achieved substantial audiences in both communities (Filion, 1996). More recently, the corporation, driven as much by budgetary motives as nationalist concerns, has offered a number of joint productions and has used bilingual foreign correspondents. In 1994, for example, the main French and English networks shared 80 hours of television drama (Siegel, 1996). Still, French-speaking viewers spend most of their time with domestic programs, while English-speaking viewers' television experience remains highly Americanized. In a sense, federal government policies aimed at promoting Canadian identity have been highly successful in Quebec but less so elsewhere, with the paradoxical result that the national broadcaster has played a major role in reinforcing the separateness of the two cultural groups (see Neilsen, 1997). This development may have been an unintended consequence of federal policies, but it was also the result of provincial cultural development policies consciously designed to create a Québécois identity based more on culture and language than religion, as Quebec became more secular after 1960 (Raboy, 1990). The leading figures in the Quebec media have often been part of this national identity project (Gagnon, 1981; Raboy, 1990).

It is also striking that most of the research on the two media worlds has focused on structural issues in the media and audience ratings for particular programs. The existence of two media worlds, with some interchange, is a given. An important next step would be a detailed political analysis of the content of these two media worlds. While there are some studies of school texts and works comparing literary fiction (Bell, 1992; Cooper & Bercuson, 1997; Trudel & Jain, 1970), there is little research on the myths and symbols featured in these different media worlds. It is generally accepted that the popular culture created for French audiences by both private and public broadcasters is distinctive (Filion, 1996; Neilsen, 1997), but there is little research on the substantive elements of this distinctiveness. If the consumption of popular media has significant political /attitudinal consequences, it is important to learn more about the messages consumed and about their reception in the respective communities. Filion (1996) notes that "the undeniable success of Quebec's programs is due to the audience's close identification with its milieu" (p. 462). It is reasonable, then, to argue that culture is as important as language in maintaining the strong domestic focus of cultural consumption in Quebec and to wonder what will happen as globalization erodes this cultural distinctiveness. For example, we need to know more about how history is presented in the media. Hubert Bauch (1995) argues that Quebec nationalists are much more concerned with history than other Canadians, an argument that is reproduced in the discourse of ordinary Quebeckers. As an example, a "yes" voter in a television documentary (The Never-Endum-Referendum / Anglo Blues) commented:

A population has memory. Our memories are transferred through our songs, through our culture. And our memory is that then we were primarily French, and all of a sudden we were invaded....It's like a shadow behind us. It's probably hard for everybody else to understand that because they didn't live it. (Reported in Fitzgerald, 1997, p. 8)

Of course, no one alive today lived The Conquest, but most Quebeckers have lived with it -- as a cultural myth -- all of their lives.

The special case of news and public affairs

Whether or not news and public affairs programming is more or less influential than entertainment, there is little doubt that it plays an important part in political discourse. If we accept the fact that news is a form of cultural expression, as Schudson (1995) suggests, then it is important to examine the cultural codes and "familiar myths" employed in news texts to give meaning to events (Hartley, 1982). It is reasonable to assume that news both reflects and reinforces the dominant social myths and symbols. Klaus Jensen (1990) postulates that audiences use news to situate themselves in the context of current political concerns, so that news becomes a ritual that reassures them of their place in the community. Popular interpretations of community history and identity may be influenced by historical references in the news (Edy, 1996). Jane Jenson (1987) argues that in any society there is a "universe of political discourse" that defines the range of actors and issues that are legitimate, suggesting that the major impact of the boundaries established is to "inhibit or encourage the formation of new collective identities and /or the reinforcement of older ones" (p. 65). In theory, globalization can reinforce or challenge identities. The boundaries of discourse tend to be expressed most clearly in the news.

In concluding his influential study of differences in CBC French and English newscasts during the 1970s, Arthur Siegel (1977) wrote:

The pattern of content tends to reinforce value differences along linguistic lines. (Many of the differences noted here are similar to the English-French differences observed in the printed press.) In this sense, the news content patterns can be seen as not contributing in any significant way to a shared sense of Canadian identity. It isn't so much what the newscasts contain...but rather what they leave out [that weakens their role as agents of national integration]. (p. 42)

More recent research suggests that these patterns still hold. In general, the French and English news media carry relatively little common material, though the major national and international stories are usually covered in both. They rely on different news services and rarely carry news or commentary originally published in the other official language. A study of newscasts from 1977 to 1987 found only a modest overlap in the events covered (de Bonville & Vermette, 1994). It is clear, therefore, that English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians are exposed to different news and public affairs reporting. Do they in fact receive a different view of the political world? The evidence is mixed.

In general terms, the news media operate according to North American norms of newsworthiness, fairness, and balance. With respect to routine political coverage, not surprisingly, there are some consistent differences of emphasis. Arthur Siegel (1996) has surveyed the available research. His overview permits some general observations. Not surprisingly, the major French media in Quebec focus on Quebec provincial politics and generally report on Ottawa and the rest of Canada primarily in the context of Quebec interests, much as foreign correspondents would report on a neighbouring country. The English media treat Quebec politics more as a domestic matter, but with particular attention to the English-speaking minority in Quebec. De Bonville & Vermette (1994) suggest that French and English journalists are sensitive to the interests of their audiences, but note that private broadcasts are more ethnocentric than the CBC. There are also regional differences within the English media. Other consistent patterns, such as greater attention to France in foreign news in the Quebec media, are easily explained in terms of audience interest and the availability of material in the appropriate language. It is notable that federal election coverage has been generally similar in recent elections, with the national political parties setting the agenda for the mainstream media, but the French reports pay more attention to constitutional and language issues while the English news gives greater coverage to economic issues. Quebec provincial election coverage shows greater French-English divergence, but these differences can be traced to factors such as the inevitable Ottawa-bashing that emerges in most provincial elections and the tendency of English-speaking journalists to focus not so much on Quebec issues as on the implications of the election for the rest of the country.

The most consistent and striking differences show up in the coverage of "constitutional issues and symbolic events with constitutional implications" (Siegel, 1996, p. 22) or matters related to language and culture (Fletcher & Taras, 1995). These include the signing of the new Canadian constitution in 1982, seen as an occasion for celebration in the English media and as a significant defeat for Quebec in the French media, and the failure of attempts to revise the constitution to make it acceptable to Quebec. The failure to achieve ratification of the Meech Lake Accord, for example, was portrayed as a rejection of Quebec in the French media and as simply a preference for the status quo in the English media.

Perhaps more important, in terms of public perceptions at least, have been news stories with high symbolic content, which reflected the heightened tension in this period. Both French and English media gave considerable attention prior to the 1992 referendum to municipalities outside Quebec declaring themselves to be English-only jurisdictions, presented in English as a response to Quebec's French-only sign law and in Quebec as a rejection of the legitimacy of French in Canada. In Quebec, a video of the actions of a small number of protesters walking on the Quebec flag prior to the 1995 referendum campaign was replayed time and time again on French-language television and came to symbolize disrespect for a revered symbol. It is reasonable to argue that this event was overplayed, just as the Quebec sign law has been overplayed in the English-language media. Stories gain attention not only because they are dramatic, but also because they symbolize emotions and identities. Such reports have tended to serve as symbols for French-English conflict in subsequent coverage, replayed not to portray events but to evoke emotions.

However, news coverage of election and referendum campaigns has, on the surface at least, been reasonably careful and balanced. A detailed examination of television news coverage of the 1995 Quebec referendum found few differences between the French and English media in terms of issues stressed or the structure of the coverage (Erin Research, Inc., personal communication, May 20, 1997). The coverage was generally balanced between the "yes" and "no" sides. Some 20% of the statements in the newscasts dealt with Canada-Quebec relations, while about 5% dealt with context and historical background. It is likely that it is in these categories that important differences of framing and interpretation occurred. Closer examination of these elements of the coverage would be particularly revealing. This kind of analysis cannot, of course, easily explain differences in reporting of key events like the unity rally in Montreal in October 1995, where differences in crowd estimates and interpretation of the motives of those present seemed to reflect the political stance of the various news organizations. Case studies would be helpful here.

There are, as noted above, numerous instances when the symbolic elements of the coverage became important. The use of condensation symbols or icons to stand for larger concepts is inevitable in mass communication. When icons resonate differently in different cultures, competing interpretations of key events are likely to be reinforced. Condensation symbols necessarily draw on the cultural "givens" that audiences can relate to. Symbols that might evoke common responses are not heavily stressed in either linguistic community. As Greg Neilsen (1997) notes: "Canadian historians downplay the importance of the Conquest and few citizens celebrate the achievement of the British and their collaboration with French-speaking Canadians in the founding of Canada on July first" (p. 87).

Building on Daniel Hallin's typology of reporting styles (summarized in Schudson, 1995), it would be reasonable to expect differences between French and English media in the interpretation of the three domains of reporting: (1) legitimate controversy, (2) deviance, and (3) shared values. In particular, one would expect the domain of shared values, where balance is not required and consensus is celebrated, to be dissimilar. It is in this domain, for example, that we might expect to find unexamined assumptions about the role and influence of Quebec in the federal system or the costs and benefits of sovereignty. The use of the three domains as a framework for media analysis might well identify important areas of difference.

The Conquest, a term that expresses the loss of autonomy that followed from the British victory at the Plains of Abraham in 1759, provides a framework for much Quebec writing on Canada-Quebec issues and is often expressed as "humiliation," for example. Ray Conlogue, a respected analyst of the Quebec cultural scene, suggests that Quebec journalists frequently interpret contemporary events in terms of this mythic event. He quotes Christian Dufour:

People are often very surprised that Quebeckers say they are still affected by an event that took place over 200 years ago, while other peoples have overcome more recent, more devastating defeats. They forget the fundamental difference between a defeat and a conquest. A conquest is a permanent defeat, an institutionalized defeat....Contrary to the vanquished, the conquered is affected at the heart of his collective identity. (Conlogue, 1995a, p. D3)

Reports may no longer refer to it explicitly, but taken in its mythic sense, the notion underlies the interpretation of many contemporary events. Conlogue goes on to discuss the failure of English-speaking commentators to acknowledge the long history of discrimination against the French in Quebec, as well as in the rest of the country, that made The Conquest a central myth for Francophone Quebeckers. There is little doubt that the term "humiliation" appears with some frequency in coverage of constitutional politics in the French press (Auger, 1997), but this observation is not very meaningful by itself. To develop a fuller understanding of the discourse, we need to examine the contexts in which it appears, as well as the responses it evokes in different audiences. It seems likely that younger Québécois are less concerned about past humiliations than their parents and, perhaps, more concerned about economic and cultural opportunity. Certainly, an older ethnic nationalism and a more inclusive, territorially based sense of community co-exist in Quebec, with some tension (Balthazar, 1997).

Analysts of Quebec culture have noted other myths and symbols not shared by other Canadians. In particular, it is noted that certain historical incidents are given more importance in French schools in Quebec than elsewhere. Neilsen (1997) summarizes the situation this way:

Like previous generations, [Québécois] are taught about British colonization, the 1837 Patriot Rebellion for independence, the Riel Rebellion in the west, forced conscription during the Boer War at the turn of the century and again in the two World Wars, the imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970 that included massive arrests of artists, intellectuals, and political activists, and the broadly perceived betrayal of René Lévesque by the other premiers in the constitutional negotiations that led to the repatriation of the British North America Act in 1982, commonly referred to as the "night of the long knives." (p. 87)

Neilsen goes on to discuss the continuing concern about federal "intrusions" into areas of provincial jurisdiction and the emphasis in popular discourse on the consensus that "Quebec has its own national culture equal to that of English Canada" (p. 87). These ideas are also reflected in the insistence on the myth of two founding peoples and Quebec's position of equality in decisions on constitutional matters (the veto).

As with other media systems, the French-language media in Quebec operate within a culture and reflect and reinforce that culture. The central elements of that culture shape not only internal communications but also the reception of messages from other parts of Canada and elsewhere. Given the weaker sense of cultural identity in English-speaking Canada, the origins of the key symbols are often less clear, but Conlogue (1995b) suggests that the myth of Canada as a kind, gentle, and tolerant society has worked to prevent Canada outside Quebec from coming to terms with its historic treatment of Francophones. Recent waves of immigration, bringing many people with other identities and who have no identification with this history, have also made this recognition difficult. Indeed, it can be argued that multiculturalism, important as it has been for the integration of immigrants, has exacerbated relations between the English-speaking and French-speaking communities by relegating the latter to the status of "just another minority language group." It is also changing the culture of Canada's major cities in important ways, with consequences that are not yet clear.

The two media systems also feature somewhat different journalistic cultures. Despite the superficial similarities, it is clear that journalists in the French media are (1) an integral part of the intelligentsia of Quebec, while English journalists have more of an outsider status, and (2) under pressure to identify with the sovereigntist project. Their often acute awareness of the minority status of French in North America may be said to contribute to a "politics of solidarity" which limits their capacity to view issues of constitutional and language policy with detachment (Clift, 1980).6 In particular, this journalistic culture may limit their capacity to see things as people in other parts of Canada might see them. In this respect, their identification with their community is quite similar to that of journalists at the Montreal Gazette, who often see themselves as representing the beleaguered Anglophone minority in Quebec (but who are also often irritated by the lack of understanding of Quebec aspirations in the English media outside Quebec).

Because Quebec nationalism has, by definition, a mythic quality, it is not easily challenged in Quebec political discourse (Nemni, 1992). Even when its premises are subject to challenge on factual grounds, the Quebec-based French media frequently avoid taking up the issue (Simpson, 1996). Certainly, there are serious misperceptions about the rest of Canada and about the meaning of a "yes" vote in the referendums on sovereignty. Howe (1998) observes, for example, that large numbers of "yes" voters in 1980 believed that Quebec would remain a province of Canada under sovereignty association and that such misperceptions were still common as the 1995 referendum approached. He reports that a 1994 poll found that many Quebeckers believed that in a sovereign Quebec, they would "continue to pay Canadian taxes" (27%), "send MPs to Ottawa" (27%), and "be part of Canada" (42%) (The Globe and Mail [Toronto], July 15, 1994, p. A4; cited in Howe, 1998, p. 24, note 5). The fact that extensive public debate did not alter these misperceptions between 1980 and 1994 provides some support for the hypothesis that the media have not done a very good job of challenging such inaccurate beliefs. (It is not clear, of course, to what extent the media can be held responsible for the persistence of these beliefs.)

Reluctance to challenge myths and misperceptions is, of course, typical of popular news media, which generally operate within the conventional wisdom of the society they serve. Effective challenges to English-Canadian complacency are also not very common. In the case of Canadian constitutional politics, the mythic quality of the issues and the emotional intensity surrounding them make the job of the journalist difficult. In the 1990s, audiences no longer agree on a common understanding of history or key terms (McRoberts, 1997), making effective communication about these issues within the conventions of contemporary journalism very difficult. As Neilsen (1997) has noted, a major reason for the non-recognition by other Canadians of Quebec's quest for recognition is "a profound difference in historical interpretation of the founding event of Quebec society" (p. 85). It would be valuable to determine more precisely how these differences influence popular culture and news coverage.

In order to gain a better understanding of these aspects of the media, it will be necessary to look more closely at: (1) the framing of key issues; (2) persistent icons, myths, and symbols; (3) the uses of history in both news and entertainment programs; and (4) the boundaries of the three domains of reporting. Standard content analysis, focusing on manifest content, has its uses, but it cannot capture the cultural differences that reinforce identity and, perhaps, exacerbate conflict. Nor can it capture the distressingly cynical interpretations of the motives of politicians or citizens from the other community that crop up from time to time in the French and English media. It seems clear that a new research agenda is needed.

The impact of globalization

Because the two media systems have developed quite differently, though under a common policy umbrella, it is reasonable to expect that the growing availability of cultural materials from abroad will have a differential impact. Although these impacts are beginning to be felt, it is important to note that the regulatory structure has had some success in muting globalization trends. For example, a combination of tax regulations, content rules, and foreign-ownership restrictions has discouraged the penetration of transnational media corporations while encouraging the growth of home-grown ones. However, the growth of global megamedia conglomerates is altering international cultural markets and, in the longer term, new mechanisms of distribution, such as satellites and the Internet, mean that the increased flow of imported materials cannot be stemmed. What is most interesting to consider, therefore, is the likely response of communities to that flow. Because each advance in technology has brought more U.S. programming to Canada, we have a sound basis for speculation.

The immediate impact of the increased availability of imported cultural materials is not dramatic for English audiences, since they already consume a substantial diet of American products. Two aspects are important: (1) the potential erosion of the measures designed to protect a cultural space for domestic products; and (2) a significant increase in co-productions, where Canadian myths, symbols, and values are sacrificed for marketability outside of Canada. Productions for the global market tend to avoid close connections to specific local histories, aiming to appeal to international audiences. It is interesting to consider whether increased production of such programming will help to dissolve local memories, reducing the potential for conflict or, conversely, encourage communities to cling more tightly to their own stories, without any incentive to consider alternative interpretations.

For French media consumers, the language barrier and the government umbrella have created a thriving domestic culture (and a considerable export market). Domestic productions have a substantial foothold, but continuing subsidy is likely to be needed because of the small market. Increased imports will erode local markets and culture but they do not seem, in the short run, to threaten the distinctiveness of Québécois culture and society. Demographics may be more important here, as French-speakers continue to decline as a proportion of the Canadian and North American cultural markets.

More important, perhaps, is how these materials are received. As Louise Baillargeon, head of the Quebec Film and Television Producers' Association, has put it, "Quebeckers may consume American TV and film, but they know that it comes from somewhere else. English Canadians do not seem to know anymore what is theirs and what is American" (quoted in Conlogue, 1995c, p. C1). At the very least, the psychological distancing that occurs naturally when programs are subtitled or dubbed into another language is a rare experience for Anglophones. It seems likely that much of the American programming consumed by Anglophone Canadians is not perceived as culturally foreign. Roger de la Garde (1996) suggests that "a most probable outcome of the viewing patterns of the English-speaking community in Montreal is the production of an American-based public culture" (p. 274), though a truly Canadian public culture is not rendered impossible by heavy consumption of American television. In order to predict with any confidence the impact of increased consumption of imported cultural products, we need to know much more about how audiences interpret them and relate them to their everyday lives. As Lorimer & Duxbury (1994) suggest, we need more cultural analysis to complement the substantial amount of economic analysis already available.

With respect to intercultural communication in Canada, the emergence of freer trade in cultural products seems most likely to exacerbate a growing tendency. News or drama from the rest of Canada is likely not only to be overwhelmed by news and entertainment materials from the rest of the English-speaking world, but also increasingly to be viewed by Francophone and Anglophone audiences as indistinguishable from them. It is probable that English-Canadian entertainers, for example, are often thought by many Francophones to be Americans, especially if they are successful on the world stage. Certainly, French-language films, even though widely publicized in the English media, are still likely to be found in the foreign-language section of video stores outside of Quebec. Canadian films in English are likely to be absent altogether. The pressures of co-production are likely to make Canadian productions in English increasingly indistinguishable from imported programming. There remains the possibility, as de la Garde (1996) reminds us, that the commitment of both Anglophone and Francophone audiences to distinctive cultural values will frame their reception of imported culture. There is, therefore, the possibility that imported materials, consumed by both groups, will contribute to the emergence of a common, more cosmopolitan public culture. This possibility finds some support in Reg Whitaker's (1996) observation that "the sovereigntist dream is ... strongest in those areas of Quebec where francophone dominance is unchallenged ... and where people are least plugged into the wider international networks of communication" (pp. 86-87). The advent of more imported material might contribute to a public culture that helps to bridge differences within Quebec; it seems unlikely that it will contribute to a pan-Canadian identity.

In policy terms, it seems clear that Quebec politicians will, for the foreseeable future, resist the incorporation of Quebec public culture into either a pan-Canadian or a global culture (Tremblay, 1994). That is the essence of Quebec nationalism, whether sovereigntist or federalist. English-speaking leaders, for their part, seem increasingly prepared to adapt to media globalization, seeking to promote cultural exports and to maintain some space for domestic cultural expression through subsidies. The most probable consequence is even more differentiation in the media experience of the "two solitudes," for the foreseeable future at least.

Some observers take the view that the two communities have so little in common that attempts to promote an overarching common identity are futile. Berland (1995) sums up this position:

What do we have in common, after all? Not even language. We have no shared ancestors or genetic pool, no originary revolutionary myths, no common rituals....The "natural" topography of economic flow is north-south, not east-west. Without a viable narrative or common symbolic culture (other than sometimes, maybe, perhaps hopefully land and landscape) to legitimate the existence of this nation, why bother? (p. 105)

In fact, as Neilsen (1997) suggests, the two founding nations have done great things together, not only creating a tolerant, progressive, long-lasting democracy, but also engaging together in wars, peacekeeping, and international athletic competitions. It is, perhaps, not the deeds, but rather the narratives, that are missing. The two media solitudes may have helped to inhibit the development of such narratives. Certainly, globalization of media content will not promote their development.

However, it is simplistic to assume that globalization equals homogenization. What is more likely is the emergence of a superficial, consumerist set of widely recognized images and icons, interpreted differently within local cultures, and reflected differently (inflected) in local cultural productions. One consequence of globalized communication might well be increased fragmentation in multicultural countries like Canada as the new media make possible the importation of culturally reinforcing materials by local minority cultures. This tendency is already evident in the formation of international communication networks by, for example, Aboriginal groups (Alia, 1992) and the rapid growth of "third language" media, especially in the unregulated print sector. While such developments, like the increasingly differentiated cultural consumption of Anglophones and Francophones, might well inhibit the development and maintenance of identification with current state institutions, this may not be inevitable. Multiple identities are certainly possible. What appears to be necessary is the preservation of effective national public spaces in which sub-communities can participate. Among the promising mechanisms here are public broadcasters, who must be encouraged to adapt quickly to the new forms of production and distribution looming on the technological horizon. Certainly, we must recognize the linguistic and cultural claims of "third language" groups, while attempting to preserve common cultural space.

Concluding comments

In general, research on the Canadian dilemma has paid more attention to the medium than to the message. The focus of much research has been on media production and distribution, reflecting what might be called an industrial perspective. Audience research has focused on program availability, ratings, and preferences. There has been relatively little work on content or reception. What are the dominant values, symbols, and myths in domestic English and French programs? What are the dominant frames and historical referents in political reporting in the two languages? How do they differ from one another and from imports? To what extent do imported materials promote identifiable core values associated with globalization, such as free markets, economic competition, consumerism, an ahistorical approach, and so on? A fruitful direction for research would be to examine the content of popular entertainment and news programs with the objective of identifying the central myths and symbols that reinforce and construct historical memories and narratives of identity. It would also be instructive to consider how these have changed over time. This type of analysis would permit some inferences regarding the influence of imported values and competing narratives (such as those associated with the global youth culture). With respect to reception, it seems imperative that we learn more about responses to specific narratives and symbols, since they are likely to vary not only by mother tongue but also by age, education, gender, and recency of immigration, to name a few possible variables. A research agenda that includes qualitative content analysis and reception analysis on such a large scale is not an easy one, but it is important to begin thinking along these lines. Preservation of domestic cultural industries and public space for political discourse is undoubtedly important, but it would be helpful to understand more clearly what goes on in those spaces.

The history of Canadian communications policy has been characterized as the development of a communications network without nationhood, a technological achievement without a vision (Charland, 1986). The argument is that the result has been an empty nation, vulnerable to having its public space filled in large part by imported materials. According to this analysis, the focus of policy should shift to content, a direction that follows also from the strategic imperatives created by transborder media (Dowler, 1996). The risk here, of course, is the merging of cultural production with state propaganda (Tremblay, 1994). From a research point of view, this line of reasoning suggests it is important to understand communications in the context of culture. Kevin Dowler (1996), sums up the argument:

The problem is, to put it simply, that the communications approach emphasizes communications at the expense of a consideration of culture....Although communication plays a key role in the formation of a nation, it is inappropriate, both historically and in terms of current research, to identify the development of culture with the history of communications in Canada. (pp. 342-343)

Canada may be a community of communities, with few common symbols, or the first postmodern state, a state without a distinctive culture. But can a society survive without some source of support beyond commercial transactions and the delivery of services? Can Canada survive when a majority of Quebeckers believe that Quebec is a net economic loser in the Canadian federation (an arguable proposition at best), while most English Canadians remain unaware of past discriminations, oblivious to the psychology of The Conquest, and unwilling to grant French Quebec the recognition that it requires? There are real economic interests underlying Canada's linguistic division, but there are also cultural misunderstandings that may be exacerbated by globalization. As English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians have become more alike in values, their relations have become more conflictual. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Canadian citizens do share many values, "including notably the core political values of liberal capitalism. But shared values do not produce a shared identity. Indeed, they tend to reinforce the drive for recognition of a different identity precisely because the very similarity of values tends to make the identity invisible to others" (Whitaker, 1996, p. 77). English-speaking Canadians, who often seem invisible to others, should be able to understand the need of Québécois to be recognized as different, as symbolized by the phrase "distinct society." However, the space for debate about a common future seems to be contracting and the common vocabulary of historical precedents remains limited or divisive. The gulf in news coverage of critical issues reduces the basis for resolution. It is hard to discern how a global culture, created outside the social context of Canada, can be of much assistance. Turning citizens into consumers in a globalized media economy does not seem like a helpful answer. Indeed, if Whitaker is correct, the drive for identity and recognition among key groups in Canada may become more intense as a result of the pressure of globalization.

From a policy point of view, Marc Raboy (1996) sums up the situation in which Canada finds itself as we approach the millennium:

Short of the radical alternative of Quebec sovereignty, there is no question that Canadian communications policy will continue to be marked by the need to reconcile the "two solitudes" of linguistic duality. Canada can only work to the extent that all participating partners recognize the valid claims of each of the distinct components that make up the country. (p. 154)

What this means in practice is that the state must promote the capacity of Quebec to serve as the centre of a unique network of communications in North America, with a distinct language and culture, but also participating in the larger networks of Canada, North America, and the world. In this respect, it may be desirable, as Raboy (1996) suggests, to turn away from policies promoting national identity and toward policies whose primary goal is to promote democratic community development and national, regional, and local public spaces. Raboy (1996) describes the challenge this way: "As Canada searches for a place in the sea of global culture, its linguistic duality is one of the most unmistakeable, irreducible forms of Canadian distinctiveness. The challenge remains to try to find an institutional arrangement that turns this into a source of strength" (p. 169).

It seems clear that, given the small markets for English and French cultural production in Canada, subsidies to content producers will continue to be a central element in any policy (Fraser, 1997). However, private production is unlikely to be sufficient, especially in providing access for "third language" communities. The public broadcaster, which should be encouraged to develop innovative approaches to community building, must be a central element in maintaining a national public space.

Research agenda

As scholars and researchers confronting the Canadian dilemma, we must encourage research that (1) considers culture as well as communication (that is, examines the message as well as the medium); (2) broadens our understanding of news and its interpretation; and (3) proposes innovative approaches to the preservation of a democratic national public space, with room for multiple identities, in the era of globalization. It is imperative to view globalization as a challenge and an opportunity, to be resisted or embraced as is appropriate for our own cultural needs.

In developing a new research agenda, we must, with the above goals in mind, seek new frameworks of analysis. Traditional content analysis, which confines itself to manifest content, generally does not take us beyond conventional concerns about balance, issues emphasized, and voices heard. These are not unimportant matters, but more work is needed on the missing voices and issues, in popular culture as well as news. To take media analysis to a new level, we need to bring in discussion of such matters as: (1) the uses of history in news and popular culture, (2) the use of condensation symbols in the presentation of context and historical background, (3) identification of emotive terms that are repeated in various genres and therefore can be viewed as representing deeper cultural perceptions, and (4) identification of both common and culturally specific narratives. Beyond these approaches, we need to examine how various icons, symbols, and key terms are received by different audiences, permitting more effective analysis of content. With respect to news, analysts should compare content using not only the traditional distinctions between news and commentary, for example, but also the domains of news suggested by Daniel Hallin. These approaches permit us to ask different research questions: Not "Was the coverage balanced?" but "What cultural understandings did the coverage reflect and possibly invoke?" and "To what extent does the drama employ narratives that reinforce or challenge cultural differences?" Culture is always political. We must ask political questions about it. In finding new and more penetrating ways to analyze and understand our cultural /public discourse in Canada, we will establish a better basis for considering the likely consequences of globalization. It is true that these research directions are very demanding, requiring a range of linguistic skills and cultural awareness, embracing not only French and English but also "third language" and Aboriginal cultural expression. Few communications scholars can hope to achieve this alone. Certainly, this limited survey does not meet these lofty goals. Team work, cultural sensitivity, and a healthy scepticism about our own values and motives will be required. However, if we are to have some influence on our own future, we must make the effort.

Notes

1
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual conference of the International Communication Association in Montreal, May 24, 1997. This version has benefited from comments by John Downing, Marjorie Ferguson, Martha Fletcher, and Marc Raboy, none of whom is likely to agree with all that is said here.
2
I am referring here to measures to discourage the use of French in the Canadian west in the nineteenth century. These are not part of the public discourse in English-speaking Canada today, but it is arguable that they, more than anything else, prevented the development of conditions that could have made Pierre Trudeau's vision of a bilingual country a reality.
3
It is worth noting that the English debate during the 1997 federal election campaign was not made available in translation. In contrast, the French debate was carried with a voice-over on CBC Newsworld.
4
While most European countries have not yet experienced the audience fragmentation with which we are familiar, the emergence of popular private television services in a number of countries and the growth of transnational services suggests that it is only a matter of time until similar circumstances arise there.
5
As Raboy (1990) has demonstrated, attempts to use the CBC as an instrument of "national unity" have tended to backfire.
6
For an excellent overview of the relationship between journalism and politics in Quebec, see Charron (1991).

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