Rolling the gender boulder up the broadcast hill ignores bigger issues

The CRTC should be far more concerned about the role of women within the telecommunications industry than in TV

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If you like Canadian television and you’re a woman – better yet, you’re a woman in the industry – there’s a chance that in the years ahead you’re going to like it a lot more.

That’s because, in alignment with the federal government’s commitment to a strong feminist agenda, its communications regulator is once again taking a long look at what it can do to get more women – and assumedly therefore fewer men – into leading roles in front of and behind Canadian cameras.

This was announced a couple of weeks ago by Ian Scott, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and broadcasting vice-chairwoman Caroline Simard, who made it clear that next fall’s closed-door Women in Production sessions will be expected to produce measurable results. And that should mean more programming made by more women with more women starring in shows about women and issues of primary importance to women.

There has been some credible kerfuffle on social media about whether meetings of such importance should be behind closed doors. But that isn’t this endeavour’s biggest shortcoming.

In terms of broadcasting, the CRTC has long been engaged in efforts to advance and ensure women are portrayed in ways the regulator and its masters want them to be. Indeed, it was under the watch of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre that a national action plan for the advancement of women was developed in 1979. Following that, the CRTC was deemed the agency most appropriate to “see that guidelines and standards to encourage the elimination of sex-role stereotyping from the media it regulates are formulated by 1980.”

Suffice to say that, almost 40 years later, Scott and Simard continue to roll the gender boulder up the broadcasting hill.

Yet while they and their masters apply themselves once again to this Sisyphean task, they continue to restrict their lens – as an agency that reports (inappropriately in my view) through the Department of Heritage is prone to do – to broadcasting content. If any of those involved really wanted to address gender bias within a regulated industry, they should be taking a long look at telecom, big and little. This is such a grievous oversight that it’s not impossible to imagine that some might interpret it itself as evidence of systemic sexism.

I understand that I’m now at risk of ‘mansplaining’ – a behaviour for which it has on occasion been noted I have some talent. But it’s shocking that the issues facing females in broadcasting remain tirelessly catered to while a blind eye is turned to the positioning of women within telecommunications, which is by far the largest industry the CRTC regulates.

You won’t find people who contest that this is an issue. Nor is it an accusation of intended sexism – something that is rarely helpful anyway. But the heavily male bias in the industry became glaringly obvious at my first telecom hearing many years ago, when the only women in the room at times were CRTC commissioners and staff.

Yes, there are exceptions and it would be unfair not to note some efforts at change. But there is no denying it’s very much a man’s world in telecom, including within the walls of the regulator itself in terms of its staffing and recruitment challenges.

The people in charge of finding CRTC commissioners have no doubt discovered this, assuming they are – as they should be – beating the bushes to find women with telecom industry experience. Indeed, based on the constitution of the commission, it appears they’ve discovered it’s impossible to find any.

So fuss about the gender balance in front of and behind the camera by all means. But the CRTC, its masters and partners might at least cast an eye in telecom’s direction as well. And maybe they will even pause to reflect upon their own track record when it comes to respecting and promoting the views and roles of women beyond the world of TV.

Peter Menzies is a past vice-chair of the CRTC and former publisher of the Calgary Herald.


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