A Voice for the Voiceless

by Fairouz Qoulaii

Cooperation, or the act of participating in a common endeavor is a reflex, even a human imperative, that has existed since the dawn of time. It is based on the assumption that people, regardless of their economic class or level of education, know what is good for them and are able to work together to meet their needs in a democratic and inclusive way. Cooperatives and community radio stations are examples of such places.

Community Radio: Who Are They? What Role Do They Play?

Cooperatives and community radio stations share several common values:

  • They help provide access to and awareness of services;
  • They listen and are accountable to their communities;
  • They report for any investment and excess advertising revenues (which remain in the local economy).

In the cooperative model, staff work as a team with no formal hierarchy and make decisions collectively. This format, also followed by community stations, has several important advantages. First, the cooperative formula gives a sense of “control” and responsibility to the members who are full owners of the radio station. Second, it offers a medium that has a mandate to encourage the development of the social fabric and the involvement of the population at the local level. Finally, it provides a context for dialogue that can aim to respect Canada’s socio-cultural diversity.

The main mission of community radio stations is to ensure the representation of the needs and concerns of groups and individuals traditionally marginalized and under-represented in the private or commercial media and thus to stimulate their sense of belonging to the community. They seek to make a real difference by providing local and regional content that addresses socio-economic and community issues such as linguistic duality and the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society. These stations are inextricably linked to cultural identity through a variety of programs that aim to:

  • Fight isolation and racial profiling;
  • Cherish conversations between neighbors;
  • Provide a reliable source of unique music;
  • Give visibility to emerging artists;
  • Provide local information; and
  • Provide ongoing training and mentoring of community members to fill the gap in Canadian content in programming.

Starting a Community Radio Station: the CRTC and Legal Framework

First, you need to know about the federal agency that regulates the broadcasting sector: the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Its mandate includes monitoring the application of the law and the commitment of radio stations and increasing the proportion of Canadian content on the air.

With respect to community radio stations, the CRTC requires first that they be controlled by non-profit entities such as community service cooperatives or associations. Thus, it establishes guidelines to provide diverse and varied programming in line with the needs and interests of the community.

Concretely, to operate a community radio station, an application for a broadcasting license must be submitted to the CRTC. This application explains the programming schedule and how the radio station will be financially supported. The CRTC will consider several factors in making its decision:

  • The diversity of news sources in the market;
  • Competing stations;
  • The station’s impact on the market;
  • The community radio station’s commitments to the percentage of Canadian content in music;
  • Canadian content development (CCD) contributions and, if applicable, the percentage of French-language vocal music; and
  • The business plan that supports the station’s ability to meet its programming plan and commitments. 

There are several associations in Canada that can be excellent sources of information about community radio stations, including the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA), the Association of Community Broadcasters of Quebec (ARCQ), and the Community Radio Alliance of Canada (ARC).

Copyright of Musical Content: The Legal Framework of the Copyright Act

It is important to know that radio broadcasters often transmit in their programming a large number of musical works for which they do not hold the copyright. The Copyright Act provides a special regime for the performance rights in musical works: the equitable remuneration system via collective management. Numerous music copyright collectives exist in Quebec as the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (“SOCAN”) and Artisti.

The copyright collectives’ mission is to build a repertoire of works by authors and composers who entrust, to one or the other of them, the power to authorize the performance of their works in public and to collect the related royalties. The broadcaster will then have to obtain such licenses from the collective. Non-commercial and community radio stations are not exempt from this obligation.

In addition, the Copyright Act provides broadcasters with a right in the communication signal they transmit. This right is intended to compensate for the investment made in transmitting the signal. Starting a community station is therefore a project that requires preparation (application and meeting of CRTC criteria) and calls for great vigilance in the use of works protected by copyright (licenses with collective management societies). Nevertheless, they represent an interesting and essential player in the Quebec and Canadian media landscapes by contributing to the development of local content that reflects the diversity of the community and the issues that animate it.