Culture Wars: How Canada Lost the Battle to Protect Its Magazines

Lynn Cunningham
Interdisciplinary, York
May, 2000
 

Abstract


In 1999, the Canadian government passed Bill C-55 (Foreign Publishers Advertising Services Act), a measure that allows foreign magazine publishers to sell Canadian advertising in copies of their magazines sold in Canada. The legislation arose from a 1997 ruling by the World Trade Organization that previous measures designed to protect Canadian magazines--Bill C-103, Tariff Item 9958 and concessionary postal rates--were illegal under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). As it was initially drafted, C-55 was designed to prevent foreign publishers from selling ad space in Canada; however, concerted pressure from the United States, including threats of trade retaliation, led to a substantial alteration of the bill.


While many attributed Canada’s failure to protect its domestic magazine publishers to a lack of political will, this thesis argues that the events of the late 1990s were preordained. The chief factor identified is the failure of successive federal governments, starting in the 1920s, to recognize the importance of formulating a policy on magazines. Because there was no overall policy framework regarding the preservation of Canadian magazines, some disastrous decisions were made. One, in particular, was the failure of the government to act in 1943 when Time and Reader’s Digest started publishing "Canadian" editions.


The author contends that international events also played a part in the Canada’s loss of its ability to protect domestic magazines, citing the rise of transnational media organizations in the nineteenth century, the enshrinement of the principle of "free flow of information" in the Unesco charter of 1947 and the inapplicability of Ricardian economic theory, the underpinning of the GATT, to cultural products such as magazines. The thesis offers a case study of how successive governments failed on a variety of levels and over a number of decades to create a sustainable, defensible mechanism to foster and protect a vital means of cultural transmission.
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