Recently, without warning and without consultation, Rogers Communications decided to end all Italian-language news and current affairs television programming on the multicultural OMNI station. As a proud Italian-Canadian and a federal Cabinet Minister, many individuals and organizations have contacted me to express their deep concern and, indeed, outrage at this sudden decision by Rogers.
Outside of the Italian-Canadian community, this may seem to be a minor and insignificant decision by a large corporation. However, for Italian-Canadians in Ontario it was a much more personal transgression and cut much deeper.
For many, OMNI – and its original form as CFMT (Canada’s First Multilingual Television) – holds a special place in their hearts. Nearly three decades ago, CFMT responded to a void within immigrant communities for television programming in their own native tongue that helped explain and educate them on the issues of the day locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally.
Iannuzzi – the founder
In fact, Italian-Canadians take great pride that CFMT itself was founded by one of their own – Dan Iannuzzi. Iannuzzi, a recipient of the Order of Canada, was a pioneer in multicultural communications and a significant contributor to Toronto’s Italian community – with CFMT (now OMNI) being one of his lasting legacies. His vision was to create a medium that would provide Italian-Canadians and other non-English and non-French speaking Canadians a link to their ancestral language and culture, while helping increase their awareness of current events in Canada.
In short, CFMT (and OMNI after it) served as a vital connection for Italian-speaking Canadians – and many other non-English and non-French speaking Canadians – to understand and participate in the social, cultural, and political life of Canada.
Indeed, throughout the years, Italian-language news and current affairs television programming on OMNI has been a vital link in terms of local community news for the Italian-Canadian population of the Great Toronto Area and throughout Ontario. Moreover, it represented one of the bonds that held the Italian-Canadian community together: informing them of local events, highlighting issues of unique importance to them, and mobilizing them to ensure their collective voice remained heard.
I myself had opportunities on numerous occasions, as Chief of Police and later as a Member of Parliament, to appear on OMNI to speak directly to the Italian community on issues of importance to them and solicit their feedback. I, along with elected representatives of political parties across the spectrum, valued the venue that OMNI provided.
I would also note the contributions of Vincenzo Somma, Dino Cavalluzzo, Giorgio Mitolo, and the rest of the crew of OMNI News: Italian Edition, on behalf of Italian-Canadians throughout Toronto and Ontario. I know I speak for many Italian-Canadians in Ontario when I say that we value their presence and tremendous work, which we would hope could be continued.
That’s why Italian-Canadians have been mobilizing against this regrettable decision by Rogers Communications, and I feel the strong need to make my voice heard as well.
Holding Rogers to account
First, I wrote to the President and Chief Executive Officer of Rogers Communications, Guy Laurence, pleading with him to reconsider this decision and reinstate news and current affairs television programming – especially Italian – on the multicultural OMNI station. However, the response by Rogers Communications did not substantively address the concerns that I raised.
As a result, after discussions with my colleagues in the Harper government, our Conservative Members of Parliament have called a special parliamentary committee meeting on this very issue – where we will ask Rogers to explain themselves to Members of Parliament and the Canadian public.
The motion, submitted to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage by Member of Parliament Rick Dykstra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage), reads as follows: That the Standing Committee of Canadian Heritage invite representatives from OMNI to discuss their recent programming changes, specifically as they relate to local news coverage in Punjabi, Cantonese, Mandarin and Italian; and that the meeting take place prior to June 18th and that the meeting be scheduled for two hours.
I hope this meeting, along with the substantial and continued advocacy by many Italian-Canadian organizations as well as other groups from other communities such as the Punjabi, Cantonese and Mandarin communities, will force Rogers to reconsider this decision to cancel all Italian-language news and current affairs television programming on OMNI.
For Italian-Canadians, especially seniors, this is much more than simply a television program, it is about protecting a legacy built by Iannuzzi over 30 years and ensuring Italian-Canadians are not isolated from the community and the world around them.
Julian Fantino was first elected to the House of Commons in 2010 as the Member of Parliament for Vaughan and re-elected in 2011. In January 2015, Fantino was appointed Associate Minister of National Defence. Previously, he was appointed Minister of State (Seniors) in January 2011, Associate Minister of National Defence in May 2011, Minister of International Cooperation in July 2012 and Minister of Veterans Affairs in July 2013.