I spent this summer interviewing the creators of the program Little Mosque on the Prairie, which has aired on the English television network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation since 2007. (Michele Byers wrote an excellent post about it in an earlier In Media Res post.) It’s a show about a small Muslim community in a fictional town in Saskatchewan, and it raises questions about the production and maintenance of national and religious identity in post-9/11 North America.
Rarely have I met people so gracious, and it was a pleasure to immerse myself in the production of a program I enjoy. More importantly, I gained insight into a contradiction characterizing Canadian public broadcasting, namely its frequently global orientation.
Here’s the paradox. English Canadians' sense of identity derives in part from their perception of the difference between Canada and the United States. One aspect of that difference is Canada's approach to multiculturalism, which many Canadians see as more respectful and less assimilationist than the U.S. approach. At the same time, a lot of Americans (especially academics and journalists) see Canada similarly—as a more successful realization of certain ideals about equality and social opportunity. This perception led the New York Times to send Neil MacFarquhar, its former Middle East correspondent, to write about Little Mosque even before it premiered.
What MacFarquhar's article did was confirm for Canadians that they were right—Americans seemed to agree that Canadians had succeeded in fostering a more humane approach to integration. That confirmation (not to mention the publicity that an article in the NYT generates) helped boost the premiere's ratings to unheard of levels. However, despite the interest shown by the NYT, and despite having distributed the program in a wide range of markets (including a number of Arab countries), Westwind Productions, which produces Little Mosque, has never been able to syndicate it in the United States.
The question I pose here, then, is this: what does this contradiction reveal about the cultural dimensions of the circulation of national programs beyond their original national borders, and what are the implications for a public broadcaster in particular?