Michael A. Charbon on Brampton’s Changing Media Landscape

Don McLeod Accepts the 2017 BBOT Business Excellence Award in Communications.

Michael A. Charbon, the face and Gemini Award Winning host of Brampton Focus reflects on the beginnings of Brampton Focus following the Brampton Board of Trade’s recognition of the group with a 2017 Business Excellence Award in Communications.

After the 2014 municipal election in Brampton there was an air of change in the city. Much of City Council had changed, from the mayor’s office on down to several new council members. Other veterans held their prime positions of control. In the community, there was an assemblage of concerned residents whose common purpose was to hold elected officials to their word for the benefit of the city.

The Toronto media had no interest in Brampton, its well-being or its politics. Many recognized that Brampton was a first-class city with no media representation. Local newsprint at best reported exactly what it wanted to print or what “mother publisher” from Toronto served up as controversy in Brampton. The degrading and demoralizing perspective of “Brampton is burning” repetitive rhetoric fueled political controversy, while local print poured copious amounts of gas on the city’s reputation, always cognizant of advertisers and friendly political ears. Seldom was there a cutting voice on politics and politicians.

The lack of an unvarnished perspective of what living in Brampton was like was glaringly evident. Local community access television lacked the ability or basic broadcast skill to hold a conversation let alone an audience. There was a vacuum of hard hitting provocative and probing questions to community leaders. Serving up softball questions from amateurs to a politician is a disservice because a politician will always take an easy home-run answer to deliver party doctrine and regurgitated template responses. No controversy, no pressure, no problem.

With no radio, no TV and minimal press perspective, Canada’s 9th largest city had no voice. This needed to change. A group of volunteers responded to the media challenge and formed a group to focus on Brampton, its issues and people. One goal was to hold leaders and elected representatives from Municipal, Provincial and Federal seats accountable on tape. As one founding member quipped, “let’s ask the tough questions that Bramptonians want answers to and hold politician’s feet to the fire, no softball or snowflake questions.”

So BRAMPTON FOCUS was created, by locals who volunteer their time, and self-finance a broadcast media facility. This autonomy is very important in this day of “nudge nudge wink wink” media and politics, particularly in a community that had no real voice.

The group’s first effort was creating an All Candidates Town Hall debate with the Federal political candidates running in Brampton. With a Live audience, community panel of questioners, host and multi-camera TV compliment it was an immense challenge first out of the gate. “Lofty aspirations” as quoted by doubters. The event was a success, as an on-line resource of record, and as a community cable rebroadcast product. Community cable acted only as a broadcast platform partner, to increase the exposure and feature the final TV broadcast product created by Brampton Focus. Show concepts, crew, TV technology, host and financing efforts were all independent, volunteer and self-funded.

With a tenacious work ethic and focused expertise, the team made it happen. There were certainly dissenting voices, rumbling with “one trick pony”, “you’ll never last”, “run by Liberal patsies”, and “a group of political hacks”.

In just under two years, Brampton Focus has assembled over 140 recorded programs, with individual productions now able to garner over 100,000 views. A few significant accomplishments include covering:

  • 2015 Federal Election Night Live in a 4-hour Peel Region broadcast
  • Exclusive one hour interview with Ontario Premiere Kathleen Wynne
  • Investigative one hour on Brampton’s Big Blue House
  • Interactive Live Town Halls with provincial party leaders Andrea Horwath, Patrick Brown, and Green Party’s Mike Schreiner
  • Multiple interactive Live Town Halls with Mayor Linda Jeffery and shows with almost every Brampton council member
  • Full in-depth interviews with Peel Region Police Chief Jennifer Evans
  • Punjabi Edition of Brampton Focus

The team also worked with many worthy community groups and event organizers, creating gratis webisodes for the likes of The Knights Table, ErinoakKids, Peel Committee Against Women Abuse, Carabram, Canada 55+ Games and Toastmasters. Brampton Focus stepped up as their media supporter with real tangible media content that garnered results, attention and exposure.

Brampton Focus has delivered consistently objective, poignant, timely and revealing professional broadcast content to the community. With no party affiliation and no council favorites, Brampton Focus discussed the important topics with community groups, asking the sometimes-uncomfortable questions. The group has delivered an independent platform that has made a significant impact on the political and media scene of Brampton.

Early in 2017 the group received recognition from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledging its volunteer operation. In May of 2017 at the Brampton Board of Trade’s Business Excellence Awards Gala, Brampton Focus was the proud recipient of the 2017 Communications Award over three other worthy nominees. This humbling recognition was due to the guests and political representatives who gave of their time to be interviewed, allowing Brampton Focus to make its media mark. More importantly, thanks to the citizens of Brampton who watch, interact, support and participate.

The need and importance of an independent, probing and investigative effort has never been more important in Peel Region due to the loss of community access cable. 2018 signals the start of another election cycle and elected officials and those wishing to seek office must have a platform to engage with the community.

The group continues to push forward. They recently took on the responsibility of stewarding a relaunch of a city-wide Neighbourhood Watch program. They are also now testing a hyperlocal neighbourhood newspaper and has formidable plans to increase their media footprint in 2018. There are many exciting projects in the works for Bramptonians. The best is yet to come.