Canadian media visionary Moses Znaimer is best known for his outstanding achievements in television, his contributions to the Canadian music industry and, now, his newest and ongoing role as a champion for Canada’s 15.1 million 45-plus.
INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY
Internationally, Moses is best known as the founder of more than 20 independent stations and channels including Citytv, CityPulse24, Bravo!, SPACE: The Imagination Station, FashionTelevision, Star!, BookTelevision, SexTelevision, ACCESS: The Education Station, and Canadian Learning Television, not to mention MuchMusic and MusiquePlus, which served to define a generation of Canadian youth in both official languages.
At the core of each of these were his media innovations that viewers around the globe now consume: the street-front studio, the open-concept newsroom and show, single-person reportage by videographers, the specialty channel, VJs (VideoJockeys) and ethnic diversity among newscasters. In the 1970s, long before Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, Moses anticipated the popularity of user-generated content. His Speaker’s Corner concept – a video camera kiosk that was TV’s first answer to newspapers’ Letters to the Editor has been called the world’s first television’s reality show. To Moses, it was a reminder that television was society’s most democratic institution and that Citytv didn’t have viewers – it had participants who should be engaged in ongoing conversation with themselves about themselves.
Moses is a champion of diversity and courageous in his casting of the human rainbow. Moses was born on the run; in Kulab, Tajikistan, to Polish and Latvian Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and arrived in Montreal in 1948, a post-Second World War DP (Displaced Person). Inspired in part by lessons he learned as a refugee, Moses established hiring practices that reflected Canada’s multicultural, pluralistic society. Long before it became politically correct or legally required, Moses placed a wide range of ethnicities in prominent on-air positions like Ali Velshi, Ben Chin, Jojo Chintoh, Sonya Benezra and Monika Deol.
Similarly, Moses was the first to hire reporters with physical disabilities. Wendy Murphy, confined to a wheelchair from a car accident, became a community affairs reporter known for Wendy’s Video Diary. David Onley, a polio survivor and the current Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, was hired in 1984 as a weather and science specialist. Moses made a point of shooting his entire body, not only a talking head. According to Onley, “Moses Znaimer hired me as weather and science specialist at Citytv, and it was only after he had hired me that he asked me about my disability. That’s when I knew I was going to enjoy working for the guy. Obviously, what he did was important for my career but, more importantly, it sent a message to TV viewers everywhere that my physical shortcomings were irrelevant. What counted was my ability to do the job.”
For his contributions to fostering multiculturalism and tolerance in community life, Moses received the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews Human Relations Award and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations Diversity Award. In 2007, he received the Jane Jacob Lifetime Achievement Award for his “extraordinary contribution to the public realm, over many years and in more than one field, thereby gaining reputation and acclaim for his vision, passion, and impact.”
PRESERVATION AND PHILANTHROPY
In 1992, Moses started the MZTV Museum of Television & Archive, housing the world’s largest private collection of rare vintage television sets and associated popular culture in the world, some 10,000 objects in all. His sets have appeared at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa-Hull, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alta., and at the Cinémathèque québécoise in Montreal – the city where Moses grew up – to which he donated the bulk of his collection in 2008. Selections of his sets are on permanent display in both Montreal and Toronto.
Moses holds an Honours BA in Philosophy and Politics from McGill University and an MA in Government from Harvard University. His broadcast career began in the mid-1960s, when he joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and made an impact almost immediately by helping to launch and soon running Cross Country Checkup, Canada’s (and the world’s) first live national open-line radio show (and Moses’s first interactive broadcasting experiment). Cross Country Checkup remains on the air to this day and is the CBC’s longest running show ever. Moses also produced and appeared on CBC Network Television’s Take 30, a national Monday-through-Friday afternoon newsmagazine designed for homemakers that he transformed into a showcase for serious journalism on social and cultural topics. He co-hosted Take 30 with Paul Soles and Adrienne Clarkson (Governor General of Canada from 1999 to 2005). Take 30 was followed by the Sunday evening primetime network current affairs show, The Way It Is.
Moses dared to export Canadian art around the world. He got Canada noticed beyond its borders, when he launched Jyrki in Finland, MuchaMusica in Argentina, and Citytv in Bogotá and Barcelona. For his broadcast achievements and innovations, in 1998 Moses received the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ CAB Gold Ribbon – Canadian private broadcasting’s highest award to an individual. In 2004, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. In 2005, Moses became the only Television Content Creator and Operator to receive the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for lifetime achievement; and in 2007 he was inducted into the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame.
Moses holds honorary doctorates from York University, the University of Windsor and Athabasca University. In 2002, Moses was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal. In 2005, he was made a member of the Order of Ontario and was awarded the Republic of France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
In 2008, Marketing magazine named Moses One of the Top 10 Canadian Media Moguls of the Past 100 Years and ZoomerMedia Limited one of the Top 10 Media Players of the Year. That same year, Moses was honoured at the Canadian music industry’s annual Juno Awards (the Canadian Grammy Awards) with the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award recognizing “an outstanding individual who has made an invaluable contribution to the growth and advancement of the Canadian music industry.”
Perhaps the distinction of which Moses is most proud is the City of Toronto’s designation of the famous downtown stretch of Queen Street in front of the former Citytv building at 299 Queen St. W. as MOSES ZNAIMER WAY.