Media concentration in Canada

Posted 10.20.03

The Montreal corporation that owns all of the French-language weeklies in urban Outaouais has just purchased a large chunk of the weekly newspapers in the Maritimes from the Irving Corporation. As we'd expect, this has alarmed a great many Martimers, but it should also concern us. Not because it immediate affects our local sources of news, but because it is a clear demonstration that the media concentration wave is still pushing on.

No one, apart from bankers and these corporations, sees much benefit in having our nation's sources of news controlled by a few large corporations. Even free-market evangelists stop short of approving a monopoly seizure of the media.

We are seeing a small growth in the public's willingness to take its own information well-being in hand; the public is objecting to media controlled by a few corporations. The readership rates of the corporate daily newspapes--Citizen, Sun, and LeDroit in our area--are declining every year, and even the once-unassailable mass television audiences are diminishing, as television fragments its offerings. This is the public's answer to the question "do the people care if they get only one side to the news--or no news at all on many subjects?" The public is answering with its feet--walking away from the corporate dailies and mainstream TV. This is not a good thing. An uninformed public is as dangerous to the public good as an ill-informed public--corporate control of the media is bad even in this respect, that it is driving people away from their traditional news sources to terribly unreliable sources like the internet.

The heart of the issue is our governments' response to this growing control. It seemed a few years ago that our political leaders were waking up to both the dangers in this growing control, and also waking up to the wishes of the public. Two years ago, everyone was talking about media concentration. There was talk of royal commissions and provincial inquiries by all parties.

Where has all this interest gone?

Do governments now feel there is no danger to having a few corporations control most of the media--and most sources of media-supporting advertising? If so, we'd be very interested to learn the new facts which have changed their minds? Surely, it can't be free rides on Irving Corp. airplanes.

In Quebec, both the PQ and the Liberals promised--promised!--not only to investigate the effects on such concentration but, since the effects are pretty clear, to do something about it. That was two years ago. Nothing's been done. We have a new government, having made the same promise, which is doing nothing about this threat to our democracy's future.

Responding to the threat does not require a major intervention or huge funding. It doesn't even require new legislation. It takes a ministerial directive: a minimum of 10% of all existing and planned government advertising should go to independent media. Period. This will not cripple the corporate sector. It will not crash promotional planning. It will help independent media--especially the media closest to our homes and jobs. How about a directive from the premier's office, Mr Charest? How about it, Mme Beauchamp, Minister of Culture and Communications? How about it, ministers of our provincial and federal governments?

It would take about half an hour.

Fred Ryan is publisher of Quebec's Aylmer Bulletin, West Quebec Post, and the Pontiac Journal. He is also a director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

Copyright © 2003 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/10.03