Thursday, March 18, 2010

Elizabeth May: Getting corporate concentrated media to cover the problem of media concentration

Earlier this week, we issued a news release on the enormous opportunity presented by the upcoming sale of the Asper empire of newspapers, CanWest Limited Partnership (LP). That conglomerate now controls 46 newspapers across Canada.

Itself, it was part of the larger CanWest vertically integrated media empire, including Global Television. When CanWest moved to bankruptcy protection, Global TV was purchased by Shaw, creating another growing conglomerate. The newspaper division is being sold separately, but the creditors are rejecting bids to allow the empire to be broken up and sold in pieces. Of the 46 papers owned by CanWest LP are a number of dominant provincial dailies -- including all the major BC dailies – the Vancouver Sun, The Province and the Times Colonist, as well as the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, the Calgary Herald, and the Montreal Gazette.

In Losing Confidence, I wrote about the threats to democracy in an increasingly small group of corporations controlling the news we hear and see and read. From 1969 and the Senate Report chaired by Keith Davey which concluded “All transactions that increase concentration of ownership in the mass media are undesirable and contrary to the public interest unless shown to be otherwise,” to the 1981 Kent Commission which described the situation as “monstrous,” noting “too much power is put in too few hands, and it is power without accountability,” Canadians have been warned that the situation is unhealthy.

And this was before the largest media grab in Canadian history. In 1993, Conrad Black began to assemble his empire.

As the Kent Commission wrote “Freedom of the press is not a property right of owners. It is a right of the people. It is part of their right to free expression, inseparable from their right to inform themselves.”

Look at the chart attached. We supposedly live in the “Information Age,” but this chart tells a different story. Too few people own too many newspapers, and our once strong local press slides toward USA Today -- MacPapers – replacing local content with cookie cutter filler. We may be in an age where more factoids are dispersed on a 24-7 news cycle, but how much useable information is available? The truth is we live in age of celebrity gossip masquerading as journalism. How else to explain our public news broadcaster, the CBC, leading its evening broadcast with the Tiger Woods saga? (over and over again). CBC is also pressed by its funder (the government) to push ratings and schlock, while it lives in fear of political retribution if it bites the hand that feeds it.

Loss of a free and independent media in Canada can be linked to loss of civic engagement and declining voter turn-out. This is the most important story that never makes the pages of the newspapers. How do we break up this unhealthy corporate concentration? Now is the time --- before the Asper empire is sold intact.

Little wonder only one radio station (credit to CFAX) picked up on our release. Please regard this as a plea to Greens to help raise this issue any way you can.

Newspaper Circulation by Type of Ownership and Media Group by Province.pdf

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