As media ownership grows more homogeneous, diversity and accountability start to disappear.
By Trey Shaughnessy
Published September 09, 2007
The latest shift this summer in Canada's television media industry increased concentration in two of Canada's media elites, putting diversity of editorial opinion and news perspectives at greater risk.
Rogers entered a tentative deal to purchase the A-Channel stations - CKX-TV, ACCESS, Canadian Learning Television and SexTV - from CHUM Limited. CHUM itself was being swallowed by CTV.
Then, on June 8, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved the CTV transaction conditional on CTV divesting itself of CityTV rather than A-Channel, effectively voiding the deal.
On June 12, it was announced that Rogers had made a new offer of $375 million for the CityTV stations. This is arguably a much better prize for Rogers then the A-Channels, but a sad day for Canada, with another media company - CHUM - being merged into one of the big three - Canwest Global, CTVglobemedia and Rogers.
CHUM had been an innovative media company in Canada under Moses Znaimer, who competed very well against much larger players. CHUM was at the forefront of specialty and boutique stations including multicultural broadcasts. It brought another perspective to news with its sometimes quirky and often sensational CityTV News.
Like it or not, it gave Canadians more diversity. Presumably the formats will not change much within their new larger media homes - at least at first - but it definitely does threaten the free flow of information when the media are concentrated into the hands of few.
Take, for example, the US media. A similar situation has evolved south of the border, with nearly the entire industry boiling down to Disney/ABC, Viacom/CBS/Westinghouse, Microsoft/NBC, and Fox/News/CNN/AOL TimeWarner.
This concentration made the largest propaganda campaign possible since World War II. Leading up to the Iraq invasion, 80 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and that he was a threat to their safety and possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction.
How was it possible that a majority unquestioningly believed those allegations when UN Inspectors were reporting the opposite? Because their media told them so?
The US media were also complicit in not telling the public the real reasons for the invasion - the Iraq switch from US dollars to euros for oil transactions, the awarded contracts to French, Chinese and Russian energy companies to invest in the aging Iraqi oil infrastructure.
The real reasons became obvious with the US cancellation of those contracts and oil transactions reverting back to US dollars immediately after the US invasion, and not a word of this was breathed in the US media (William R. Clark, Petrodollar Warfare). Much of the awareness in the past two years has come from the internet.
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In June 2006, the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications Report on the Canadian News Media concluded that there are "areas where the concentration of ownership has reached levels that few other countries would consider acceptable."
Interestingly, CHUM laid off 281 people and canceled news broadcasts across the country just hours before CTVglobemedia announced its intention to take over CHUM. Indeed, the Senate Committee has much to worry about.
The Broadcasting Policy for Canada, set out in Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act, articulates a wide variety of objectives for the broadcasting system as a whole and for the various components of the system. In general terms, the Act describes a broadcasting system that reflects the varied demographics of the country and ensures that a diversity of voices is available to audiences.
In light of the recent media mergers the CRTC is holding a public hearing, Diversity of Voices Proceeding, on September 17 to review its approach to ownership consolidation and other issues related to the diversity of voices in Canada. At this hearing big media will likely argue that the internet counterbalances the lack of diversity resulted from concentrated media ownership.
New media is the defining challenge of our time in broadcasting. There is no more important matter facing the commission, nor does any other matter have such long-term consequences.
-- Konrad von Finckenstein, Chair of the CRTC
The problem is the CRTC has no mandate for internet content. At leat, not yet: the CRTC is considering regulating new media. The New Media Project initiative will analyze whether new media should be regulated, and will assess its impact on the creation and distribution of Canadian content. The report won't be finished until 2009.
If this is indeed possible without a Chinese-style of censorship and control, it will have to consider the search engines, the content and access to the web itself via ISPs like Rogers and Bell Sympatico and how a diverse voice will be heard.
How will the CRTC make sure a diverse public voice is on the web? Perhaps a public broadcasting version of the internet. This would have to divide the internet into public and private content. Perhaps a larger CBC presence on the web, with a CBC search engine and CBC ISP will suffice.
We already know we can't trust Google or any other private search engine. All a government has to do is ask and Google will erase, as was done in China with certain search words like democracy, protest and Tiananmen Square Massacre.
So for now big media says the web is safe and it offers the 'diverse voice' that the CRTC mandates. What if the media companies had more control over the internet providers, the search engines and the websites: would the awareness of the real reasons behind the Iraq invasion been possible?
The internet is the most democratic communications medium ever invented. Not since the invention of the Guttenberg printing press in the 15th century could people easily have access to information. Could giant media corporations eventually influence another 'Spanish Inquisition' on illegal information to establish political, ideological and religious homogeneity.
CBC/Radio-Canada has a mandate to support and provide a diversity of voices in the Canadian broadcasting system. That mandate was established by Parliament and set out in the Broadcasting Act.
The CBC's written submission for the upcoming CRTC Diversity Proceedings found that countries like France, UK, Germany and Australia have strong public broadcasters as an effective tool for promoting a healthy diversity of voices. Australia, Germany and France each have two public broadcasters and the UK, which has no restrictions on media ownership, has three public broadcasters.
The presence of a strong public service broadcaster clearly provides an important counterbalance to media concentration and ensures that a diversity of voices will be available (CBC Radio-Canada, Broadcasters Notice to Public Hearing CRTC 2007-5). When corporate private media in a country becomes more concentrated, then the public broadcaster(s) have to be strengthened.
Most democratic countries recognize the important of a diverse voice in media, which evidently can only be achieved with public broadcasting.
Locally the once independent Hamilton Magazine was acquired by Osprey Media. On July 30, the CRTC approved the purchase of Osprey Media including its 20 dailies and 34 non-daily newspapers by Quebecor, only to be outbid by Black Press of Victoria BC. (Torstar owns 19.4 percent of Black Press.) Eventually Quebecor won the bidding war.
CHCH was swallowed by Canwest Global and will be rebranded this fall as E-Channel.
Torstar now owns the Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton's only daily newspaper, plus the former weekly Brabant papers and the Burlington Post, formerly owned by Metroland. (It also owns 20 percent og CTVglobemedia.)
Almost all of the local media are controlled by Torstar, Quebecor, Canwest Global, Corus Radio and Standard Radio.
While Hamilton waits for its CBC radio station, many local independent media fill the void of diversity in print (H Magazine, Mayday, View, Urbanicity), web (CATCH, Raise the Hammer, Indymedia) and radio (CFMU 93.3 FM, C101.5 FM).
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