Media Watch: Ownership concentration in Canada

Friday, December 20, 1996


(CanadianCommittee to Protect Journalists, 20 December 1996)

More and more of Canada's media are being gobbled up by fewerand fewer people. Media baron Conrad Black's takeover of theSoutham newspaper chain is the just the latest incident in thelong history of media conglomeration in this country. Not onlydoes media ownership concentration result in downsizing and lossof jobs; it also compromises our freedom to get our news from avariety of sources and hence a variety of perspectives. Everyweek we are hearing of new threats to our freedom ofexpression because a smaller and smaller number of bigger andbigger corporations are pulling the strings at Canadiannewspapers and television and radio stations.

We want to hear from you about your concerns on this issue.We'd also like you to tell us if you have noticed a change inyour local paper or broadcaster after it made the transition fromindependent or small-chain ownership to just another cog in themedia empire machine. Send your comments to us, and you could seethem posted on this site. We reserve the right to editsubmissions.


20 December 1996

CCPJ says media ownership concentration issue most pressingfreedom of expression issue in Canada in 1996

With the acquisition of the Southam newspaper chain in 1996,media mogul Conrad Black caused a storm of protest in Canadaabout the impact of media ownership concentration upon freedom ofexpression, says the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists(CCPJ) in its annual report.

Conrad Black's Hollinger Inc., which owns newspapers aroundthe world including the "London Telegraph" and the "JerusalemPost", orchestrated a takeover of the Southam chain last May, andnow controls 58 of Canada's 105 daily newspapers.

Media ownership concentration has been a concern in Canada forseveral decades. The Special Senate Committee on Mass Mediareported in 1970 that the three biggest newspaper chains hadincreased their share of daily circulation from 25 to 45 per centsince 1958. The Kent Royal Commission reported in 1980 that thefigure had risen to 57 per cent. Today, the figure is 72 percent.

Concerned about the ramifications of this concentration ofownership, free speech groups, unions, and journalistassociations across Canada joined forces to create the Campaignfor Press and Broadcasting Freedom.

The Council of Canadians (COC), a member of the Campaign,launched a court challenge of Hollinger's takeover of the Southamchain in an attempt to make the Federal Court review the deal.The COC faults the Competition Bureau for considering onlyadvertising and ignoring editorial concerns in approving thetakeover. The court challenge was rebuffed.

The members of the Campaign say, "If the trend towardconcentration and conglomeration continues, our voices - thevoices of working people, women, youth, students, minoritygroups, and public interest organizations - will be further shutout from public debate.... The truth is without our voices,public affairs reporting will only further reflect the narrowviews of the political and corporate elite."

In an interview with the Toronto "Globe and Mail" (notHollinger owned) Black said, "We're going to try and recruit thevery best people we can and produce the best papers we can, andpublish them to the highest standards we can. And that meansseparating news from comment, assuring a reasonable variety ofcomment, and not just the overwhelming avalanche of soft, left,bland, envious pap which has poured like sludge through thecentre pages of most of the Southam pages for some time."

The outspoken Black, a Canadian, has even used media owned byHollinger Inc. to counter criticisms of the takeover. After theCanadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired a two-partdocumentary about the media baron last fall, Black forced hispapers to publish his three-page rebuttal, which states that hedeclined to co-operate with the documentary's producers becausehe was "accurately informed that it [the CBC] was preparing asmear job," and that the film "alleges that my associates and Iconstitute a menace to freedom of expression in this country."

In a study of the effects of Black's acquisition of the Regina"Leader-Post" last January, Jim McKenzie of the School ofJournalism and Communications at the University of Regina wrotethat Black's CBC rebuttal appeared "on the page opposite theeditorial page, and was in stark contrast to the bland fare whichusually appears in the "Leader-Post". Black's piece ran acrossthe top of Page 14 beside the "Letters" logo. The paper did notinform the readers in an editor's note that Black's company ownsthe "Leader-Post". Usually, the "Leader-Post" identifies aletter-writer if that writer's position or profession is relevantto the topic being written about, or if the letter-writer holdssome special position of authority."

In a letter to the Editor of the "Globe and Mail", CCPJExecutive Director Wayne Sharpe said, "Freedom of expression andthe press are not artificial constructs designed by anyone,whether to protect individuals from government interference orprotect individuals from the effects of media concentration....They are basic human rights. Anyone who creates a climate inwhich free speech suffers violates these basic human rights."

As the nationwide debate and the legal challenge continue in1997, the CCPJ will continue to monitor the freedom of expressionelement of media ownership concentration in Canada.