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Media barons killing independent media

by Archives October 18, 2006

WATERLOO, Ont. (CUP)

The student newspaper is the first and likely the last independent publication I will ever work for. Most other publications are subsidiaries of larger media corporations, with national holdings across all mediums.

This trend has become the norm in Western media, as the era of mergers, acquisitions and the almighty bottom line is making independent news organizations an obsolete concept, in favour of large media conglomerates that are worth billions annually.

Large-scale media corporations with ownership of phone, internet, TV and print mediums control the Canadian media landscape to such a degree, it can be argued that we live in a pseudo-communist state, but with the private industries and not the state controlling all the messages.

The future is not looking bright for Canadian journalists and the Canadian public. The larger the conglomerate, the more homogeneous the message, with fewer journalists reporting the issues.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which controls broadcasting content and oversees mergers of media enterprises, has been criticized as an organization of politically appointed hacks who do not strive to maintain any form of quality in Canadian broadcasting.

The CRTC is appointed by the federal government, which often does not have extensive expertise in the media, meaning the commission often has members who are not qualified.

The major issue in all of this is that Canadian media conglomerates give the public a false sense that there is a plurality of opinions, when in fact the same message is being regurgitated over and over.

When CanWest tried to impose uniform editorials across all of its Canadian papers (except the National Post), they did not respect the diverse opinions of its employees, but simply dictated its own views. However, ownership rights do ultimately give these conglomerates the right to portray whatever bias they deem fit.

When people watch CTV News, read the Globe and Mail, and go to globefund.com, they may think they are receiving different opinions on corresponding reports, but they are being dictated the same story, with the same spin or bias from the same corporation.

Given that Canada has a population of over 30 million, we might not be a large enough country to warrant two dozen larger-scale media franchises.

However, only six national corporations holding a majority of the media do not provide the public with enough opinions. Independent media sources create more regional coverage, more jobs and an increased diversity of opinion that is becoming extinct in the Western world.

A recent example is the acquisition of the London Free Press by CHUM, resulting in layoffs of production and editorial staff. The newspaper is poised to drastically decrease its regional coverage of the London and southwestern Ontario area, in favour of coverage from other CHUM holdings in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Free Press has long been the regional paper of the London area, but it has been plagued with decreasing circulation due to the increased popularity of national papers and the use of online media sources.

Given its new CHUM City parent company, the editorial staff is now able to avail itself to the international networks CHUM currently possesses, but that also translates into fewer Free Press staff actually reporting on diverse issues. CHUM City also has a decreased interest in regional issues, as those do translate back to the bottom line. Furthermore, Bell Globemedia announced this summer that it wanted to acquire CHUM Limited.

If allowed to proceed, they will create the largest media conglomerate in Canada, with property in all mediums, covering an astronomical range of topics from travel to sports to politics to music. If allowed, this cycle will continue at an even more alarming rate.

The message will become more standardized, with fewer people telling it. I will relish my days at an independent newspaper. They will be my last.

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