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Media concentration of conglomeration can be defined as the progressive takeover of the media by a small clique of investors. This is a global phenomenon; however, it is most rampant in Canada and the highest among the most industrialised countries. The question that has been on the minds of media stakeholders in Canada is when media concentration in the industry will come to an end. No doubt that concentration in Canada is higher than other western countries; a matter that continues to bother journalists, media commentators and politicians alike (Lawrence).
As competition tightened in the media industry in the 1950s and 1960s, persistent mergers and apparent media monopoly were witnessed in Canada. During the same period, there was increasing concentration of print media ownership which dealt a blow on competition in the market. What was observed was the decline of the number of newspapers through mergers and closures from 143 in 1911to just a handful at the present (Jackson). This trend elicited enquiry into media ownership concentration in Canada twice through both the 1970 Davey Report and the 1981 Kent Commission.
This paper will discuss the trend towards media conglomeration in Canada and discuss the implications it has for the media’s public service role.
The Davey Report – 1970 and the Kent Commission – 1981
Apparently concerned with the worrying media conglomeration trends in Canada, Keith Davey received the backing of the senate to conduct an enquiry into the role of media ownership in Canadian media industry. At that time, the industry was not regulated by the government and so many feared that allowing the media owners to continue controlling the industry through conglomeration was not healthy for the public interests. The report focused on the entire media industry and found that the level of concentration was not acceptable. Among the key recommendations of the Davey Report were that the country should not tolerate the situation where a matter of grave national importance as the media depends on the greed or goodwill of a few privileged businessmen. Through the establishment of a Press Ownership Review Board, the government would regulate mergers and acquisitions of print media (Jackson).
The findings of the Davey Report were neither heeded nor implemented by the government. This led to yet another commission to investigate specifically the effects of conglomeration of the print media in Canada. The Kent Commission was tasked with looking into the print media ownership issue and their findings were as shocking as those reported ten years earlier by the Davey Report. The Kent commission carried out a comprehensive enquiry into mergers and acquisitions of newspapers in Canada following the merger of Winnipeg and Ottawa in 1980. They reported that concentration of ownership in the print media industry in Canada was choking the industry. They recommended that the government should devise measures to curtail media concentration and introduce bottlenecks as to the maximum number o ownership to five per chain. However, this report never saw the light of the day as the commission was accused of failing to answer the required question.
Despite the apparent negative effects of media ownership concentration in Canada as reported by the Davey and Kent commissions, there were no legislative measures to bring the matter under checks and balances. On the contrary, what ensued was accelerated media concentration through increased mergers. There has been acceleration towards media monopoly in the recent past as the media is now controlled by fewer ownership chains than ever.
The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications initiated yet another study into media concentration following the decline of ownership of independent newspapers from 19.3 percent in 1990 to just 1 percent in 2005. During this period, there were several mergers and media takeovers in the country. The final report by the committee was published in 2006 and it echoed the earlier reports by the Davey and Kent commissions that there was unacceptable level of media ownership concentration in Canada. More disturbing are the negative effects associated with such conglomeration (Bacon and Tkachuk).
The effects of Media Concentration in Canada
It has been widely agreed that media conglomeration in the hands of a few privileged business owners is deleterious to the industry and the society as a whole. It should not be forgotten that media is the mouthpiece of all members of the society including the government, the business community and the general population. The media owners maintain that the issue of conglomeration of media houses has been misinterpreted and blown out of proportion. Although there argument from a financial standpoint is valid, they are averse to the overall effects of these actions (Winter).
The first effect of media concentration in the hands of few ownership chains is that the public is likely to be denied the truth they deserve. Such organisations are too powerful and monopolise local news content because they vet and report only what serves their interests. As such, there is the question of whether they can adequately serve the public interests. Diversity of content is seen to be compromised as such media seldom tolerate divergent views and opinions (Jackson).
It is common to see the work of journalists rejected by media houses and even if they were accepted, they are modified so that the final content is so different from the original piece. This is particularly so in instances where the reporters have stumbled on information that affects the media company in one way or the other. In addition, the powerful media companies are unfriendly to dissenting views. A case in point is the CanWest Global Communications which was accused of censoring and repressing divergent views in year 2002. The journalism world joined hands in condemning the act where they demanded immediate cessation of attacks to the divergent views (Winter).
The media is the channel through which information flows. When this flow of information is censored, then it defeats the very purpose of media. By extension this is a threat to democracy as captured by Swedish philosopher Jens Cavallin that media empires were akin to feudal states (Jay). The threat to democracy posed by media concentration could not be better explained by the fears of Radio Canada’s Jean Pelletier on the effects of such concentrations could have on an election (Jay). Since most media organisations are affiliate to particular political parties or orientations, the public can be easily fed with half-truths or can be manipulated by such media so as to influence an election outcome. This is an injustice on the part of media as it does not serve the public but their own interests. Since the media are the outlets of information, it follows that the public is denied that important information they need.
In Canada, there is increasing debate of the effect of media concentration on Canadian identity and culture (CBC.ca). Certain groups argue that media ownership concentration the hands of a few chains deprives the public the correct information about what is happening in the society. The choice of content by the media companies only serves their interests and not those of the society which could lead to loss of identity and culture. Recently, the conglomeration of media has been blamed for under serving certain regions (Kierans).
In the face of the escalating media mergers and acquisitions, media concentrations will continue to be around for longer period of time if the government of Canada does not implement regulatory frameworks for media ownership. Many recommendations have been proposed since the first report (Davey Report (1970)) was published. However, there has been neither progress on implementation of these reports nor formulation of laws to govern the media industry ownership.
It is absolutely necessary at this point in time to regulate media ownership in Canada by virtue of the role of media in conveying information to the public. Conglomeration of the media is thought to be a problem of modern media and society. As already mentioned in this paper, a number of deleterious consequences arise when the media is allowed to be controlled by a few businessmen at the expense of other stakeholders. As the Davey commission reported, the country should not allow the few greedy privileged businessmen at the expense of public interests. All the three reports by Davey commission, the Kent commission and the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications support this idea.
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Bacon, Lise and Tkachuk, David. “Final Report on the Canadian News Media.” Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications. 2006. Web.
CBC.ca. “Canadian culture threatened by media concentration: Radio-Canada VP.” CBC news. 2007. Web.
Jackson, Joseph. “Newspaper Ownership in Canada: An Overview of the Davey Committee and Kent Commission Studies.” Government of Canada Publications. 1999. Web.
Jay, Oja. “Journalists Question Media Ownership in Canada.” 2003. Web.
Kierans, Kim. “Media Concentration in Atlantic Canada: Media by Monopoly.” 2006. Web.
Lawrence, Martin. “Canadian media concentration about to get worse.” Metro. 2010. Web.
Winter, James. “Canada’s Media Monopoly.” 2002. Web.