Growing corporate concentration in the media is threatening the democratic process by stifling openness and diversity of information, according to authors James Winter and Amir Hassanpour. And even the very fact of such media concentration is largely ignored by mainstream news outlets.

The authors point out that two corporations, Southam and Thomson, directly or indirectly control 59 percent of Canadian daily newspaper circulation. They are major corporations with extensive interests outside the newspaper industry. In comparison, 14 companies in the U.S. control about half of the newspaper business.

In television, five corporations reached 62 percent of viewers in 1993. In cable, three companies now have 68 percent of the audience, up from 36 per cent in 1983, even though the number of subscribers has increased by more than 40 percent. Just ten companies control 55 percent of the revenue share of Canada's 479 radio stations. This degree of concentration is up by 50 percent in the past decade.

In magazine publishing, the largest 12 publishers control 52 percent of circulation. In book publishing and distribution, just 21 out of 370 firms (6%) accounted for 51 percent of total sales in 1991-92.

According to one spokesperson with the federal department of Heritage, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) likes people with money: "Their attitude is, the bigger the company the more money to make Canadian programming with." According to Winter and Hassanpour, this attitude "is reflected by the mainstream media as well, on the rare occasions when they superficially highlight media takeovers." While the media reported the drama and manoeuvring involved in the $3.1-billion takeover of Maclean-Hunter by Rogers Communications, for example, they generally failed to put the merger in the broader context of media concentration.

In former Manitoba premier Howard Pawley's view, corporate control of the media has meant they have overwhelmingly promoted the neo-conservative agenda, "across a broad range of interrelated issues," over the past decade.

Focusing on the formerly independent, award-winning Kingston Whig-Standard since its takeover by Southam in 1990, Jamie Swift sees other problems with corporate ownership. Since Conrad Black and Paul Desmarais became major players in Southam in 1993, the search for efficiency and profits has intensified. At the Whig, Southam' move away from regarding newspaper ownership as a "trust" has been evident in dismissals (including "the paper's best and most experienced writers and editors"), and increased use of wire service copy and "cost-driven homogenization" at the expense of local writers.

Journalists themselves are becoming uncomfortable with media concentration, write Winter and Hassanpour. At its May 1993 convention, the Canadian Association of Journalists concluded, according to Antonia Zerbisias of the Toronto Star, that "The news media must acknowledge that they are members of Canada's power elite - like politicians and business people - and report on themselves as they do on other powerful groups."

Authors: James Winter and Amir Hassanpour
Title: 'Building Babel'
Canadian Forum
Date: Jan/Feb 1994
. . . and
Author: Jamie Swift
Title: 'Southamizing the Whig'
Canadian Forum
Date: April 1994

PCC researchers : Bill Duvall, Cheryl Linstead

12/94 NewsWatch Canada