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Canada's right-wing media monopolies move further right

Canadian news reporting and commentary is controlled today by a handful of wealthy families and corporations. Let’s call them the Gang of Seven.

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Macleans Magazine's Andrew Coyne.

The Canadian news media landscape has changed dramatically since the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications released its underwhelming report on the state of Canadian media in 2006.

Three major players — CanWest Global Communications, CHUM Ltd. and Alliance Atlantis Communications — are gone, while others scrambled to pick up the spoils and adjust to life in the wireless-online world, some more successfully than others.

Those changes, however, did not translate into a more diverse and balanced media system. If anything, Canadian news coverage and commentary is more conservative than it was five years ago, and just as concentrated, as the Harper government ignored every recommendation the committee made. True, alternative media have made great strides to provide more balanced coverage of major issues in the intervening years, but a great gap still persists between advertising-financed journalism and everything else.

Canadian news reporting and commentary is controlled today by a handful of wealthy families and corporations. Let’s call them the Gang of Seven.

The biggest story over the period was CanWest Global Communications’ implosion and the demise of the Asper family as pre-eminent press barons. When the Senate committee visited Vancouver in 2005, CanWest was Canada’s largest media company, controlling nearly 30 per cent of total Canadian daily newspaper circulation and 90 per cent in Vancouver, with the Vancouver Sun, The Province and National Post, plus a chain of community newspapers. CanWest also owned Global TV, which held a 70 per cent viewing share of the all-important 5-7 p.m. supper newscast slot. Vancouver was one of the most highly concentrated media markets in the world.

With a few exceptions, the Aspers controlled what Vancouverites watched and read. And even in radio, CanWest seemed to have an informal agreement with the leading private radio station, the Corus-owned CKNW, to share personnel.

In hindsight, the company was perhaps doomed to fail from the outset, when family patriarch Izzy Asper was snookered by Conrad Black into paying too much — $3.5 billion — for Black’s chain of newspapers and his vanity publication the National Post. That ill-advised purchase saddled the company with a heavy debt load that son Leonard proved incapable of reducing. When the recession hit in 2008 and advertising tanked, CanWest filed for bankruptcy protection.

After much jockeying for position, two companies emerged victorious in the quest for CanWest’s assets. Shaw Communications won the television network and specialty channels for $2 billion, while a new company, Postmedia Network, acquired the newspapers with a bid of $1.1 billion. (Remember, Asper paid $3.5 billion.)

That leaves Canada’s commercial news media in the hands of a Gang of Seven: the billion-dollar corporations that control what Canadians read, watch and hear about the world’s daily happenings. Many of the chief executives are members of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, promoting its agenda of business-friendly policies.

Quebecor: Brothers Pierre Karl and Erik Peladeau squeak onto the Rich 100 List in 99th place, with a net worth of $610 million based on their majority ownership of Quebecor stock. Originally a publishing company, Quebecor became a national media company with the 1999 purchase of the conservative Sun Media newspapers and, in 2007, the Osprey chain of 19 smaller Ontario dailies and a stable of weeklies.

(7) Comments

Kerri November 11th 2011 | 8:08 AM

You might actually try reading Macleans and some of the other papers. Andrew Coyne widely announced that he would not be voting for Harper but rather the Liberals last May.

 

Helen November 11th 2011 | 9:09 AM

Congratulations! You have done a wonderful job of shilling for the CBC which is funded by the taxpayer to the tune of $1.1 billion per year to compete with the privately-owned media which must fund itself. The CBC has been sucking on the national treasury for 75 years to "fulfill" a 1937 mandate which is of no importance or significance in 2011. The fervently pro-NDP Torstar organization is no better ....... just a sloppy mouthpiece for the left. Truth and decency are attributes obviously foreign to the Vancouver Observer.

JAN November 11th 2011 | 10:10 AM

It is too bad there cannot be a happy balance, I remember very well the fanatical right wing Nazis  SS. And how about the fanatical Muslims. Are there fanatical Christians behind Harper??

Allen Barnett November 12th 2011 | 4:04 AM
It never ceases to amaze me at how Lefties like Gutstein blame everyone but themselves. I had to laugh when I read that it was Conrad Black's FAULT that the Asper's bought the National Post!! The reason that the Post turned out to be a money loser is that the Asper's stupidly turned it into just another Liberal rag competing for an ever diminishing clientel!
gimme a break November 12th 2011 | 10:10 AM

Everyone knows that The Vancouver Sun is a Feminist run, left wing orientated newspaper that is becoming increasingly Feminist and left wing. It has a very different ideological slant than The National Post which is also owned by Postmedia News. Bottom line is what works in the political environment and which group has power where the media outlet operates. Postmedia only cares about what will make them money. This academic is clueless.

Robert R. Reid November 15th 2011 | 4:16 PM

So, your article mentioned that there was another government report on the media in this century. How wonderful that we are constantly monitoring our media. There were many in the last century as well, and I remember one in particular by Senator Keith Davey in the 1960s. Nice of him to spend his time in this way, but WHY? Nothing constructive comes of these reviews, money is mispent, the Canadian media totters on in its usual banal way, while Canada continues to prosper as a middle class paradise. The inevitable conclusion is that the Canadian media doesn't matter to Canadians, who receive plenty of entertaining material from U.S. publications and television. The only thing that rankles is that the various government agencies who produce these portentious reports think they are fooling the public into thinking that they are doing something important. The first thing every government should learn is that the public isn't as stupid as they think.

al February 19th 2013 | 8:08 AM

This information is completly false. Macleans, Globe and Mail, Ctv, CBC, Vancouver Sun, Toronto Star are all as leftist as can possibly be. Where are you getting your information or, I mean, opinion, because thats all it is. Get you facts straight before you make an opinion.