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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.

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.

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