Despite efforts to suppress journalistic expression, no longer a quiet Canada

Photo by Philippe Moreau Chevrolet via Flickr

Canada has been turned upside down in recent weeks. From the attacks in Ottawa to the sex allegations against CBC’s top cultural broadcaster, it’s been a shock to what many considered a relatively uneventful country. But, if anything good can be said to have come from these events, it is the elevated level of discussion and awareness in the Canadian public sphere, where millions of the usually disengaged are engaging in [mostly] constructive dialogue about serious issues like mental health, militarism, surveillance, and rape culture. And this time, we’re not looking to the crazy antics of our friends to the south, this time we’re taking a deep look at ourselves and our society, what defines us and what our values are.

 There is a parallel conversation taking place: What is the role of the Canadian media in this dialogue and what is the state of the media in Canada in general? People are critiquing the coverage of recent events, talking about the future of Canada’s public broadcaster, and calling attention to the concentration of ownership and the precarious “small-world” of journalism where commentators have to watch who and what they talk about because it will likely affect their next job interview.

 It’s one of the most important conversations we can have, because the fact is that Canadian media is in a sad state indeed.

 “Media barons” sound out of place in 2014, supposedly the age of the “death of the newspaper.” They sound like a throwback to the days of Citizen Kane or remind us of the evil media mogul Elliot Carver from Tomorrow Never Dies: “there’s no news like bad news.” But media barons are what we have. Paul Godfrey, CEO of Postmedia, may not be diabolical, but he is at the helm of a media conglomerate that controls the vast majority of press media that Canadians consume.

 If Postmedia’s most recent acquisition goes through, this single company will control nearly all of the corporate-owned major daily newspapers and online publications in Canada aside from a handful of big holdouts like The Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star. If you pick up any daily in Ottawa, Edmonton, or Calgary, or leaf through the The Vancouver Sun, The Province, or 24 hours in Vancouver, its contents will be from one monolithic company.

The television situation isn’t much better, mostly carved up between Bell, Rogers, and Shaw. And I don’t even need to mention telecom – there aren’t many Canadians who haven’t heard of “the Big 3”.

 This at the same time when corporations have moved on from billboards and television advertisements to full-on media campaigning. Advertisements convincing us that pipelines are in the public interest precede our YouTube videos, “advertorials” have become a primary mode for financing corporate media, CBC’s chief correspondent and news anchor speaks at events for the oil industry, and Kinder Morgan can launch an advertising campaign during civic elections in Burnaby.

 We can’t put all the blame on media conglomerates and corporations, however, their priority is profits and they’re pursuing them. Actions by the government – the institution that is supposed to preserve our democracy – are perhaps more concerning.

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