Senate Sleeps While Media Concentrates

Article excerpt

The Senate Committee Studying Media held a public hearing in Winnipeg in February, and it had all the excitement of any party that nobody wants to give and nobody wants to attend.

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In fact, hardly anybody did attend. Among those absent were the committee's two senators representing Manitoba, anyone from the Manitoba Press Council and anyone from the province's two schools of journalism and three universities. And, of the several hundred thousand Manitobans who read newspapers, listen to radio and watch television in Manitoba two, count 'em: two people showed up with opinions about media, and both were given the bum's rush. I have the honour of being one of them.

This apparent indifference was ironic, given that the senate committee owes its highly paid existence to the actions of the Asper family, owners of Winnipeg's CanWest Global Corporation. When CanWest bought a chain of newspapers from the now-discredited Conrad Black back in 2000, they conducted some unpopular experiments, notably releasing a group of columnists who wrote opinions they didn't like, and forcing "national," i.e. homogenous, corporate editorials on papers in all regions of the country. When the Aspers fired Russell Mills, captain of the Ottawa Citizen, an uproar of protest ensued.

This was followed by the establishment of Canada's third formal investigation of its media. Two previous investigations, the Davey Commission in 1970 and the Kent Commission in 1981, produced great and increasing concern for potential media abuse in this country, and little else. But if the Senate's Winnipeg hearing is any indication of its commitment to media reform, this one will be a ludicrously expensive write-off.

The lack of prairie enthusiasm for the hearing was almost certainly the product of poor organization. Few interested parties knew the details of the event: when, where, etc. This allowed Winnipeg's two corporate dailies to report it as they pleased. Not surprisingly, they agreed with one another. The Winnipeg Sun called the event "costly crapola nobody cared about." Murdoch Davis, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, told readers that the media in Manitoba remains vigorous, diverse and--well, shucks--better than ever. He was appalled at those who would consider seeking governmental remedies to any suspected problems inherent in the country's free media.

The senators left town safe in the knowledge that all is well in Manitoba medialand. Unfortunately, quite the opposite is true.

The Winnipeg Sun presents itself as a tough tabloid for working folk, but in fact it's owned, along with Portage-la-Prairie's Daily Graphic, by the Sun Media Corporation (Quebecor, headquartered in Montreal), whose board of directors enjoys the leadership of former Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney. …