Canadians for Democratic Media lobbying against industry concentration

A new grassroots organization called Canadians for Democratic Media has formed to lobby against Canada’s increasing media concentration arguing that it is stifling editorial diversity and even threatening our democracy. Its member organizations include the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; the Canadian Media Guild which is a union representing media employees working for the CBC; Reuters and Canadian Press; Adbusters Media Foundation; and Democracy Watch and the Canadian Union of Public Employees among other members. Group co-ordinator Steve Anderson says four large media conglomerates CanWest Global Communications Corporation CTVglobemedia Quebecor and Rogers Communications are rapidly taking over the entire Canadian media landscape. “Right now Canadians don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to a lot of media. It’s becoming four major media enterprises for Canadians which is unfortunate from a consumer’s perspective and also not good for a vibrant democracy” says Anderson. “The overarching goal of Canadians for Democratic Media is to generate media policies that will produce a more competitive diverse and public-service-oriented media and hopefully with a stronger non-profit and non-commercial sector.” The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will hold a public hearing on September 17 in Gatineau Quebec to review its approach to “ownership consolidation and other issues related to diversity of voices in Canada.” Anderson says 1500 members of Canadians for Democratic Media have sent in comments expressing their concern about increased media concentration. “The goal is to come up with clear rules so that people know where we’re going. In the past we would assess each transaction on a case-by-case basis and it did not give a clear sense to the players or to the public in general what was the intention and where we were going” says Denis Carmel media relations officer with the CRTC. Several recent media mergers have caused concern about the growing media monopoly in Canada. CTVglobemedia bought out CHUM Ltd. in 2006. CHUM owned Citytv stations in five markets including Calgary. Some media observers were concerned that if the CRTC approved the deal CTVglobemedia would own two TV stations in each of several markets markets. However the CRTC forced CTVglobemedia to sell the five Citytv stations as a condition of the deal being approved. Rogers Communications stepped in to buy the five Citytv stations. In 2007 Astral Media Inc. bought out Standard Radio Inc. which owned 52 radio stations across the country making Astral Media the largest radio player in Canada. In 2007 CanWest Global Communications Corporation bought out Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc. which owns 13 specialty channels including History Television Showcase HGTV and Food Network Canada and is a major movie distributor. The deal still has to receive CRTC approval. The CRTC will hold a public hearing on the merger on September 5. In June Quebecor bought Osprey Media which owns 54 Ontario newspapers. Quebecor owns the Sun chain of papers. Media mergers usually mean fewer journalism jobs and more centralized news with less local content argues Anderson. Canadians for Democratic Media members are especially concerned about media convergence where one company buys up radio and television stations and newspapers in one market. “If one company owns most of the major papers and a TV station in one market that shouldn’t be allowed to happen” says Anderson. Anderson would like to see stronger rules stipulating what a media company can own in one market. The CRTC currently has a policy of only allowing a company to own one TV station in each market but there are no regulations about whether they can also own radio stations and newspapers. The CRTC only has regulatory powers over broadcast media not print. Chad Saunders station manager of CJSW an independent radio station based at the University of Calgary says there’s not enough CRTC support for campus and community radio stations to ensure they continue to survive. He argues that campus and community radio stations provide the most local and diverse programming of any broadcaster out there. “Campus community radio has been ignored” he says. The National Campus and Community Radio Association which represents stations like CJSW is asking the CRTC to order broadcasters to contribute one per cent of Canadian Content Benefits to a new Community Radio Fund of Canada. Saunders past president of the association says the move is necessary to help stations survive in the face of increased competition. For more information on Canadians for Democratic Media go to