The North Star


Media concentration

Canadian News Industry Under the Grip of Monopoly

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On July 25, North Star posted the results of its national vox-pop on the perception of the media in Canadian society. To better understand this long march towards monopolization that began decades ago, North Star offers this historical overview.

In the 1980s, there were about 120 daily newspapers in Canada; today there are only 75. At the same time, the proportion of independent newspapers dropped from about 20% to 5% and more than 200 community stations were shut down by the largest media monopolies, leaving about 90% of the public without local community television. During this period, Canada has become one of the world's textbook cases of media monopolization.

In 2017, Postmedia and the Torstar, the two largest companies in the industry, traded 41 publications in an effort to instantly eliminate 35 of them. This ended competition in many locations and resulted in the layoff of approximately 300 people. An investigation later revealed that the companies had exchanged emails about the operation in advance, yet the Competition Bureau found the evidence insufficient to justify an intervention.

The simultaneous closure of two major daily newspapers, the Winnipeg Tribune and the Ottawa Journal, in August 1980 was already raising concerns about the growing monopoly in the Canadian media. This led to the creation of the Kent Commission on Newspapers to investigate the phenomenon.

Despite the Commission's recommendations, the federal government's response to media monopolies has been largely inadequate. The change of government in the 1990s effectively ended efforts to further regulate media concentration. Moreover, media coverage and investigation of this monopolization has been rather limited.

The close links between large corporations and media companies in Canada are concerning. A striking example is the Irving family, which until recently owned all the daily and most of the weekly newspapers in New Brunswick. That changed with the sale of nine newspapers to Postmedia, by far the largest news media player in the country, done with little media attention.

Although now in the hands of a monopoly formally independent of Irving, the latest executive chairman of the Postmedia board bears a familiar name: Jamie Irving. These newspapers still tend to publish the press releases of the giant New Brunswick company as news stories, raising concerns about the bias of the information the public receives.

K.C. Irving was convicted of monopolistic practices in 1972, fined $150,000 and ordered to sell two newspapers. The decision was overturned a few years later by the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that there was insufficient evidence of harm to the public. The Canadian law was already under the spotlight, showing its shortcomings.

The most dramatic representation of this corporate influence on the media occurred in March 2018, when numerous anchors from various U.S. television stations read aloud a speech warning of the dangers of "biased and fake news." This seemingly independent editorial had been published by local media outlets FOX, ABC and CBS, all owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group.

In Canada, this influence may be more subtle, but the directors and shareholders of major media groups are rarely independent. Leonard Sharpe, Chairman of Postmedia Network inc., is also an "independent director" of Morguard Corporation, a real estate development and operations company, as well as a director of Clifton Blake Asset Management Ltd, a real estate private equity and asset management firm.

According to a 2021 study, one in ten guests who commented on the news in Canada were employed by companies that received payments to influence public opinion and government policy, even at CBC. This raises concerns about possible links between network management and the private sector. Presenters often refer to these guests as "strategists" despite their conflicting interests. After journalists, legislators and doctors, lobbyists and public relations specialists are the fourth most common profession among on-air commentators.

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