I've been participating on the listserv of the Canadian Association of Journalists for many
years now. I've found it a great place to argue about stuff. Here's
something I posted recently in a debate that started off with one
listmember's question about the health of public broadcasters in Canada. One
response to that question contained a line that the CBC helps “mitigate media concentration” in
Cannada. That's an observation I took issue with:
My wife grew up in Nipigon, Ontario, a small pulp mill town on Lake
Superior's north shore. I grew up in Guelph, a university town in southern
Ontario. When we were kids, during the 1960s and 1970s, there was precisely
one television station in both Nipigon and Guelph that came in over the air
— CBC. I suspect it was like that across the country. If you turned on the
TV, you turned on CBC. In fact, you turned on CBC and listened to
journalists in Toronto tell you what was going on in your world, even if you
lived 1500 km away in Nipigon.
CBC wasn't mitigating any problem of ownership concentation then; it
was the problem.
Now, my children are growing up with three national television networks,
which find their way into the vast majority of homes in Canada. And where
only one is available, you can bet it will be CBC, as that is that
broadcaster's mandate. If anything, the private networks are mitigating
CBC's media dominance.
In addition to three national network television news programs, my children
can subscribe to cable (available in almost every urban setting in Canada
and, where it isn't, can choose — choose, I said, choose! — from satellite
dish companies) where you can find not only two 24-hour Canadian news and
current affairs networks but also current affairs programming produced for
and by Canada's aboriginal people. There's also ROBTV, TSN, SportsNet, and
MuchMusic, and StarTV for those who like current affairs of a particular
Didn't have that kind of diversity and choice when I was growing up, I can
tell you. Nope: It was the CBC or nothin' was on.
My children can also choose between two national newspapers, both of which,
thanks to advances in printing press technology, contain significant amounts
of news and information written by journalists in my region about my region.
Just had one when I was growing up and all you got in it was news from
Ottawa or Toronto, no matter where you lived in the country.
And the Internet — full of instant chats, photo blogs, e-mail, and Web
pages means they'll always have alternative sources to complement their
traditional media consumption.
So it seems to me impossible to say Canadians do not have a much more
diverse and rich media environment than it did when the Kent Commission was
holding its meetings and I was building tree forts in my backyard.
And it also seems a bit much to say the CBC, the country's single largest
newsgathering organization and which is still the only news provider in many
markets it serves, is helping to mitigate a problem when all these other
media assets sprang up largely to mitigate the problem that was CBC.
I say all this as an employee of a private network who nonetheless is a fan
of CBC and believes the federal government should give it more money and
strengthen its role.
As I continue to argue: We are blessed in Canada — as they are not in the
U.S. — with an independent, professional, award-winning group of
journalists who can exist and do their work largely without funds from ad
sales but which do rely on politicians for their money. This would be the
CBC but Balint should also be reminded of the great current affairs
programming that TVO does in Ontario. There
is another group of journalists who do similarly excellent work. Their bills
are paid through the sale of ads but (by and large) they rely on no
government support. Together, these groups — publicly funded journalists
and privately funded journalists can be a nice balance and foil to each
What we should be doing is trying to strengthen the independence of both
kinds of those organizations. CBC should be given more money and it should
be doled out in a way that reduces the impact a capricious and spiteful
politician could have on the Corp.. Similarly, private sector media
organizations should be given the ability to become stronger as well. The
simplest way to do this would be to remove ownership restrictions on certain
private sector media assets. If the Times
of London and The Daily
Telegraph can flourish and fulfill their “national” editorial missions
even when owned by an Australian and a (nominal)
Canadian, surely The Globe and
Mail or the National Post
could continue to be just as 'Canadian” if owned by someone who is not a