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TNG Canada comments on CP, media concentration

A ban on media cross-ownership and the preservation of Canada’s independent, bilingual national news service are vital to the free flow of news for both print and broadcast, TNG Canada has said in a brief to a Senate committee looking at media concentration.

TNG Canada is the parent union of the Canadian Media Guild, which represents employees at The Canadian Press/Broadcast News. TNG Canada also represents employees at many CanWest Newspapers. Guild members Scott Edmonds (CP/BN) and Arnold Amber (CBC) were part of the team that developed the brief.

“Presentations to this committee have reaffirmed our long held conviction that a healthy, cost-to-coast, bilingual newsgathering and news disseminating co-operative, operating for the mutual benefit of its members but independently of its corporate masters, is a key element of the open discourse and free flow of information that Canadians have a right to demand of their media,” the brief states.

TNG called on the committee, which is headed by Senator Joan Fraser, to recommend strong action to preserve diversity in the media.

“We urge this committee to grasp that it is in a unique position to speak for Canadians, to rebalance from the extreme and unhealthy consolidation which has developed in recent years, and to become a lightning rod for change.”

The brief notes that while employer groups like CanWest Global Communications see a decade-long assessment freeze at CP as a positive, others see it only restricting the co-operative’s abilities to cover the country from coast to coast.

The brief dismisses claims by CanWest executives that essentially all is well.
It notes, for example, that a survey of front-line editors at both newspapers and radio stations conducted by Viewpoints Research this year, on behalf of CMG, found that they both valued CP and its broadcast arm BN and feared for their future.

CanWest has already pulled the National Post out of CP and, with its CanWest New Service, could be positioning itself to pull more or all of its properties from the co-operative. The move would have a devastating impact, says the brief, further restricting what Canadians read, hear and watch.

It also notes the unique role of CP/BN in providing news to both French and English Canada, in both languages. It says it is too valuable a facility to lose to corporate interests that care only about the bottom line.

TNG Canada also recommends an outright ban on media cross-ownership, to be phased in as CRTC licences expire. As well, it urges a ceiling of 30 per cent in terms of audience share or circulation broadcasting outlets or newspapers that any one corporation can own.

TNG Canada cites the circumstances of the founding of CP and its predecessor, the Western Associated Press, as an example of what needs to be done. The WAP was born when newspapers rebelled against a fee hike imposed by the telegraph company, owned by the railway, for Associated Press copy. The company wanted to reduce the amount of copy at the same time.

“When Western Canadian newspapers were faced with their crisis in 1907, these local entrepreneurs went up against a monopoly railway. The railway figured its market dominance would let it raise prices and cut Canadian content without hindrance or opposition. The railway didn’t get away with it either,” the brief points out.

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