The federal government needs to take a serious look at media concentration in New Brunswick, according to Senator Joan Fraser, co-author of a June 2006 report that raised questions about Irving media holdings.
Her comments come as Irving-owned Brunswick News Inc. takes a former publisher to court in the midst of his efforts to start a new newspaper.
"We didn't find anywhere else in the developed world a situation like the situation in New Brunswick," Fraser told CBC News on Friday. The senate report examined the state of all of Canada's news media.
All of the English daily newspapers in New Brunswick are owned by Irving and its other entities, as are all of the weekly publications, with the exception of the Sackville Tribune and the St. Croix Courier, and some radio stations.
Irvingis also one of the largest employers in the province, with interests in theforestry, retail, construction, transportationand food sectors.
"The Irving interests are bigger in New Brunswick than the whole federal government is in the whole of Canada, if you see what I mean, proportionately," Fraser said.
The company's financial interestscould meanIrving media may be less willing to pursue unpleasant truths about its other companies, Fraser said.
The current court battle between Brunswick News and the former Woodstock Bugle-Observer publisher William Kenneth Langdon could be an appropriate time to re-examine concentration, she said.
Langdon resigned from the newspaper in September, citing disillusionment with Brunswick News' management practices and orders from its vice-president, Victor Mlodecki, to drive competitors out of business.
In his resignation letter, now filed with the courts, Langdon informed Brunswick News of his intention to start the Carleton Free Press, which is expected to launch its first publication in November.
He also repeated allegations contained in a previously filed court document indicating the law suit is connected to Langdon's removal of confidential and proprietary documents before he resigned from his job and informed the company of his intentions to start a newspaper.
Brunswick News initially sought an injunction to stop Langdon from starting the newspaper but withdrew that request last week in a Saint John court.
Now Brunswick News is asking the court to issue an order preventing Langdon from approaching Bugle customers, advertisers and employees on behalf of his new paper and invoked a little-known court order to search and seize documents from his office, home and vehicle.
Mlodecki issued a statement on behalf of Brunswick News earlier this week saying thatIrving welcomes competition in the newspaper business.
Brunswick News is owned by J.K. Irving, the Mlodecki statementsaid,and J.D. Irving Ltd. and Irving Oil Ltd. do not have any ownership interests in the company.
This is not the first time the Irving media empire has caught the attention of the senate.
Senator Keith Davy raised the issue in a report released in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, the Irvings also came under fire from the Kent Commission.
To encourage more competition and diversity of media voices, Fraser's report recommended financial aid for new publications, more licences for community radio and television stationsand improved broadband services in rural areas.
New federal legislation should be tabledto give the government more clout in dealing with the situation in New Brunswick, she said.
Irving does not have shipbuilding interests in New Brunswick, as originally reported. Furthermore, William Kenneth Langdon did not say he got direct orders from vice-president Victor Mlodecki to drive competitors out of business. In fact, in documents filed with the court in Saint John, Langdon said he attended a meeting where Mlodecki said he was prepared to spend up to $1 million to put a competitor out of business.Oct 15, 2007 12:15 PM AT