Lack of rules allowed Irving media empire to grow: report
A Senate report on media concentration is calling for tougher restrictions when it comes to media ownership, especially in New Brunswick.
The Senate Committee on Transportation and Communications, under Senator Joan Fraser, spent three years studying the Canadian news media and made 40 recommendations, including several on concentration of ownership.
The Senate report cited New Brunswick as a good example of what the country should try to avoid. It says a lack of regulations has allowed the Irving family to become too dominant in the province's newspaper market.
"There is a prevailing feeling among some journalists in Atlantic Canada of self-censorship, that some are afraid to actually write what they think is right because they work in an environment where there's one dominant player," said Senator Jim Munson, a former reporter who began his career in New Brunswick.
The Senators want the Competition Act to be amended to trigger an automatic review of a proposed media merger that has that potential.
All of New Brunswick's major English-language newspapers are run by the Irving-owned company Brunswick News.
The family owns three daily papers in Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton and a host of weeklies in small communities across the province. It also owns an oil refinery, pulp and paper mills, and hundreds of other small and medium-sized companies across the Maritimes.
Kim Kierans, director of the journalism school at the University of King's College in Halifax, says many people who testified in front of the committee raised questions about the objectivity of the Irving papers.
She wasn't surprised by the committee's findings. "They were concerned about the fact that you have a dominant media force with dominant industrial base," she said. "The Irvings own 300-plus companies, are hugely wealthy and they employ about eight per cent of the population. There's a certain sense that that is a dangerous situation and it's a unique situation in Canada."
But Fraser says the recommendations are more about finding ways to change the media environment, and less about trashing big media owners that already exist.
"We're not accusing Irving of doing anything wrong. We are saying that the structure that has been allowed to grow over the years presents an almost classic example of how you could set up the situation where abuses could occur."