New Brunswick

Newspaper group says don't regulate media ownership

The group representing several newspapers in Canada has strong concerns about any further moves toward the regulation of media ownership.

The group representing several newspapers in Canada has strong concerns about any further moves toward the regulation of media ownership.

The Canadian Newspaper Association was reacting to a Senate report released Wednesday that recommends increased scrutiny on some media deals.

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 around concentration of ownership.

Anne Kothawala, president and chief executive of the Canadian Newspaper Association, is against the government getting involved in newspaper ownership.

"There is no role for governments in regulating the news media. And that's what freedom of the press is all about," she said.

It's not unusual in Canada for a media conglomerate to own a newspaper, a television station — and perhaps a few radio stations— in a single market.

That can cut down on costs, but the Senate committee worries it can also decrease the diversity of news coverage, analysis and opinion.

The committee heard complaints as it travelled across the country about that kind of concentration of ownership.

Irvings and New Brunswick

The report also notes the domination of the newspaper market in New Brunswick by the Irving family.

"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, once a reporter himself.

The Senators want the Competition Act to be amended to trigger an automatic review of a proposed media merger that has that potential.

Kim Kierans, director of the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, agrees there is reason for concern about the media environment in New Brunswick.

"They're concerned about the idea that there is in fact some self-censorship going on in the newspapers," she told CBC News.

"They were concerned about the fact that you have a dominant media force with dominant industrial base — so you know the Irvings own 300-plus companies — hugely wealthy and they employ about eight per cent of the population and there's a certain sense that that is a dangerous situation and it's a unique situation in Canada."

Concentration less of an issue

Kothawala disagrees. Concentration of newspaper ownership in Canada is less of an issue now than it was seven years ago, when Hollinger-Southam owned 53 per cent of the market, she said.

"Senators say that they're not interested in regulating the content of the news, but they truly are. They say that government has to regulate news to ensure a diversity of views, but in our view that's just wrong," Kothawala said.

The committee is recommending an automatic review under the Competition Act if concentration of media ownership reaches a certain point in a single market.

"We're not saying that big is bad. We're saying the public has to be heard when big gets even bigger," Munson told CBC News.

The Senators fear concentration of ownership can hurt news coverage. They cite a hypothetical example of a newspaper that's afraid to take the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to task because the paper also owns radio and television stations that are regulated by the CRTC.

One example cited in the report is Vancouver, where both daily newspapers, the Sun and the Province, are owned by CanWest Global Communications. That company also owns the National Post, the popular local television station BC-TV and a number of community newspapers in the region.

The report is not binding. It's up to the government to decide whether to act on the recommendations.