Panel to examine Canadian media concentration

The federal government wants to look at the growing media concentration in Canada, just as opposition critics are attacking the Liberals for being cosy with the ownership of one conglomerate.

Heritage Minister Sheila Copps will appoint a panel to look at the issues surrounding the fact that more of Canada's print and broadcast media are being gathered into fewer hands.

Industry Minister BrianTobin says there's no link between a review of media ownership and recent editorial content.

"Questions of concentration ... should have zero to do with the editorial opinion of the owners of a newspaper," said Tobin.

A different opinion reigns in the opposition ranks, however. In Parliament on Monday, members stood on the opposition side to question what influence the prime minister might have had on an article that appeared last week in several newspapers, including the National Post.

Written by David Asper, the article lambasted journalists for pursuing the details of a scandal surrounding loans made by a Crown bank to a business in Shawinigan, Prime Minister Jean Chrtien's riding.

"Put up or shut up," the article admonished, calling the investigations "mischievous, unfair scandal mongering."

Asper sits on the board of directors at CanWest Global Communications Corp., which owns the Southam chain of newspapers, and shares the Post with Hollinger Inc., Conrad Black's company.

The deal struck to buy half of the paper from Hollinger allows CanWest to publish its views in the Post if it disagrees with an editorial position.

Conservative Leader Joe Clark accused Asper of trying to stifle journalistic freedom.

The Aspers Izzy Asper is executive chairman at CanWest and Leonard Asper is president and CEO are longtime Liberal supporters and friends of Chrtien.

Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray dismissed the allegations against Asper, saying he has the same freedom of speech as Black, a critic of Chrtien.

Chrtien believed Black wanted to see him defeated in the last election, and used the National Post to try to make that happen.

Asper's letter isn't the first time Chrtien's positive media connections have raised eyebrows. In December, Ivan Fecan, a top executive for CTV Television now a partner with the Globe and Mail was effusive in his praise of the prime minister as he introduced him at a dinner.

Carleton University media watcher Chris Dornan says owners who publicly express their views run the risk of appearing to influence their newspaper's journalism.

"The proprietor is an owner and is in a position to make executive decisions about which stories get pursued, how vigorously they get pursued, where they're going to throw their resources, where they're not going to throw their resources," said Dornan.