That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of establishing a commission of inquiry to examine the concentration of print media in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, we are here today to discuss the issue of the concentration of ownership in Canada's media. This is an issue that has become very important to many Canadians. Ownership concentration, in my opinion, needs to be examined.
Anyone who has read the newspaper, watched the news or listened to radio in the last year, knows that this is an issue of debate that has been around for a long time. This has recently taken on new dimensions. Canadians have started to ask themselves whether we should worry about this once more.
The fundamental question and the questions revolving around this matter are whether Canada's media ownership is in the hands of too few people. Furthermore, does the concentration of media ownership present a true dilemma relative to the amount of influence that these owners have on what is published or broadcast? If so, I would therefore recommend that the government study this issue further.
I am not necessarily asking for a commission of inquiry. Rather I am interested in what my colleagues in this House have to say about this matter. Let us take a look at these questions before going on any further.
Canada's media is comprised of many facets, including radio, television, print and electronic through the Internet. Each medium reaches a wide number of Canadians and is a large part of many of our lives. Few are the Canadians who do not read the newspaper, watch television or listen to radio every day.
On a daily basis the citizens of this country are bombarded by information about the goings on around Canada and around the world. But one has to ask whether they are receiving a balanced presentation of the news.
Taking a look more particularly at the concentration of ownership in Canada's newspapers, we realize how concrete this issue really is. Ownership of the newspapers of our nation has been a target of much discussion over many years but has become an even more intense debate recently.
First let us examine a few facts revolving around Canada's newspapers. The three biggest newspaper chains in Canada are in charge of 72% of all the circulation of daily papers. This in itself demonstrates concentration of ownership.
What is more impressive is that two out of these three chains are owned and run in essence by the same person. Hollinger Inc., through its owner Conrad Black, owns 27 of Canada's newspapers.
In July of 1997 Hollinger secured a large portion of Southam Inc., Canada's largest chain owning 34 papers. Now 58.6% of Southam is under the control of Hollinger and of Conrad Black.
Together these two companies control almost 60% of Canada's newspapers and approximately 42% of the country's circulation. They own all the daily newspapers in Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, as well as 14 out of British Columbia's 16 dailies. In addition, they control papers in every provincial capital except for Winnipeg, Toronto and Quebec City.
As I have demonstrated, Canada's print media is controlled in big part by one company, Hollinger Inc., and by one person.
Another very influential newspaper company in Canada is Torstar Corporation which owns 100% of the Toronto Star , the country's single largest newspaper in terms of circulation. This corporation is another example of a company securing quite a large portion of ownership and circulation in Canada's media.
Just last week Torstar Corporation announced plans to stage a hostile takeover of Sun Media Corporation. Together these two conglomerates would control a total of 26% of Canada's daily newspaper circulation.
Another area of concentration is cross ownership of newspapers, radio, television, news services and web sites. But the question remains on the issue of influence. We can easily say that the majority of Canada's newspapers are in the hands of a few people, but is it too concentrated? Are there too few people at the helm of Canada's media?
To really know if it is overconcentrated we must look at the integrity of the papers themselves. Are they presenting a balanced approach to the news? Are the facts being put out in an objective standpoint way? Do Canadians in all market areas have access to differing points of view?
Besides the danger that might exist in very few companies having too much influence on the papers, another danger might arise. While it is said that publishers might not directly control policy at each paper, certainly those in charge are conscious of what publishers like and expect.
Do they, for example, follow their own personal standards and guidelines or do they try to please the person who signs their paycheques? With the number of papers within one publisher's control the chances are fairly good that some papers' editors do not always work in a totally unbiased state of mind.
On the other hand the publisher of the Southam owned Victoria Times Columnist insists that he does not feel any pressure to go one way or another on issues. The mission for him, he says, is to get in touch with the community's agenda and not the publisher's.
It would not necessarily be that a newspaper would neglect or falsify information, but certainly they might put emphasis on certain facts more than others. Any editorials may present opinions following a publisher's philosophy or political point of view. As we can see, although a publisher might not be in complete control of what is printed, those who are in charge of content could be easily persuaded or inclined to undertake methods to make their publisher happy.
Let us inspect yet another aspect that adds to the ramifications of the debate. As it was officially announced earlier on this year, Hollinger Incorporated launched just a week ago the first edition of National Post . This new paper is competing against the Toronto Star , Canada's most read newspaper, and the Globe and Mail , the only other paper that claims to be national.
If the paper is to be successful it may take readers from the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star , particularly in the important Toronto market. If the National Post ends up taking many readers from the aforementioned papers, not only will they suffer but there will be greater concentration and obviously less competition.
The Government of Canada in the past has taken a closer look at media ownership. In 1970 Keith Davey and others studied media issues, one of which was the concentration of media ownership. The three biggest chains controlled 45% of daily circulation at that time in comparison to the 72% that the three largest chains now own. This study led to the creation of the Royal Commission on Newspapers 10 years later. This commission was formed after Southam closed its Winnipeg Tribune and after Thomson shut down the Ottawa Journal .
Tom Kent, commissioner of this organization in the 1980s had suggested restricting the number of papers that any one company could own. His recommendations were soundly rejected by the industry, an industry that has consistently rejected government intervention.
Our federal government to this day has never implemented any regulations in this matter and that in essence is the foundation of this private member's motion. I am asking other members and Canadians in general for their opinions on the issue.
Do we as Canadians need to worry about media concentration? Should we be implementing legislation to regulate ownership of the media or are the present mechanisms in place all that is in fact needed?
On a related note, the Canadian public has expressed concern with the matter of bank mergers which would give the so-called megabanks too much power and control. I would argue, as have others, that the issue of newspaper ownership is at least as important as the subject of bank mergers. Should we not then be examining the issue of media ownership in the same light?
As I have already mentioned, there exists at present no law restrictions in Canada on how many newspapers one company can own. Some have argued that we should be more concerned about media ownership since it is more important to democracy than any other industry. It plays a powerful role in shaping our nation's public opinion.
Recently major players in the newspaper industry expressed reason for concern over the increasing concentration of newspaper ownership. Paul Godfrey, chairman of Sun Media, last May was quoted as saying it was wrong for the newspaper industry to be in few hands.
John Honderich, publisher of the Toronto Star , made observations earlier this year when Southam bought six British Columbia newspapers from Thomson Corporation. He said:
I can't remember a time when so much has been dominated by one chain. What is enough? Is this level of circulation too much? Should it be allowed?
He went on to ask who should answer these questions and went on to suggest that Ottawa should intervene. As Mr. Honderich said, “I don't think it can be the industry itself or the people we appoint”.
I will end with that question. It is important at the very least to explore this potential problem. We might realize that the media are in no way influenced by ownership concentration. On the other hand we might find that they are and that information presented is not balanced.
In the very least it is our duty as Canadians and as members of the House of Commons to examine and discuss this matter. It is important that we do so in a manner consistent with the values, the institutions and traditions of all of us as Canadians.
Perhaps all we can do at this time is simply to monitor the situation. There may come a time when other action is required. I look forward to hearing what my colleagues in the House have to say on this important issue.