Prudent Press

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History Repeats – Centralization of Media Ownership in Canada – Part 5

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In Part 4 of this series, we discussed the evidence presented to the Committee and their recommendations for policies that should be enacted. For this part, its argued that the Committee’s observations were very similar to those carried out in the decades previous. The Davey Committee in the 1970’s, and the Kent Commission in the 1980’s both revealed interesting similarities.

Thus the issue of media centralization has existed for decades in this country.

For example, on December 17, 1999 Joseph Jackson prepared a report titled Newspaper Ownership in Canada: An Overview of the Davey Committee and Kent Commission Studies.This report examined both of these reports on the issue of the centralization of media.

Focusing specifically on the Kent Commission, in 1981 the government had asked the commission to review the media ownership landscape at the time and determine options to ensure diversity of ownership and, by extension, viewpoints in the media. The man chosen to head the commission was Tom Kent, a former editor with the Winnipeg Free Press and political adviser to the Pearson government.

The Davey Committee and the Kent Commission made the same sort of discoveries that the Senate Committee did in 2006. Back in the 1980s’, the Kent commissioners said that Canada’s newspaper industry had drifted into a situation that was “clearly and directly contrary to the public interest.” However, both of their reports were ignored or forgotten in the years since then.

 

 

What is basic to both the Davey and Kent recommendations is the principle of the public’s right to a free flow of information and opinion from a diversity of sources.

The Davey Committee had recommended the creation of a Press Ownership Review Board empowered to prevent mergers or takeovers of newspapers, and periodicals as well.

The Kent Commission’s recommendations found in this document, included prohibitions on further concentration of media ownership, which were far less severe then now, as well as tax incentives for wider media ownership and tax breaks to newspapers that devoted more space to local news coverage. Under the legislation proposed by the commission, no such individual such as Conrad Black would have been allowed to own more than five newspapers, and each of those would have had to be more than 500 kilometres from any other.

Kent called for creation of a Press Rights Panel with broad power to prevent mergers and takeovers of newspapers, prevent cross-media ownership, order divestment in certain cases of concentrated ownership, and oversee a system of editors’ contracts and local consultative committees for papers that constituted a minority of their owners’ interests; Kent also suggested some tax measures and subsidies to offset the effects of concentration.

In an article for the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 1984, Tim Creery (head of research for the commission) wrote,

As the Commission’s public hearings got under way, it became clear that there was no great public constituency for action against concentration. The Consumers’ Association of Canada took a firm position in favor of diversity and competition, as it had before Davey. But no newspaper in Canada was about to rally opinion under this banner, and the issue proved of no great interest to the other mass media. It seems to me that this absence of organized public concern was the critical factor in sending the Kent recommendations to the boneyard.

And what we also know, from the Senate Committee report two decades later in 2006, that not only was media concentration occurring, but media centralization was as well. And that was the big worry.

Media writer and teacher, Presscompleted thorough research on the Davey Committee and Kent Commission. As he found, the Davey Report mentioned media ownership concentration, noting that papers can only thrive when

the operation is financially secure and … people who care more about journalism than about balance-sheets control the editorial product

This was explained in the reports of the Kent Commission.

Found in the conclusions of the Kent Commission, it placed significant importance on the independence of the free press from the state but also from other entities. The Commission wrote,

It is important as ever that the press should be free from the interference of the state. But it should be free from other pressures too. The purposes of freedom can be achieved only if freedom is undivided, if it withstands all the forces that tend to restrict information and opinion.

(p. 217)