IS BIGGER BETTER?

 

Ladies and gentlemen, whether

 we like it or not we are at a cross- road.

Between technological convergence

&

Media monopoly

 

 

 


 

Traditionally, communication industries have been differentiated on the basis of their technology.

 

The separation of telephony, broadcasting and printing has served us well.

 

It has prevented the overall control of communications by one set of companies. In the past, the separation of technology has also separated ownership.

 

With digitization, cameras, computers, radio, television, cable and telephones have all become information machines that do the same job. They collect, code and transform information into a digital format.

 

We have come to a time when all forms of communications are becoming equal in fidelity and equal to disseminate. This is what we mean by technological convergence.

 

As far as media monopoly, the four main corporations that dominate the Canadian media landscape, in order of year-end operating revenues are BCE, Quebecor, Rogers Communications and CanWest Global…the most recent superstar in the Canadian communications firmament.

 

The good news is that there seems to still be little penetration by foreign conglomerates into the ownership and structure of Canadian newspapers, radio/television and cable services.

 

 

 

Let us not forget that just nine transnational firms dominate the global media system.


 

So….what happens when a handful of Canadian media giants start cannibalizing smaller chains?

 

I believe the continued growth of these mega media empires has serious implication for Canadian media and society.

 

The danger is that worldwide media and culture are being reduced to the level of a mass produced commodity whose origin is irrelevant.

 

Eventually, it will lead to less innovative programming.  In the final analysis, local creative output will eventually be curtailed.

 

Canada’s four media barons are the same kind of powerful people, doing the same kind of thing, with the same kind of private enterprise rationale.

 

To date the big four have been reasonably responsible, but perhaps we need a new Code of Conduct. Perhaps we need the CRTC to further scrutinize and play the ever watchful watchdog.

 

The future development of rapid new interactive media technologies and broadband synergies will only raise the anti.

 

The convergence of the computer and television could render existing communication delivery systems obsolete, leaving independent and cash starved public institutions, like the CBC network, on the outside.

 

What are my concerns as a media scholar?

 

Critics will argue that as the number of sources of news diminish…so does the diversity of such information.

 

I believe we need different media outlets ensure a different type of end product.

 

We need diversity in journalism with comparative points of view.

Some critics say these media giants are sacrificing journalistic quality for shareholder returns.

 

Let us not forget that journalists serve the public interest, not shareholders.

 

We are now seeing more MBA’s with no experience or love of journalism down sizing news divisions and upping the fluff to fiber ratio to boost profits.

 

This has a number of implications for the process of news making and the quality of information that we receive.

 

I personally have seen the result of news room cuts.

 

Smaller news staffs trying to fill the same news quota.

Less local stories

Less investigative stories

More quick and dirty stories. Q and D stories that go for a short clip and then use file footage for coverage.

Low morale.

Layoffs that affect families

The closure of local newsrooms for the allure of cheaper regional news rooms

 

More newspapers, magazines, radio, TV channels and the Internet mean that alternative sources are readily available.  BUT*****

 

There is considerable information sharing among news media. Print and broadcast news depends heavily on the same wire services.

 

The distinctions between print and broadcast coverage of stories is similarly minimized because news organizations monitor, copy and cite the same sources as each other.

 

We may think we are benefiting from a wide range of news coverage when we are tuning in or reading a variety of media, but all too often the media are getting their stories from the same source.

 

A considerable amount of Internet information comes from government or corporate sources in the form of press releases

 

With a business attitude, we can forsee more product placements slipping into newscasts.

 

We will witness less investigative reports, because they are far more costly and may bite the hand that feeds operating costs.

 

Media monopoly combined with technological convergence means diverse and dissenting voices are being diminished.

 

We need a multiplicity of voices reporting events by news reporters from different socio-economic and gender backgrounds.

 

We need different conceptualizations of reality.

 

Newspapers especially, with their long histories, mirror out communities and report local news in detail.

 

If news is a product, it needs a variety of people and voices to be produced.

 

We need an informed and involved citizenry.

 

What we are beginning to experience is a bland media monoculture.

 

Corporate concentration is a growing concern around the world. Thanks to mergers, buyouts, and closures, fewer and fewer companies control the production of news.

 

This type of ethnocentrism will become more of a problem as the news media becomes more global.

 

Airwaves and access are being privatized, blocking our right of way to the public sphere.

 

Users recognize the Internet as a source for vast amounts of information. Information that may not be accurate. There is a growing preponderance of inaccurate or misinformation. How can you be assured that a website is accurate?

 

As a result, people tend to see out familiar web sites. Those to be trustworthy.

 

The Calgary Herald on line Vs the newspaper. Global TV’s website instead of the evening TV news.

 

It is the same news in a different medium. This dual nature of news once again allows a few media conglomerates to continue to dominate the news scene on-line.

 

High definition photographs are more prevalent, and links allow web cruisers to flip from link to link for more in depth information. Similar to a newspaper which provides more details.

 

Traditional advertising is being replaced by we banners as sponsors.

 

TV news is similarly modified from its original broadcast format to reappear as mainly print and photographic material.

 

Despite the visual or aural similarities between on-line news and news presented in TV formats, the medium necessitates a shift in message.

 

We are seeing very revealing news in nakedNews.com, the virtual newscaster such as Ananova, and real-time or reality news which has become TV watchers favourites.

 

The Internet messaging of news is instantaneous, current, limitless and highly personalized to individual interests. However, it is also globally conformist. The Herald in newspaper form has many more local stories that its on-line version which is more national or international in focus to attract a greater number of Internet  web cruisers.

 

The paradoxical message is shaping Western society into a culture of news junkies, where the latest amount of news is devoured with little critical evaluation-taking place…. before moving onto the next bite.

 

Sensory stimulation occurs at visual, aural, and tactile levels where information flows through high-definition channels, although mainstream news is highly homogenous.

 

Despite limitless options for gaining information on the Internet, the news provided by EuroAmerican media conglomerates is constantly on the increase due to buy-outs and mergers.

 

Although viewers may gain new perspectives on world events, the human capacity for comprehension and concern is limited.

 

Media power is political power. When a handful of people control much of what we watch, read and listen to, we should be more critical.

 


 

NEWS AS STORY TELLING

 

However, information is not news. News is different. There is a distinction between events and facts and stories about events and facts. Journalists are storytellers; these use words, images and sounds to depict reality. The choices journalists make among the words and images attribute particular meanings to the events they cover and report.

 

These stories are like myths… they often make sense out of complex phenomena, assert and maintain cultural values, and determine notions of right and wrong.

 

They offer the public a type of shorthand to understanding.

 

Events are usually messy and complicated to understand, and they can drag on for years. Journalists seek to impose order on these events, to render them comprehensible. Either in a few hundred printed words or 1:30 of celluloid tape.

 

Not only is the information different, and the medium different, but one reporters interpretation of an event is only one of an infinite number of other possible interpretations. That is why the more reporters we have in covering the same event, the larger the variance and reporting of each event.

 

News is constructed and produced. Journalists frame reality, select particular events to cover and particular people as newsworthy, while excluding many others.

 

Journalists is distinguished from story telling because if seeks the truth, is independent and objective. News as myths exists as stories are told over and over so that reality becomes a culturally accepted framework of understanding.


 

OWNERSHIP AND CONTROL

 

A specific constraint in commercial news production is corporate concentration.

 

Media ownership confers control over the content of news at two levels.

 

1.    The news directors, editors and producers who decided day to day exercise operational control how to employ the resources allocated. Such decisions as whom to hire and what stories to cover.

 

Reporters in the field gathering information and conducting interviews enjoy considerable independence in generating ideas and developing their stories, even though reporters know what kinds of stories their editors want…or do not want.

 

 

2.    Alternative and oppositional voices risk being marginalized or ignored.

3.    Corporations that are primarily interested in profit maximization can affect the quality of news, if managers become stingy with newsroom budgets.

4.    Profit maximization can create a conflict of interest between a controversial news story about a stations advertiser.

5.    Also a potential conflict between a corporation’s news business and other businesses it owns. (Example a newspapers coverage of environmental issues may be compromised if its corporate owner is also involved in the manufacture of pulp and paper as is the case of Quebecor which owns the Toronto Sun and Le Journal de Montreal.)

6.    Corporate concentration is a conflict of interest between the public’s need for information and the corporations’ desire for “positive information’/

7.    Concerns are raised that the goals of media-owning corporations may run counter to freedom of expression and the long term interests of society.

8.    Fewer voices are cheaper.

 

Known as the social responsibility theory of the press, it extends the core democratic right of freedom of the press to include the right of citizens to be adequately informed by the news media.

 

MEDIA DIVERSITY DEFIES THE LOGIC OF MARKET ECONOMICS

 

1.    .

 

The argument that corporate ownership and good journalism are not mutually exclusive. The pooling of economic resources can result in industry stability and quality reporting that independents can not afford. The Globe and Mail and the National Post can afford to have permanent news bureaus across the country and around the world and have the resources to send their reporters where the action is.

 

CANADIAN OWNERSHIP AND SOCIAL CONTROL

 

Canada has along history in developing legislative instruments that generally seek to contain the nation’s media and to co-opt them to purposes of national policy.

 

Communication in all its forms involves much more than just satisfying markets.

 

Journalism always relates back to questions of national unity and national cultural development.

 

The country’s print media have remained comparatively untouched by the government. Certain areas of the law, notably Criminal Code provisions relating to contempt of court and criminal libel. Also provincial statues pertain to civil defamation. But there has been no statue specifically designed to regulate the press as an industry. With the exceptions as the obscenity and hate-literature amendments. There has been no law upon the general quality or content of print journalism, or seeking to give it any form of overall direction.

 

Press concentration in Canada means fewer and fewer voices are speaking to Canadians.

 

Mergers and acquisitions in recent years should have appalled Canada’s intelligentsia…instead greeted with indifference, silence or approval. Reluctant critic of corporate “gigantism”

 

The shift of investment away from print newspapers in the direction of electronic publishing by the major coporate interests (Thomson, Southam-Hollinger, and Quebecor) merely further complicate the corporate entanglements.

 

NEWSPAPERS ARE DIFFERENT BECAUSE:

 

1.    Newspapers deal in public information that requires many independent approaches to processing and production. Economic rationalizations and efficiencies of corporate systems tend to reduce journalistic diversity. When diversity diminishes, the flow of ideas to the marketplace becomes less rich and varied.

2.    As news organizations become larger, the people who run them are less likely to be professional journalists. The needs of the journalistic process become less significant in the corporate hierarchy of values.

3.    Too much potential power is put in too few hands. Whether the power is practiced well or ill used is not relevant.

4.    That is why the Broadcasting Act requires that all broadcasting outlets be effectively owned and controlled by Canadians, to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, social political and economic fabric of Canada. Concerns national identity and cultural integrity.

 

THE AGE OF THE INTERNET AND GLOBAL MEGAMEDIA EMPIRES.

 

Many contemporary media analysts are alarmed by the mushrooming global control of information, ideas, entertainment and popular culture by a handful of private organizations.

 

The globalization of the world media raises concerns of homogenization, access to and the suppression of information and ideas.

 

There is an unprecedented flow in transnational information flow and the penetration of an Anglo-American media content.

 

The merging of computer and telecommunication and direct-broadcast satellites has spread beyond political boundaries, fragmenting national audiences and abolishing traditional monopolies.

 

Advertising is being increasingly aimed at mega-markets across continents.

 

Media concentration is by no means a new phenomena.  In 1884 it was noted that steel baron Andrew Carnegie controlled 8 daily newspapers and 10 weeklies in Britain.

 

What distinguishes the present Lords of the Global village is the size, scope and degree of multimedia ownership of their holdings.

 

1.    There is an underlying assumption that concentration of ownership results in a standardized, homogenized form of news.

2.    That media chains have negative impact on newspaper quality, diversity and editorial independence.

3.    Use generic news-service stories and on standard news releases rather than covering stories and events that require reportorial effort.

4.    The new media barons are seen as deal makers to whom journalistic values are secondary, if not unknown.

5.    They are profit maximizes and are more imitator and promoter rather than crusader and creator.

 

BUT*****

 

Increasing corporate size leads to profitable synergies.

 

Global conglomerates are increasingly gaining over both hardware and software of communications.

 

Most of the new media technologies so far have not been instruments for human liberation and identity building.


 

THE BIG FOUR DOMINATING CANADIAN COMMUNICATION

 

1. The most recent player in the Canadian communications firmament is Izzy Asper, who owns CanWest. The crown jewel of CanWest being the Global TV new network, Which has long claimed the title of Canada’s ‘third national television network”. (7 TV stations mainly in Ontario and the Prairie Provinces. By acquiring 8 more TV stations from WIC Western International Communications as well as independent outlets in Hamilton and Ontario, CanWest is the largest buyer of US programs. And with the acquisition of Hollinger’s newspaper properties, Asper has become an instant media baron. CanWest also has significant holdings in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland).

 

2. Ted Rogers is also finally hitting his stride. Rogers Communications was the largest Canadian cable operator in the US. With over half a million subscribers in Texas, Minnesota, and Oregon…as well as Ireland. Sold these holdings in 1989 to spend the proceeds on Cantel, a national cellular network and to upgrade the entire Rogers cable system in Canada. In 1994 took over Maclean Hunter, a Canadian conglomerate with a stable of trade and mass media periodicals, radio and TV holdings. Also owns the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club.

 

 

3. BCE, which was created when the Bell Canada system was broken up in the 1980’s. It has successfully nurtured the Nortel Network. It owns a nest of Internet, satellite, and wireless businesses most notably Sympatico and Lycos and Belle ExpressVu, a direct to home broadcast  and CTV network.

 

4. The Peladeau family of Montreal which includes Le Journal de Montreal, Quebec’s second largest TV network, and with the takeover of SunMedia which operates a chain of dailies, and the Internet portal CANOE. Getting into the Provincial pension fund.


 

Don’t forget that newspapers often record history. News stories are used for archival information and we need diverse points of view to accurately portray the diversity and ethnicity of Canadians.

Canadian media ownership has been allowed to grow with impunity, and thus Canada stands at a crossroads.

 

Financial control exercised by publishers, shareholders and directors who allocate resources, labour and capital to news organizations.  Senior managers are being hired who share the same views on operating budgets, anticipated profit margins and expenditures for capital upgrades.