By Paul Fontaine
Diversity of media ownership is literally non-existent in Canada, according to a recent post by the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project (CMCRP).
The fewer the media outlets, the fewer choices Canadian journalists have in terms of full-time, part-time and freelance employment. Dwayne Winseck, CMCRP director and Carleton University journalism professor, said the content produced by journalists is being undervalued as consolidation through acquisition puts media companies in debt.
“Companies that were not saddled under debt are now saddled under debt and they’re torn between paying their journalists and paying the bankers,” Winseck said. “Some of the most highly leveraged entities in the economy are media companies and that means resources are being funneled into the banker’s pockets. The production of things—and here we are talking about the production of culture, news, knowledge, insight, entertainment, fun—is being sacrificed and I think that is a huge problem.”
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In terms of who has control over Canada’s English-language mediascape, the two biggest companies, Bell and Rogers, account for 43 per cent of all revenues. Add in Shaw and Telus, and these big four account for 70 per cent of the media landscape. All of these companies, with the exception of Telus, are vertically integrated in that they produce and distribute content across a range of media. In Quebec, Bell is the largest player, with an even larger share of one-third of the French-language mediascape.
The high level of concentration is most striking in Canada’s television ownership. Bell and Shaw hold what could be considered a duopoly in the country’s television market, followed by Rogers and CBC and then a number of small-scale broadcasters including APTN, Blue Ant, CHEK TV, Pelmorex and Fairchild. Canadian media regulators, including the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), have not done much to stem the tide of consolidation, as the CMCRP findings state: “In sum, the wave of consolidation blessed by the Competition Bureau and the CRTC stand as testaments to diversity denied. Canadians and the future evolution of the network media ecology in this country will labour under these conditions for years, probably decades, to come (CMCRP study).”
The concentration of media ownership has drawn criticism from the Canadian public in the past 10 years over concerns that “media concentration is compromising the potential contributions of the media to public life” (Winseck, 2008: 35). In a 2012 paper, Winseck argued that Bell and other vertically integrated conglomerates have “curbed the emergence of new services they perceive as being a threat to their interests” (Winseck, 2012: 28).
While drawing attention to the high degree of media ownership concentration, the CMCRP study also notes the rapid growth of mobile wireless, Internet access and cable, satellite and IPTV (where television services are delivered via the Internet) “are leading to an ever more Internet‐ and mobile wireless‐centric media ecology” (CMCRP study). These trends hold true in the French‐speaking regions of Canada as well.
The study also mentions that newspaper and magazine revenues peaked in 2008 and have fallen since then from $4.9 billion to $4.3 billion last year. With regard to newspaper revenue, while only two out of the 10 French-language dailies—Quebecor’s Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec—have put up paywalls, 24 English-language dailies accounting for two‐thirds of average daily circulation are now behind paywalls.
CBC’s role in the Canadian media market is diminishing as the country’s public broadcaster has seen its television revenue market share cut in half since 2000 (from 30 per cent to 15 per cent). The study states: “Today, Bell and Shaw stand where the CBC stood a dozen years ago, with revenues and market shares nearly double those of the CBC” (CMCRP study).
While Canadian television is characterized by a few players dominating the market, in the newspaper industry, “as the big players stumble, they are losing market share and, in some cases, being broken up, with significant divestitures leading to the emergence of a stronger second tier of daily newspaper publishers” (CMCRP study). The big players are Torstar, Postmedia, Quebecor,and The Globe and Mail, while the second-tier publishers include Transcontinental, Glacier and Black Press.
To find out more about the research project, go to www.cmcrp.org.
Winseck, D. (2012). Assessing the Effects of the Bell – Astral Acquisition on Media Ownership and Concentration in Canada. Prepared on behalf of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Consumers' Association of Canada, Canada Without Poverty, and Council of Senior Citizens' Organizations of British Columbia for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s Hearings on the proposed acquisition of Astral Media Inc. by Bell Canada: 1-36.
Winseck, D. (2008). The State of Media Ownership and Media Markets: Competition or Concentration and Why Should We Care?, Sociology Compass 2/1: 34–47.
Paul Fontaine is a PhD communication studies student at McGill University in Montreal.
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