NOTES FOR REMARKS BY SENATOR JIM MUNSON ON THE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE SECOND REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATIONS ENTITLED: FINAL REPORT ON THE CANADIAN NEWS MEDIA
It has been my privilege to sit on the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications and I am proud of the work we undertook to look at the Canadian news media. The final report this committee produced was comprehensive and included 40 recommendations. It was a serious piece of work. In it, the Senate committee outlined, among other things, worrisome developments in media concentration that are contrary to the public interest.
This concentration effectively silences the diversity of voices available to Canadians through the media. Recommendations included a call for a public review mechanism on issues of cross-ownership and concentration of ownership.
Of course we had other concerns. We also recommended an increased role for the CRTC to monitor and review cross-media mergers and ensure that a diversity of news and information programming is available through community television and radio.
In addition, we looked at the Competition Act, and asked the obvious question: If bank mergers can be reviewed for their impact on the public interest why are media mergers not subject to the same consideration and scrutiny?
How disappointing it was to read the response of the Government of Canada to this report. In a nutshell, the Government’s response to our report is this: Do not worry. Be happy.
The government’s response does not acknowledge market trends that limit the source of information to a few large organizations that are only becoming more powerful, thanks to a regulatory environment that allows it.
I do not have to tell you that Canada is a huge country with many different regions and a diverse population. To allow large communications giants to expand their control over the message is to fail in our duty to protect the public interest. In two of our largest cities, Montrealand Vancouver, news media are intensely concentrated. Canwest Global not only controls television and newspapers, but is now buying up community newspapers. In my home provinceof New Brunswick, the Irving group of companies owns nearly all the newspapers.
Huge deals take place to merge media giants and make them even bigger, and no one, no government body, says hang on, let us look at this.
The Senate report heard from many witnesses, and it is clear that when it comes to media, and a vigorous and free press, bigger is not necessarily better.
The government missed the boat in its response to our report. While it recognizes that Canadians get their news from a variety of media sources such as blogs, podcasting, the Internet, radio and television, it does not recognize diversity in the delivery of the message, and it does not guarantee diversity in the message. The reality is that blogs, podcasting, the Internet, radio programs and other sources of information report the same news, perhaps with some differences, but it is nevertheless the same news.
The government’s response seems to confuse the diversity of platforms with the diversity of sources and voices.
Our Senate committee believes that the interests of our country and Canadians are best served by a strong and vibrant news media. With our 40 recommendations, we make it clear that the status quo is not okay.
The status quo does not serve well the interests of Canadians today, and certainly not into the future.
Our Senate committee also looked at the role of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to see how its governance could be improved. Once again, it was no go.
This experience has been frustrating for our committee and I am sure, for Senator Tkachuk who sat with me in the committee and went across the country as we bonded in a non-partisan way and came to these conclusions. We looked at every issue. I am sure that Senator Tkachuk must be sitting here, concerned and worried that there has not much of a response from his own government on this issue. I look forward to Senator Tkachuk speaking to this issue one day, because I am sure we all agree with the 40 recommendations, and he has read Minister Oda’s response to it.
I find this situation frustrating on two levels. First, as a terminal news junky with childhood memories of listening to the news on the radio at a young age, and as a former reporter, I have a passion for the news and I have a passion for the profession of journalism. Worrisome trends in this country are affecting the practice of journalism. Independent thought, different perspectives, the foundation of a strong and healthy democracy, depend on many media sources, not only the biggest and most profitable ones. In Canada, we need to take action to ensure we hear many voices and see many points of view.
The second aspect of this issue that concerns me is the Government of Canada’s response to the comprehensive work undertaken by the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications. The Senate has a role to play in our democracy. We have a job to do and we do it well. For the Government to dismiss the concerns and recommendations of a standing Senate committee, is worrisome. The government’s response is to say the government believes that the balance contained in the current legislative, regulatory and policy framework, supported by various government programs, has served Canadians well.
This Senate committee studied some serious issues, raised serious concerns and made some serious recommendations. I am troubled that our work was dismissed with such a trivial response.
I am pleased to support the motion of Honourable Senator Di Nino and hope that many of my esteemed colleagues will support it, too.