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Commentary

Court-ordered CBC programming?

A judge in the Northwest Territories seems to think the courts have the ability to order CBC programming: a court ordered a CBC Radio broadcaster to air a program on family violence, as part of his sentence for spousal assault. Apart from any merit — and the sheer originality — of the sentence, it’s an astonishing overreach. Really, you’d think someone trained in the law would have an inkling about press rights and the long, hard-fought principle of non-interference.

An excerpt of the CBC North story:

The broadcaster was handed a conditional discharge on Nov. 20, after he pleaded guilty to assault after hitting his wife during an argument in early September. CBC News has chosen not to identify the broadcaster, as doing so would identify the victim of the assault.

Under the conditional discharge sentence, the man would have no record of the assault conviction if he obeys the conditions of his six-month probation.

One of those conditions requires the man to dedicate one of his radio broadcasts to the issue of domestic violence within the next four months. The CBC is now seeking legal advice on the broadcaster’s sentence.

“We’re looking at this with the idea that the courts really aren’t part of our programming, and they don’t actually tell us what to do,” John Agnew, CBC North’s regional director of radio and television, said Friday.  
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On suing Maclean’s

Maclean’s recently published an excerpt from a 2006 book  by Mark Steyn entitled, “The future belongs to Islam.” On Dec. 4, the Canadian Islamic Congress will hold a press conference to launch formal human rights complaints in Ontario, British Columbia and the Federal Human Rights Commissions for publishing an “Islamophobic article” that “subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt.”

There’s a quote commonly attributed to Voltaire, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed in 1948: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” 

The right to freedom of expression is the basis of all other “rights.”

’nuff said.

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Responsible journalism and the Ontario ruling

There is no defence at all for “irresponsible journalism,” wrote Toronto Star public editor Kathy English in a weekend column,What is responsible journalism on matters of public interest?

A recent Ontario court ruling “puts that question at the forefront of both journalism and the laws that affect Canadian media. And, as both the newsrooms and courtrooms across this country seek to answer it in coming years, it’s likely that journalism itself will be on trial,” said English. “It’s also likely that journalists will hold themselves accountable to higher ethical standards than ever before. In fact, we must.” 
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China’s Olympics

Chinese officials are denying reports they’re keeping dossiers on foreign journalists who are planning on covering the Beijing Olympics, reported the Associated Press.

The the Beijing Games open in less than nine months. Chinese officials are attempting to back away from widely published comments (Such as Agence France-Presse story) that the communist government is assembling a database to monitor foreign journalists.
Continue Reading China’s Olympics

Slow Journalism please: Al Jazeera chief

Media in the Arab world are “suffering from four major defects”, the director-general of Al Jazeera warned at a Media & Marketing conference in Dubai, reported Arabian Business. Wadah Khanfar said that 24-hour news was “obsessed by breaking news”, suffering from a “severe lack of historical context”, was “betraying” the masses, and should focus on diversity as the key to future success.

“We are suffering from immediacy and are obsessed by being the first to break news, we should have something called ‘slow journalism’ which digs deep and understands the consequences,” said Khanfar.

Only in the Arab world? I don’t think so.
Continue Reading Slow Journalism please: Al Jazeera chief

CanWest cuts: opposition

Unions are starting to speak up against the latest CanWest newsroom cutbacks, which they argue will erode local news coverage.

But where are the people who read/watch the news, and use it to help make decisions? When threats were perceived to California newspapers in recent years, in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, politicians, businesspeople and even some ordinary citizens protested — including with a small demonstration in the streets. Are Canadians completely apathetic? Are perhaps they ignorant, because they subscribe only to CanWest news for all their information? CanWest is apparently not reporting at all on these issues  — at least as is suggested by the fact recent searches of the CanWest database, for stories about the cutbacks, the formal complaint to the CRTC and the union grievance, failed to get any results. If you’re in CanWest, or know of CanWest reports about these issues,  speak up, won’t you?

From Vancouver radio station CKNW, one of the few commercial radio broadcasters with a newsroom any more:

The Union representing newspaper employees at the Vancouver Sun and Province has filed a grievance following a planned restructuring.
Mike Bocking with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union adds they are speaking with lawyers to figure out what to do next.

Last week, the Pacific Newspaper Group, which owns the two papers, offered buyout packages to its newsroom employees. Up to 30 employees could be lost. It’s also shifting jobs related to electronic layout back east.

A spokesperson for Pacific Newspaper says the changes will free up resources for the papers’ online and breaking news content.

Bocking says the moves could cost the papers their local voice.

Here’s a Canadian Press story that puts the issue in context — including the 200 job losses at CanWest TV operations across Canada. Excerpt:

Tensions are running high in CanWest newsrooms from Montreal to Vancouver in the wake of recent layoffs at the company’s television stations and fears that more cuts are ahead amid an apparent push to centralize editorial operations.

“Everybody in the newsroom has received a letter with the buyout offer,” said an editor at the Vancouver Sun who didn’t want to be identified.


“And in the case of the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal – those are non-unionized newsrooms so the company can do whatever it wants to do in a non-union situation. People are very fearful not just about layoffs but for the industry; deskers are quite depressed about the future of newspapers in general.”

The CP story quotes a CanWest executive defending the cuts as a means  to bolster local coverage and simply defer some pagination duties to CanWest Editorial Services in Hamilton, as well as critics who say CanWest is making a dramatic attempt to prove to their debt-holders that it can afford to buy Alliance Atlantis and its array of successful specialty channels.

Is it relevant to note that CanWest recently dumped the Canadian Press news service, to provide its own news?

Here’s the last Townhall post on CanWest, including context and criticism.

Continue Reading CanWest cuts: opposition

CanWest cuts newsroom staff

Hello? Hello! Is anybody reading this stuff? Does anybody care? Or are Canadians
— and the Canadian journalists who ought to be especially concerned
here — really a bunch of
sheep? Comment, already. If you won’t/can’t scream, picket or write to
your MPs, for Pete’s sake at least comment — just click the mouse
and comment.

Too afraid of hurting your journalism career to
speak out? Hey, I’ve got news for you: we’re losing journalism — let
along your pathetic career. See below:

Amid more cutbacks at CanWest newspapers, a union files a formal complaint to the CRTC arguing that the company is in breach of its broadcast licences.

The new cuts hit especially hard in Vancouver where 20 to 30 jobs will be eliminated —  and where the company has a near-monopoly on news. Earlier, CanWest had announced 200 jobs would be lost at broadcast operations across Canada.

Below are reports from the Globe and Mail and the Tyee. A search of the Vancouver Sun website turned up no reports about CanWest’s job cuts — which I say is a news story of major public interest and which would be reported by an ethical media outlet. Shame.

Vancouver’s two daily newspapers are cutting newsroom staff as the owner of The Vancouver Sun and The Province transfers work for both publications to Hamilton in a companywide bid to reduce costs. — The Globe and Mail.

Ahead: Fewer news jobs, more news ‘platforms.’ — The Tyee

Work Outsourced from Sun, Province Newsrooms — The Tyee

Here’s the response to CanWest’s cuts to broadcast operations, from Canada’s largest media union, in a Nov. 9 press release:

OTTAWA, Nov. 9 /CNW Telbec/ – CanWest will be in breach of its broadcast licences if it moves ahead with plans to centralize its Global television operations without CRTC approval, says Canada’s largest media union.

    The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada today filed a detailed complaint to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission outlining a series of breaches of both CanWest’s licences and the Broadcasting Act, if CanWest’s centralization plans go forward.

snip

    Murdoch says CanWest is slowly eroding local news across the country through centralization at both its broadcast and print divisions. Having just announced it would be laying off 200 people at its television stations, CanWest is now also cutting editorial jobs in a number of its newspaper newsrooms across the country.

    “These cutbacks by CanWest at its newspapers and broadcasting stations are the result of high levels of media ownership concentration promoted by the CRTC, actions which federal inquiries and parliamentary committees have been warning about for decades. Sadly, the Harper government is not only unconcerned but appears to condone the control of our media by foreign interests.”

    Murdoch says that it is not without significance that CanWest is reducing its newsroom workforce at the same time that it is trying to cement a deal with a large American investment house to buy Alliance Atlantis.

    “The CRTC needs to tell CanWest clearly and directly that it can’t buy a new property by ignoring the commitments it has made to Canadians and the CRTC in the past about its existing licences. If the CRTC doesn’t act, then it is moving away from being an independent agency that serves all Canadians and the public interest, and closer to becoming an arm of the stock exchange.”

An earlier Townhall post puts the cuts in context, including with excerpts from the scathing Senate report on media concentration.

Continue Reading CanWest cuts newsroom staff

Broadcast subscriber fees considered

Canada’s federal broadcast regulator will consider the issue of a subscriber fee to fund the operations of conventional over-the-air broadcasters, reported CBC. The decision to consider such a fee, to be paid by cable and satellite firms to carry the signals of conventional broadcasters, is a reversal of a position the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission took in May.

The story quoted a speech by CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein: “The OTA (over the air) sector has been a mainstay of the Canadian broadcasting system, but there is no mistaking the fact that it now faces significant challenges. Consequently, we have adjusted our approach to the upcoming review.”

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The Irvings and the courts

Deb Jones tracks the story of a New Brunswick newspaper family’s legal struggle against an ex-employee who allegedly stole their publishing secrets and now wants to start a competing newspaper.
Continue Reading The Irvings and the courts

News and thoughts about CanWest

As it continues to lose operations money and to cut journalism jobs, media conglomerate CanWest Global reported a Q4 rise in its net profits, to $197 million from $155 million, said a Canadian Press report. The company — which in some Canadian markets such as on British Columbia’s south coast enjoys a near-monopoly on print and television media — “lost money on operations in its fiscal fourth quarter but ended up with a higher net profit thanks to asset sales,” reported CP.

CanWest announced 200 job cuts in early October at television stations across Canada, most of them in Atlantic Canada. The CP story noted it “has also been making selected staffing cuts to some of its newspaper properties, the former big-city Southam chain of dailies, which stretch from Vancouver to Montreal. There were no details on the job cuts revealed in the conference call and a CanWest spokesperson did not return a call to The Canadian Press Friday afternoon. On Wednesday the publisher of the Montreal Gazette, which is part of the CanWest chain, issued a memo to employees saying the paper wanted to cut newsroom staff.”

Meanwhile CanWest continues to swell in size: a CRTC review is pending on the $2.3 billion acquisition of rival broadcaster Alliance Atlantis
Communications Inc., by CanWest with U.S. partner Goldman Sachs.

IMO, financial reports of giant media companies require some context. So here, in part, is what  a 2006 report by Canada’s (unfortunately toothless) Senate  had to say about media concentration in Canada, under the section “IN DEFENCE OF THE PUBLIC INTEREST:”

Media companies in Canada have a privileged position under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These companies are quick to make note of their special status when seeking, for example, greater access to information or the protection of sources.
In presentations before this Committee, proprietors and chief executive officers have tended to extend their claim of a special status (that is, independence from government interference in news operations) to a much larger and more contentious claim, that all of their operations should be free from any form of government regulation other than laws of general application (for example, libel, slander, tax and employment law). The Committee believes that this claim goes too far and does not represent an appropriate extension of their Charter protections.
 
This being said, the Committee accepts the principle that the government has no role in the newsrooms of the nation. Nothing that is proposed in this report should be construed as interfering in the news operations of media organizations. The Committee also agrees that proprietors should run their companies as they see fit, producing products ranging from world class, to mediocre or even terrible. They also are free to espouse whatever political position they choose in their opinion pages.
 
The media’s right to be free from government interference does not extend, however, to a conclusion that proprietors should be allowed to own an excessive proportion of media holdings in a particular market, let alone the national market. Yet the current regulatory regime in Canada does little to prevent such an outcome.

The Senate report went on to compare Canada’s media concentration to that found elsewhere in the developed world:

The Canadian situation with respect to media mergers or media concentration is atypical among large democracies. French law, for example, restricts the ownership and control of private sector broadcasters. The United Kingdom limits ownership of national newspapers and certain types of broadcast licences. Australia restricts foreign investment, concentration and cross ownership of broadcasting. The United States restricts the number of broadcast stations (radio or television) that a single person or entity can own in a given geographical area. The United States also restricts cross-ownership of multiple media outlets.[28] So does Germany. [29]
All this raises some questions: do few journalists speak out on the crucial issue of media concentration — and its implications for Canada’s democracy and quality Canadian journalism — because with so few potential employers any criticism is a career-killer?

Does Canada’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression ever extend to for-profit corporations, especially corporations whose owners have demonstrated that they will use their holdings to pursue their own viewpoints and shed themselves of employees who are divergent thinkers? (Regarding CanWest, see here, herehere, this rather angry here, or just Google “media concentration.”

(Disclosure: I’m a former member of the editorial board at the
Vancouver Sun, which is now owned by CanWest. I am happily employed
elsewhere, as an independent by choice.)

Continue Reading News and thoughts about CanWest