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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.”

Continue Reading Broadcast subscriber fees considered

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

Zahra Kazemi ruling expected

There are reports that Iran’s supreme court will soon rule in the case of  Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photographer , who died in a Tehran prison in June 2003. An Agence France-Presse report from Tehran cites the Kazemi family lawyer as a source, quoting from a news agency in Iran.  The lawyer,  Mohammad Seifzadeh,, is part of a legal team led by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

AFP noted that Iran’s supreme court heard an appeal in the case last July: “Her family’s lawyers had demanded a fresh probe into what they alleged was her “intentional murder” after she died in custody following her arrest for photographing a demonstration outside Tehran’s notorious Evin prison in June 2003.”
Continue Reading Zahra Kazemi ruling expected

Stop deregulation, says coalition opposed to CRTC policies

A coalition of 18 artist and business groups from across Canada has asked Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner to rein in the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. The CRTC, under chairman Konrad von Finckenstein, has made a series of market-oriented decisions that marks a drift toward deregulation, the groups said.

— From a story on CBC.ca

Continue Reading Stop deregulation, says coalition opposed to CRTC policies

Wolf’s claims of fascism: true or false?

“What do you think when you hear someone like Naomi Wolf comparing America to a fascist state? If you were reporting about her arguments and claims, how would you proceed?” Those questions are from a must-read column by Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark. Good questions. Better yet is the sage advice he offers in response to them.

Continue Reading Wolf’s claims of fascism: true or false?

Coyne joins Maclean’s

Andrew Coyne will become the national editor of Maclean’s newsmagazine, announced publisher and editor-in-chief Ken Whyte. Coyne will join Maclean’s in early November, said a press release, noting that Coyne will ll write a column as well as longer pieces.

At the National Post Coyne was national affairs columnist; he has also been an editorial writer and columnist for The Financial Post, The Globe and Mail, and the Southam newspaper chain. He has won two National Newspaper Awards and the Hyman Solomon Award for Excellence in Public Policy Journalism. A native of Winnipeg, Coyne has a B.A. in Economics and History from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics.
Continue Reading Coyne joins Maclean’s

Nolen wins PEN Courage award

Globe and Mail Africa correspondent Stephanie Nolen won the 2007 PEN Canada Paul Kidd Courage Prize, for her coverage of the AIDS crisis in Africa. (Nolen’s 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa is also on the short list for the 2007 Governor General’s literary award.)

“By staking out the HIV/AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa as her beat, Nolen has put herself in the midst of unspeakable human tragedy, day after day, month after month, and year after year,” said PEN Canada.

Here’s a (surprisingly brief) story in the Globe and Mail.

A CBC story about the award is here.
Continue Reading Nolen wins PEN Courage award

Press gallery dinner

“It was enough to melt the heart of a cynical scribe: a standing ovation for two Conservative cabinet ministers – from the parliamentary press gallery,” leads John Ward of the Canadian Press, in a report about the parliamentary press gallery dinner in Ottawa. The journalists saluted Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon and Jean-Pierre Blackburn just for showing up — as the only members of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet who deigned to attend the Oct. 27 event.

An excerpt of the CP story:

Traditionally, the dinners have attracted the cream of Parliament Hill and Ottawa, with senior officials, diplomats and MPs jockeying for invitations from journalists. This year however, Harper bowed out, followed almost immediately by Governor General Michaelle Jean. Within days, all of Harper’s cabinet – save for Blackburn and Cannon – were sending their regrets and cancelling commitments made months ago to attend the event.

The prime minister has been feuding with parliamentary journalists for a year or more and it’s said the Governor General was upset when her speech at her last appearance was taken out of context by the Quebec media.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion and NDP leader Jack Layton attended, noted Ward, while “Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe hasn’t attended for years.” Ward’s story neglected to say if Elizabeth May was there (another example of how the media often ignores the upstart Green party even as it rivals the NDP’s popularity in some ridings?) although the Ottawa Citizen reported that May attended.

The Citizen’s story by William Lin and Tony Atherton provided some background and context to the dinner, which stopped being “off the record” in 1994.  An excerpt of the Citizen story:

The dinner was once an almost weekend-long drunk in which the men in power and the men who wrote about them (female journalists weren’t invited) donned tuxedos to engage in locker-room banter — all under a veil of absolute secrecy …

…. Over the years, the boozy old-boys club of off-the-record sniggering and intemperate carousing was worn away by the incursions of sobriety, journalistic ethics, political correctness and public exposure.

By the early ’90s, the dinner was seen as an anachronism. Media outlets protested the off-the-record nature (even if their reporters did not). For two years running, prime minister Brian Mulroney declined to attend, raising questions of the affair’s survival.

Ironically, when the the dinner abandoned its secrecy in 1994, it enjoyed a revival. It became a place where politicians might score some points with an audience broader than a bunch of jaded journalists.

Continue Reading Press gallery dinner