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Over There (in the UK)

June 21, 2002 at 10 AM

Media in the News

Much ado in Canada this week about the firing of Russell Mills, publisher of the Ottawa Citizen. The controversy surrounds the reason for his dismissal, namely, that he allowed an editorial criticizing the Prime Minister to run without seeking permission from the Citizen’s parent company, CanWest Global.

The Globe and Mail, one of the few dailies in Canada not owned by Global and the Liberal Party affiliated Asper family, has had a field day with this one, publishing reports of Global’s falling share price, and allowing Mills and other former employees a chance to exact verbal revenge. Meanwhile, company president Leonard Asper has announced that Mills’s firing stemmed from repeated insubordination, and not from just one incident.

The whole story reeks of course, but it’s not as simple as the Globe columnists might think. The Aspers, whom I’ve criticized before, have an undeniable right to control what they publish in their own paper, and if their employees step out of line, they have a right to terminate them. Anything else amounts to state control of the press, which is, I hope we can all agree, ultimately worse than heavy-handed corporate control.

That said, it is both ignorant and shortsighted of Global to force a point of view — in this case, that the governing Liberal Party deserves a break — on its journalists and its readers. For one, nobody ever sold newspapers saying how great life is under the status quo. But more importantly, the media have a responsibility to act as watchdog to democracy, the so-called fourth estate, and to do that, it is necessary to criticize those in power. It’s the nature of the beast. Ultimately, if Global’s newspapers become less critical, they will become less relevant, and will instead contribute to the ongoing decline of influence that news media have on people’s lives. Along with that comes the rise of apathy, and really, that’s good for no one except despots like Chrétien. (Oops, my biases are revealed.) Despite what the Aspers think, a more friendly media will eventually just hurt their bottomline.

The irony is that a lot of people seem to be clamouring for the government to Do Something!, as they always do when the world doesn’t seem to serve the public interest. And perhaps they’re right in a sense. There is something wrong with media ownership in Canada, but it’s entirely because of the government, not in spite of it. Besides, do we really want the Liberals messing around with media legislation when the guys that own the media are big Liberals too?

Ownership controls abound in this country, the intent of them being to ensure that no unsavoury characters take over the media, and that “Canadian” news and ideas take precedence. But mainly that means that foreign interests are not allowed to control mass media in Canada. And since there seem to be very few people within the country interested in running a press (and the one who was — Conrad Black — was chased out), that means there is no thriving competition.

Open the floodgates. Spill some fresh blood. Allow the Dutch, the French, the English, and gasp, the Americans to open newspapers here. Hell, I’m bored of Canadian news anyway.

Comments

The New York Times sounds American to me but the owner(s) is/are not American. Same with the Jerusalem Post, it seems to be owned by Israelis, it isn’t. It can work in Canada as well. Maybe foreign owners of The Gazette, etc. could permit live hyperlinks in their articles, just like most media and weblogs do.

— Aaron | Jun. 21, 2002 — 11 AM

Previously: Brasil Vivo

Subsequently: A Case of the Mondays

June 2002
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