can hope, but Kent report likely to go the way of Davey's
By Paul Park
killed Cock Robin?
"I," said the sparrow,
" With my
Who killed Canadian newspapers?
"I," said Lord Ken,
With a stroke of my pen."
It was precisely that sort of arrogant feeling
among the owners of what
remains of the Canadian newspaper industry that led to the
establishment of the Royal Commission on Newspapers headed by Tom Kent.
Sadly, when the commission finishes its work by
July, little will have
been accomplished to make the owners of the media change that attitude.
They will continue to deliver a product below their capabilities,
crammed with ads and too many bright, light and trite "lifestyle"
When one considers what could have been done, what
real changes could
have been made, what a total all-round kick in the ass this business
could receive, and when one looks at what will happen, depression is
likely to set in.
It's not that these commissioners are not
qualified to look at the
state of news-papering today. Tom Kent was once an editorial writer and
editor in chief of the Winnipeg Free
Press. Borden Spears, although a former editor of Maclean's and
consultant to the Davey committee, is best known as the
man who, while at the Toronto
Star, did every thing except bundle the
newspapers for the carriers. Laurent Picard was once president of the CBC.
The problem is the system and the mandate the
commission was given.
Canada does not have anti-trust laws which have any teeth in them. Only
market forces kept Power Corporation from buying Argus a few years
back, only market forces prevented Campeau Corporation from buying
Royal Trustco Ltd. recently and, unless changes are made to the present
combines laws, perhaps only market forces will stop one of the two
major newspaper chains from buying the other. Likewise, the Kent
commission is looking solely into the workings of the newspapers at a
time when most of them are owned by major corporations with holdings in
Southam at least concentrates on communications as
a company policy.
Thomson owns newspapers in three countries,
department stores and has interests in North Sea oil.
Even some of Canada's independently owned
newspapers have non-newspaper interests. The Toronto Star owns
several weekly papers and a large chunk of Harlequin books (which may
the tone of some of the Star's
editorials). The London Free Press
proprietor of the local radio and television stations and a string of
To investigate newspapers as exclusive entities
without looking at them
in the broader context of the corporate world defeats the whole purpose
of the inquiry.
Borden Spears told Content the commission will be
closely" at the events which led to the closing on August 27 of the
the Ottawa Journal
and the FP News Service
sale of Pacific Press and an interest in the Montreal Gazette to
Southam by Thomson. Already some of the victims of Black Wednesday have
contacted the commission to make submissions.
But the best the commission can do is to make
prevent a recurrence of the closings. But what kind of hard legislation
can be enacted? If a paper is losing money at a rate which makes it
"impossible to continue publishing," how is its owner to be obliged to
carry on running it?
One of the few possibilities is government
subsidy. But newspaper
people are loath to support this, in spite of the successful subsidies
systems in Europe and the example here of the CBC, which runs a
operation as independent as any.
Even Britain and the United States, which have
stronger laws than
Canada's to combat concentration of ownership, particularly in the
media, have been unable to make any dent in it. The British board set
up to review newspaper activities has been powerless to stop the
closing of the Times
(As Fraser MacDougall, executive secretary of the
Council, points out, Thomson struck a better deal with its London
employees, giving them nearly six months' notice of the paper's demise,
than it did with its Ottawa people, who were given no warning.)
The one bright spot in the Kent study is the
decision to look at the
technology of newspapers and how it will affect the publishing industry.
MacDougall suggests the future of publishing may
lie with small
community weeklies. Those outlets, whether serving a large rural area
or the suburban section of a major city, are able—whether
do— to provide readers and small advertisers with a forum
in big dailies.
What is in store for the future of dailies? Since
Black Wednesday one
of the cities affected, Winnipeg, has seen the birth of a thrice-weekly
tabloid. In two others, Montreal and Vancouver, Southam is studying the
prospect of starting a new paper. Ottawa is without a second daily
although the Gazette,
and to a lesser extent The
Globe and Mail, have
increased local coverage in the capital.
The federal government is promising tough new
which will include attention to press monopolies. The government
forcing the large chains to lay low, at least for a while.
Technology changes mean newspapers and other data
can be shunted from
one side of the country to the other in seconds. The leader in the
in Canada so far has been The
Globe and Mail, which now prints its
national editions in Montreal and Calgary, and whose InfoGlobe service
is available to businesses and government departments as a handy,
electronic clipping service.
Ten years ago, the Davey report looked to the
future of Canadian
journalism. The report is still around, but Davey's findings are
scrutinized mainly by journalism students.
Borden Spears thinks theKent commission will be
paid closer attention
by the cabinet, since it is a government report. One can only hope he
is right, but fear he is
Park is Content's Ottawa contributing
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