American Influence Pervasive in
Canadian Newspapers, Radio, TV
Politics and the Media in Canada
Arthur Siegel, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 192 pages, $10.95
Reviewed by Paul Audley
This new study represents an important addition to
the growing literature that documents the inadequacy of the existing
media in meeting Canada's social, political, and cultural needs.
At the same time, because few insights are offered into how the
problems identified might be resolved, Arthur Siegel's book is a
Siegel's basic purpose is to examine the mass media that disseminate
information, opinion, and entertainment on a daily or continuing
basis, and to study the political, social and economic environment
in which they operate. The special focus of his study, which deals
with newspapers, radio and television, is on whether these media
"bond" Canada and Canadians together or fragment the
nation and isolate or divide Canadians.
Like other observers before him, Siegel concludes that "the
modern media have become agents of denationalization." He identifies
two separate aspects of the denationalization problem: first, the
spillover of U.S. content, and secondly, the fragmentation and regionalization
of the media within Canada.
At the outset, Siegel observes that in both the media addressed
in his study and those that are not — including magazines, books
and films — American influence and American content is pervasive.
Broadcasting has "served as a roadway for American influence."
Newspapers often contain more information that originates or is
processed in the United States than information about Canada.
The familiar recital of depressing statistics is unusually thorough.
The economic reality behind the figures is, for the most part, clearly
identified. In Canada "mass communications is essentially a
profit-making industry." In the case of television "Canadian
content is a burden on profitability." "Economic realities,"
Siegel argues, "are the principal reasons for the massive
importation of American entertainment. It is far cheaper to buy
the U.S. product than to produce equivalent Canadian programming."
The incentive structure and the resulting reliance on imports is
just the same for international news. As a result "the international
news flow into Canada continues to be of largely American origin;"
Canadian Press's efforts at international news collecting are dismissed
as "little more than tokenism."
In the face of the flood of U.S. content, the Canadian material
that is produced is to a very substantial degree local or regional
in nature. As a result the Canadian media, Siegel argues, tend to
reinforce the regional character of the country that arose originally
out of geographic isolation and the existence of two language groups.
Efforts to tie the country together have largely focussed on the
development and use of communication technology and have, ironically,
served primarily as highways for foreign content to be communicated
among Canadians. The flow of information, opinion and cultural expression
among the regions of Canada is limited; so too is the exchange
between French and English speaking Canadians.
In addition to the combination of the profit motive and the low
costs and limited risks that make importing in most cases the sound
commercial strategy for Canada's media industries, Siegel suggests
two further factors. First, he argues that "a degree of indifference
about the national implications" of the news media's behavior
has been one of the main reasons that so little commitment has been
made to generating Canadian news coverage. Secondly, he claims
that "when the choice is free Canadians are likely to choose
the U.S. media."
It is unfortunate that this study never follows its recognition
of the incentive structure of the commercial media through to an
analysis of the degree to which various elements of the media in
Canada function as a lobby, a lobby against any requirements that
they spend more on generating or supplying additional Canadian
Beyond the suggestion of indifference noted above, Siegal in fact
gives relatively little attention to the political realities that
account for Canada's strange inability to address what the British
writer, Anthony Smith, has described as "a kind of running
national crisis." Not only would it cost more and involve real
risks of lower profit if the media performed more responsibly in
providing Canadian material, it might also result in some displacement
of U.S. content in the Canadian market.
The political realities of pressure from both Canadian and American
industry, and possible American government resistance to measures
that might significantly increase the Canadian component in the
media mix require a degree of recognition and analysis that are
not offered in this study.
If any action is to be taken to improve the performance of the
media in Canada, the measures taken will have to accommodate both
the concerns of the Canadian media that their profits not be adversely
affected and the concerns of the United States that its cultural
products continue to have fair access to a Canadian market that
some of the American media at present consider simply a part of
their domestic U.S. market. The scope for maneuver is relatively
limited. Whether it is worthwhile to try to put together a combination
of financial incentives which might offset the worries of Canadian
media owners about their profits and the required political courage
and diplomatic give-and-take to address American concerns is the
key question for the Canadian Government.
For it to seem worth the certain trouble it will cause, the assumption
must be made that Canada as a separate nation is worth preserving
and that Canadians will support measures to establish the "efficient
internal communications" which Siegel recognizes as one of
the apparent requirements of nationhood.
There is, in fact, a great deal of evidence available from the many
surveys of public opinion that have been carried out which shows
that a substantial majority of Canadians believe that action should
be taken to strengthen Canadian expression through the media. While
public attitudes represent an important political factor the available
information is not assessed in this study. While Siegel does suggest
at one point that, as noted above, Canadians prefer U.S. media
content, the evidence he presents is that well-financed Canadian
alternatives are generally unavailable. In the case of television,
the most influential of the media, he notes: "When most Canadians
are watching television there are few alternatives to U.S. programming
While the particular focus of this study is on the role of the
media in nation-building it also addresses a wide range of issues,
including the decline of competitive journalism in Canada, concentration
of media ownership, freedom of information, libel law, the history
and functions of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and the impact
of new technologies. While the author's opinions are bluntly expressed,
in most cases a wide range of information is assembled as a basis
for judging the merits of the author's views. The unfortunate exception
is a very partial and biased presentation of the recommendations
of the (Kent) Royal Commission on Newspapers. While admitting that
forceful steps are required not just to avoid further newspaper
concentration but to stimulate a more competitive media industry,
the Kent Commission's recommendations are all lumped together indiscriminately
as proposals for government "control" and "intrusion"
into the industry. No realistic alternatives are suggested. There
is in fact a general tendency in Siegel's analysis to equate politics
with government and to see the economy and the business community
as apolitical realities.
Despite its shortcomings however, Politics and the Media in Canada
represents a valuable contribution. The unresolved internal tensions
and conflicts it contains suggest that it might be viewed as work
in progress. It is to be hoped that its author will in the future
expand the wide-ranging analysis he has begun, continuing to draw
as he has here on history, sociology, economics and politics.
Published in SOURCES Summer 83
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