Concentration of media ownership is dangerous

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There are some very powerful people in this country — starting with the Prime Minister — who wouldn't mind seeing the CBC reduced to a near-cadaver.

Last week, that possibility seemed a little more likely, as our struggling public broadcaster came under renewed fire.

Ironically, it was the CBC itself that got the fireball rolling. Apparently trying to make the job of its critics easier, CBC management turned its attention to the pressing problem of how to get more fluff onto prime time television, and came up with the idea of bumping the network's flagship news program to a different time-slot in order to accommodate the latest American program fad from the folks who invented Fear Factor.

Then came the release of a Senate committee report urging a commercial-free CBC. The National Post used this as an opportunity to leap in with a front-page commentary, raising once again the idea of privatizing the CBC. There was more coverage inside, under the heading: “Broadcaster Under Siege.”

The public broadcaster did seem under siege. Meanwhile, there was no spotlight trained on the private media, as they continue to consolidate ownership in fewer and fewer hands.

Media concentration in Canada has reached dangerous levels, compounded by the problem of cross-ownership between broadcasting and newspaper empires.

In the Vancouver area, for instance, media giant CanWest Global, controlled by the Asper family, controls more than 70 per cent of television news — and 100 per cent of daily newspapers, according to CEP, a union representing media workers.

In fact, last week's Senate report pointed to the problem of media concentration — as have past inquiries into Canada's news business — and recommended possible reviews of media mergers.

But the media largely ignored this part of the story. Better to flog the CBC.

Of course, expecting the private media to turn a critical spotlight on themselves is like expecting a doped athlete to draw attention to the problem of doping in sports.

This highlights an important problem. If the wealthy, corporate-owned private media don't consider something an issue, we tend not to hear about it.

We don't hear much, for instance, about the growing gap between rich and poor, the erosion of our social programs or foreign domination of our economy.

Which is why the CBC — the only network owned by the Canadian public, not by powerful corporations — could be so important.

It could provide some critical perspective and diversity in a media otherwise focused increasingly on terrorism, celebrity and home makeovers.

Sadly, in recent years, the CBC's self-confidence and funding have been eroded by unsupportive governments. Whereas Britain's BBC receives $120 per capita in public subsidies, the CBC receives only $32.

And now, a weak, jittery CBC is at the mercy of Stephen Harper, who has made clear he favours a bare-bones, highbrow CBC that wouldn't compete with — or steal ad revenue from — private broadcasters.

At some point, you've got to wonder: Who will tell the people?

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