26 Oct 2011

Journalists, community groups need
to develop independent Canadian media

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part 1 was published on October 18 entitled Corporate-owned media manipulation threatens Canadian democracy

It is shocking that – in the 21st Century – we still have a system under which corporate over-lords – not the journalists who produce the news – control the process that determines the content of mainstream media.

Reporters and editors in mainstream media in Canada and the United States now operate at the whim of strong-armed publishers and owners who cater to the interests of the wealthy and corporations. Mainstream journalists who might have independent views are usually afraid to argue with senior editors over the content of their articles. 

Canadian journalists need to grow some hind legs! While professionals in areas such as law and medicine have control over their work, mainstream journalists appear to lack the determination, or interest, to fight for the right to control the content of vitally important news that serves as the backbone of our democratic process.

Journalists also need to increase their awareness level concerning their position in society. They need to listen to, and support, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations because the one per cent that controls our lives is the same one per cent that owns and controls our for-profit news organizations. 

As a solution to these problems, Canadians desperately need to develop both more capable and larger independent and alternative media outlets. This is not to say that a number of excellent independent and alternative media outlets have not emerged on the Internet in recent years.

The Tyee, which targets primarily a British Columbia audience, provides an outstanding service, providing balanced, in-depth reporting and probing columns that is unavailable in the mainstream.

Non-conformist news and opinion appears on many Internet-based sites, such as Straight Goodsrabble.ca and The Media Co-op. Two sites – the Progressive Economics Forum and The Mark  – carry thoughtful and detailed analysis and commentary.

While independent sites have news and opinion that is informative and challenging, the whole lot together do not come close to matching the audience reached by either The Globe and Mail or CTV News on any given day. Moreover, most of the independent sites lack the resources to do in-depth and investigative journalism.

As a first step, the public needs to be convinced of the great danger of one-sided reporting and censorship. We like to think that Canadian media would never be subjected to strong controls but, if certain political conditions exist, government interference in media can exist anywhere in the world. The current self-censorship and media manipulation we have in the mainstream press in Canada and the United States could turn into something much worse under authoritarian government if we are not vigilant.

The country’s two media associations could play an important role in giving credibility to the fact that our media is being badly manipulated.

Freedom of expression and media diversity are major interests of Canadian Journalists forFree Expression (CJFE), while the rights of journalists and ethical issues are high on the agenda of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ). Together or separately, with financial support from the country’s journalists’ unions, they could launch a research project into how damaging corporate control of media is to the public and freedom of expression.

Other actions could be taken to launch a process that would help bring Canadians news and opinion that is more balanced and less ideological.

Here’s a long-shot possibility: Perhaps one of the large media organizations, such as The National Post, could be challenged under the Charter of Rights. A particular group of people would have to be able to document that that The Post coverage was discriminatory and that they, as a group, suffered as a consequence. It is hard to say how far the case would proceed – but even taking up such a case would create greater public awareness of the problem.

However, so the public voice can begin to match the power of the corporate voice, what the Canadian public needs most is non-profit, public-owned media. Non-profit media that is owned and controlled by large and small public-interest organizations would by their very nature provide news and information of interest to a wide spectrum of people.

Last winter I wrote a series of seven articles that, in part, explained what I think could be done to establish more non-profit, independent media outlets in the country. The articles can be read on my blog A Different Point of View, beginning in December 2010.

More small, but likely poorly-funded news sites will no doubt be set up in Canada. But, because such sites have limited ability to reach large number of people, we have to campaign for a new model that would provide an independent media outlet with adequate funding.

Such a project would require some arms-length government funding.  I think that such a vehicle could maintain its independence if it were funded on a one-third model: one-third of the funding would come from public gifts and memberships; one third from advertising; and one-third from arms-length government grants.

I am convinced that this non-profit model has to be the media model at some point in the future – when the public realizes the damage caused by corporate media ownership.

Before this can happen, the public needs to be convinced that it is perfectly acceptable for our government to give money to independent media that will strive to serve the public interest. European governments have been providing massive support for media organizations for many years, and the result has been a stronger, more diversified media than we have in Canada.

In Canada, the federal government has a history of subsidizing the distribution of rural newspapers as well as the publication of cultural literature in small magazines. Of course Hell will no doubt freeze over before the Harper government would consider putting substantial amounts of money into independent media – why should they when practically all of the corporate media organizations support them?

But we don’t need to wait for a change of government at the federal level to begin lobbying for support to help set up independent media. Even now, the federal NDP – possibly a government in waiting – can be approached to see if it will add support for funding of independent media to its list of policies.

A few provincial governments already have programs that support aspects of the media. There is no reason why municipalities across the country can’t develop programs that could help independent media.

Individuals who care about free expression and media diversity need to begin talking more about the problems we are now faced with in Canada.

In the end, when it comes to protecting democracy nothing is more important than making sure the public has access to a diverse body of different opinions on a daily basis. That is the goal we all need to work towards.


  1. The media ought to be primarily NGOs, and a multitude of them.


    As the overlords media is now and as the 'free press' once was, does not change the fact that the media produce "stories" which are basically "commodities" for sale; that is the primary motive is to produce something to be exchanged for the real wants of the producer; it is not to produce anything with intrinsic value. As such a volume of half truthes designed to promote the interests of the controllers who are the elite owners and/or advertisers is the order of the day.

    While nothing is perfect when run by imperfect people a diverse ownership or control at least brings in an element of debate or a search for truth and reality.

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