Stifling the press

Some very unlikely people in Canada are thinking to themselves or even saying out loud: “Bring back Conrad Black.” Even those who found newspaper baron Black too intrusive and meddlesome are now thinking that perhaps he wasn’t quite so bad after all.

The devil we knew only a couple of years ago was better than the new demons in charge. CanWest Global (Izzy Asper and son Leonard) recently took over most of Black’s papers and added them to their media conglomerate. Their empire now consists of over 140 newspapers, a TV network, radio stations, etc., including this provinceÔÇÖs two daily papers.

Just because a chain or large corporation owns a string of media outlets does not mean the owners will interfere in editorial policy. In fact, most media chains in Canada have not exercised heavy-handed editorial
involvement. For decades, the Thomson and Southam chains maintained a distance from the newsroom and editorial offices regardless of who the owners were.

But the Aspers have taken the gloves off. They have decided that sometimes their newspapers will all take the same editorial stands – dictated by head office in Winnipeg. There will also be “core positions” determined by the corporation, and no paper will be allowed to “contradict” them.

The reason advanced by the Aspers is that their company wants a Canada-wide perspective. Coincidentally they say that Canadians also want the same national perspective instead of a regional or local (i.e., parochial) one.

To people in Newfoundland and Labrador, or Atlantic Canada, that’s a joke, and not a very funny one. Of course there are some issues or topics where people want a national perspective to predominate, but there are many exceptions.

If a national outlook on the fishery or FPI or Newfoundland’s economy were to be mutely accepted, the remaining population of this province would probably have to pack up its bags and head off elsewhere. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians want additional local input into national decisions rather than the other way around. We already get plenty of national perspectives on issues, we want more of a local and regional outlook, not less.

Just wait until the Winnipeg corporate barons pronounce themselves on issues such as FPI or Voisey┬╣s Bay.

Perhaps community or local media outlets, such as this newspaper, should be happy that the Asper empire is taking such a stance. People seeking a strong local advocate will increasingly turn to truly local operations such as this one, not those whose policies are handed down from 3,500 kilometres away.

But the independence of Canada┬╣s media has been gravely damaged, and ultimately that┬╣s no good for anybody.