Several major media mergers are threatening to make the Canadian media scene an even more concentrated affair: CTVglobemedia has inhaled CHUM (with Rogers taking the spoils), Alliance Atlantis is on the brink of becoming a part of CanWest Global, and Quebecor Media is poised to take over Osprey Media.

In June 2006, the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications’s Report on the Canadian News Media concluded that there are “areas where the concentration of ownership has reached levels that few other countries would consider acceptable.” Canadians agree: well before the latest round of mergers, 56 per cent of Canadians said they had less trust in the media because of media consolidation, and fewer than 1 in 5 Canadians thought news organizations were independent.

Canadians understand very clearly the effects of media consolidation on media choice. CanWest will now own the Independent Film Channel (IFC). Since CanWest is known for its conservative editorial stances, this change indicates that the IFC is now anything but Independent.

Or again: as a result of CTVglobemedia’s purchase of CHUM, the same company now owns MTV Canada and MuchMusic. One of these channels will likely face considerable divestment. It just wouldn’t make good business sense to keep aggressively investing in both. Both of these channels have become crucial spaces for the development of youth culture, and important sites of exposition for Canadian artists, as well as favourites among media consumers.

The Canadian Energy, Communications and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) recently published a landmark study focusing on Canadian journalists titled Voices From the Newsroom. The study suggests that journalists and news consumers are already feeling the brunt of big media domination.

Only 9.5 per cent of journalists indicated that they believe the corporate owners of their news outlets valued good journalism over profit. This perspective perhaps reflects the bookkeepersâe(TM) view of employees as liabilities — a management approach that is only exacerbated when big media get bigger.

CHUM laid off 281 people and cancelled news broadcasts across the country just hours before CTVglobemedia announced its intention to take over CHUM. Quebecor — another big media enterprise looking to get bigger — has locked out the office and editorial staff of the Journal de Québec since April 22, 2007. Journalists tried to restart the negotiation process in mid-June, only to have Quebecor negotiators reject their efforts, sticking to their original demands from December 2006.

With this kind of treatment it is not surprising that 44 per cent of journalists in the CEP study report decreasing desire to stay in journalism. With the recent and likely continuation of big media centralization we can look forward to more unemployed or dissatisfied journalists, and with more media consumers left wanting the penetrating journalism that used to be more prevalent in Canada.

Some people point to the Internet as the medium that will save us all from concentrated print and broadcast uniformity. Unfortunately, a high level of media consolidation also means that we are in danger of losing the open Internet in Canada and the ability to chose which websites we go to. For the most part, the media conglomerates that dominate conventional media also dominate web traffic.

As big media increasingly merge with Internet service providers like Rogers, BCE (Bell), and Telus, we risk unwittingly trading our open Internet for a closed system. In such a system, Internet (and cellphone) service providers can push traffic to their own content and that of their partners, while traffic to other more diverse media sites is slowed or blocked.

During the Telus strike in 2005, the corporation blocked access to a website run by striking Telus employees called Voices for Change. There are many more examples of non-neutral Internet service-provider behaviour. A lone blogger or independent news website is hard-pressed to compete with the vast holdings and promotional clout wielded by national media conglomerates.

Canadians have historically supported media diversity. In 2002, an Ipsos-Reid poll reported that 86 per cent of Canadians believed the federal government should do something to alleviate Canadians’ concerns about media concentration.

However, there is a new factor now. Canadians from across the country are speaking out loudly and clearly, asking for media choice over big media domination. In just a three-week span nearly 2,000 Canadians submitted comments to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) demanding tighter ownership rules for big media. The question is, will the CRTC take the lead from the Canadian public? With a clear indication that Canadians want a more diverse media system with more media choice, will the CRTC live up to its mandate to regulate media in the public interest?

We wonâe(TM)t have to wait long to find out: The CRTC is holding a public hearing (Diversity of Voices Proceeding) to review media ownership rules beginning on Monday, Sept. 17.

Canadians can learn more and get involved in critical Canadian media democracy issues at the Canadians for Democratic Media.

Steve Anderson

Steve Anderson

Steve Anderson is the founder and executive director of is an award-winning Canadian nonprofit organization working to advance and support an open and innovative communications...