Will big media use the economic crisis to abandon their public role?

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $5 per month!

Two of Canada's biggest media conglomerates have announced cuts as fallout from the bursting financial bubble spreads. In mid-November, Canwest announced it was cutting 560 jobs in its TV and newspaper operations; last week, CTVglobemedia warned of looming layoffs.

The economic crisis makes the announcements seem reasonable and prudent, but the cuts are unfortunately part of a longer trend. Why invest in local programming and reporting when the real money is in newspaper monopolies, cable specialty channels and prime-time simulcasting of American hit shows?

In the midst of the debacle, the CRTC - which approved media mergers as the bubble was approaching its breaking point - has done something interesting. In late October, the regulator announced a new fund to support improved local TV news in markets of less than one million viewers.

The fund will be created by collecting 1 per cent of gross revenues from cable and satellite providers, worth about $60 million in the first year, of which two-thirds goes to English-language broadcasters and one-third to French-language local stations. To qualify for funding, the station must be doing local or regional news already; every cent of the new money must be used to increase the station's local programming budget from a baseline created from averaging local spending between 2005 and 2008. Public and private broadcasters will have access to the fund.

The Canadian Media Guild called for this type of fund, precisely to make new money available directly to broadcasters to produce more local and regional programming, and especially news. (Click here to view our submission: http://www.cmg.ca/CRTC-fee-for-carriage.pdf). Providing original local news and other shows to their audience was long the bargain that local broadcasters struck in exchange for the use of the public airwaves.

It should be noted that the fund is not what Canwest and CTV were asking for. The broadcasters each wanted 50 cents from every subscriber every month in exchange for allowing their signals to be carried on cable and satellite. They were not promising to do anything particular with the new revenue.

The crisis of local news is not an effect of the current economic climate. The CRTC points out that spending by private broadcasters on local programming has been flat for ten years, the same decade the bubble inflated and profits were healthy. In the same period, spending on "non-Canadian programming" - the stuff from Hollywood - grew by 61 per cent.

The reality is that the media conglomerates have been chasing levels of profit that are not found by producing the good quality local programming that polling tells us people want to watch. Big broadcasters have followed a shortcut to profits by various combinations of reducing local operations, and therefore costs, lucking into the right Hollywood hits for prime-time and enjoying a steady stream of cable revenues for their specialty channels.

The CMG hopes that local stations in smaller markets, including CBC, Radio-Canada, TQS, TVA, CTV, Canwest and the independents, figure out how to make good use of the new fund to improve local news coverage at a time when Canadians are especially eager to know what is really going on in their communities.

In the meantime, tough questions should be asked of any broadcaster that announces plans to abandon their local obligations and use the economic downturn as an excuse to do so.

Lise Lareau is the national president of the Canadian Media Guild, which represents 6,000 media employees working across Canada at CBC/Radio-Canada, The Canadian Press, Thomson-Reuters, CW Television, TVO, TFO, the Aboriginal Peoples' TV Network, S-VOX, Agence France-Presse and CJRC Radio in Gatineau.



Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.