Media concentration has been a key to the rise of the political right in both the US and Canada. Big Journalism, like other big business, finds a comfortable home in the right wing. This month's online edition of Adbusters.org has a terrific expose on CanWest, focusing on the Vancouver Sun. Here are a few excerpts:
Overly anxious that they’re not caught exposing the paper’s dirty secret, reporters at the Sun say that morale has hit rock bottom and an alarming atmosphere of fear and paranoia has infected the newsroom. With a tone of anger and resentment, reporters tell stories about vindictive editors who spend more time attacking them over personal and petty grievances than they do worrying about the deteriorating quality of the paper. Anyone that dares question the authority of Editor-in-Chief Patricia Graham is bullied, isolated and forced out of the paper.
“The culture at The Vancouver Sun is incredibly poisonous and it extends right through the newsroom,” confides Charles Campbell, a former editorial board member at the paper, who says he was surprised at how much disdain senior management had towards the paper’s star reporters. “There are very few [reporters] who are particularly happy or proud of The Vancouver Sun as a newspaper.”
While the Sun has a long history of acrimonious newsrooms and lengthy labor disputes, it was also once a respected paper that boasted some of the top journalists in the country and consistently broke stories that changed the political landscape of the city and province. When the paper was part of the Southam chain, the newsroom had a bigger budget and more independence – reporters were even allowed to criticize the paper in print. But once CanWest Global Communications got its hands on the Sun in 2000, it slashed funding, silenced writers and allowed an inexperienced, and strangely insecure, management to take control. The paper has never been as irrelevant or dysfunctional as it is today.
CanWest has such a stranglehold on the city that any reporter caught speaking out against them would have trouble finding work in Vancouver again. This toxic environment has created such a chill amongst reporters that getting them to talk about the turmoil is extremely difficult. One news staffer that initially agreed to be quoted as an anonymous source later backed out for fear of repercussion. A former reporter was so worried by the ruthless reach of the editors that they would only talk off-the-record. Most wouldn’t even take that risk.
“If [the Editor-in-Chief] found out I talked, I’d be finished,” said one reporter when declining an interview. “If there was another game in town it’d be different, but there’s nothing else in this city. There’s nowhere else to go.”
Led by CEO Leonard Asper and the powerful Asper family, the Winnipeg-based corporation now owns both of Vancouver’s daily newspapers (the Sun and the tabloid Province), the city’s top-rated television station (GlobalTV), 12 community newspapers, eight analog and digital television stations, and one of two national papers. For good measure, it also owns the only daily in the nearby provincial capital, Victoria’s Times Colonist. A throwback to the classic Company Town, CanWest has turned Vancouver into the single-most media concentrated city in the western world.
“The story of the Sun should be presented as a cautionary tale [to the rest of the world],” says Marc Edge, a former Vancouver journalist and author of Pacific Press: The Unauthorized Story of Vancouver’s Newspaper Monopoly. “If you want to see the future of media, just look at Vancouver where you have the tightest control of media in the free world. If you allow cross-media ownership like the [Federal Communications Commission in the United States] has been considering, this is how it could end up.”