Wednesday, January 03, 2018

It's Time that Justin Got Off His Arse and Worked for Canadians

It's a problem but it's not here. It's an American problem, a European problem. It happens in other countries, not ours.

"It" is the waning of liberal democracy. You know, the very problem that electoral reform was intended to address. Yet, around the world, political leaders are finding the notion of liberal democracy expendable, an impediment in the age of increasing authoritarianism.

Another roadblock to authoritarianism is the whole idea of a free press so vital to the notion of informed consent by the governed, the voter. We know how to dismember a free press. The Davey and the Kent commissions sorted that out. Simply allow the corporate sector a free hand and they'll snap up every news outlet they can get their hands on, eliminating competition, and serving the plebs a very predictable and predictably pointed product that quickly turns to messaging rather than information. Why should the public have access to the greatest number of voices presenting the broadest range of information and opinion from across the political spectrum when they would only use it to cast informed ballots? Why not just dish up a narrow corporate message in its stead?

As Justin Trudeau betrayed the Canadian public on electoral reform so too he shows no interest in the restoration of a genuinely free press. Can't be bothered. Junior has trade deals to ink. Which brings us to a timely article by Marc Edge, author of "The News We Deserve" published in the latest Tyee.

When the country’s two largest chains swapped 41 newspapers in Ontario a few weeks ago and announced that almost all would be closed, they basically thumbed their noses at Canada’s competition laws.

Monopoly is much better for business than competition, and for years the Competition Bureau has proved powerless — or unwilling — to stop Big Media from growing even bigger.Why wouldn’t they?

In the November deal, Postmedia Network and the Torstar Corp. divided up large swaths of the southern Ontario community newspaper market and dared the Competition Bureau to do something about it.

Postmedia, 98 per cent owned by U.S. hedge funds despite supposed limits on foreign ownership of Canadian newspapers, pointed out the deal was “not subject to the merger notification provisions of the Competition Act and no regulatory clearance is required to close the transaction.”

That is technically correct given the dollar value of the deal (although no money actually changed hands), but it doesn’t mean the Competition Bureau can’t review matters after the fact, which it promised to do when pressed by reporters.

It could even roll the deal back, but don’t hold your breath, because Postmedia and Torstar have the precedent of regulatory inaction on their side.

The same thing, after all, has been going on for years mostly unnoticed in B.C., well out of the national media glare. The two largest provincial chains, Black Press (no relation to Conrad Black) and Glacier Media, have been buying, selling and trading titles since 2010 and then often closing them to create more lucrative local monopolies.


As a result of these dealings, Black Press now owns every newspaper on Vancouver Island, which has a size and population similar to New Brunswick, except for Glacier Media’s daily Victoria Times Colonist.


You might think that newspapers are dying and should be allowed to do these kinds of competition-killing deals in order to survive.

My research suggests otherwise.

I studied the annual reports of all publicly traded newspaper companies in Canada and the United States from 2006 to 2013 for my 2014 book Greatly Exaggerated: The Myth of the Death of Newspapers and found that not one recorded an annual loss on an operating basis during that time, despite an historic downturn in advertising revenues.

Postmedia had operating earnings of $54.6 million on revenues of $754 million in its 2017 fiscal year ended Aug. 31, for a profit margin of 7.2 per cent.

Fully 60 per cent of its earnings, however, went to pay the interest on Postmedia’s massive debt, most of which is held by its own hedge fund overlords, which are skimming their take right off the top in a nifty piece of financial engineering.

Torstar’s community newspaper division, Metroland, reported earnings of $21.2 million on revenue of $272 million in the first nine months of 2017 for a profit margin of 7.8 per cent.


The Liberal government ordered hearings into media and local communities in 2016 after Postmedia merged the newsrooms of its duplicate dailies in four of Canada’s six largest cities.

 Postmediad had promised to maintain separate newsrooms before it got Competition Bureau approval for its 2014 takeover of the Sun Media chain.

The hearings, chaired by B.C. MP Hedy Fry, resulted in a report in June calling for the Competition Bureau to be given more power to stop news media mergers and takeovers, as well as other measures to boost local journalism.

So far its recommendations have also been ignored.

The Trudeau government’s continued fiddling while the country’s news media disappear will soon constitute negligence of the highest order.

Justin Trudeau is really great at doing the symbolic stuff - teary-eyed apologies for residential schools and affronts to the LGBT community a prime example - but he's a dead loss at dealing with the hard stuff that will shape the future of our country - how we elect our representatives, how we hold them accountable, climate change, democratic restoration and the return of a genuinely free press.

1 comment:

Troy said...

Sports leagues have better oversight in regards to player trades than the government has over what should be considered important institutions.

The solution is simple: trades and deals have to be approved by the Bureau prior to completion; nothing changes hands until that approval is had. It won't happen; it goes against every neo-liberal tenet that exists. Not that neo-liberalism has any actual beliefs other than 'Stay out of my business, government'.