Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MEDIA CONCENTRATION HURTS DEMOCRACY


Way back, The Georgian published my first news story! I remember how thrilling it was to see my name in a byline.

Yesterday media giant Transcontinental announced that The Georgian and The Coaster are joining The Express, The Charter and The Humber Log on the scrap heap of former community newspapers eliminated by the media giant.

The role of community newspapers is an important one. They make a significant contribution to the life, communications, culture of small towns and outports in this province. 

They often take the big stories of the day and filter them through a local lens and they report the local stories that are important to the community, but not necessarily the province. 

In short, community newspapers enhance the community, they belong to the community

Transcontinental has a strangle hold on print media in this province. The media giant obtained a virtual monopoly in 2006 when they were allowed to purchase the province’s two daily newspapers – in addition to the 2003 purchase of the former Optipress weeklies. There are a few independent papers remaining but they struggle for advertising revenue against the behemoth that is Transcontinental. 

We were warned about the dangers of allowing this type of concentration in ownership. I wrote several letters to the editor in 2003 and again in 2006 predicting the demise of community papers.

Perhaps the most daring and poignant opposition came from one of the province’s most outspoken journalists, Craig Westcott. In those days he was still working for Transcontinental at the now defunct Express. He appeared before a Senate Committee and avowed the dangers of allowing one company so much power over the written word in this province. He predicted the loss of jobs, the closures of papers, the loss of content and how Transcontinental would merge operations and take the profits out of the province.

Transcon has developed a template for the weeklies, slowly ensuring that each become a clone of the other, adopting a provincial feel, loosing the local character and fee.

This was preparation for the eventual transition of the paper into a similarly themed section in the daily papers. Is it only a matter of time before The Western Star becomes The Telegram.

I for one do not feel communities and remote centers like Harbour Breton are well served by the Transcontental. 

The company has extinguished local voices, local opinions and local identities. There are less mediums for local accountability of municipal and provincial politicians and local institutions.

The latest round of extinctions is bad news for communities, for print journalists, for journalists, for independence of thought and democracy.

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