17 January 2009

CanWest - Doing news differently, again

This report needs urgent reading by all those concerned about the lack of media diversity. It could get a whole lot worse, if CanWest Global has its way.

On January 13, CanWest filed an application that asks the CRTC ... to suspend “conditions of license respecting cross media ownership in light of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council’s Journalistic Independence Code.”

The Journalistic Independence Code is an industry self-management document approved by the CRTC in October 2008.

If granted by the CRTC, the new ruling would apply to Burnaby’s Global BC and to CHEK TV in Victoria, as well as other CanWest stations across Canada.

The application asks the CRTC to remove conditions of licence imposed in 2001 when CanWest stations across Canada last came before the commission for permission to do business as TV broadcasters. Since their last application, CanWest had acquired Canada’s largest newspaper chain.

The 2001 conditions called on the company to “ensure the independence and separation of newsrooms of its television services and affiliated newspapers” ....

At the time, the CRTC expressed strong concerns about the trend toward mega-media mergers in Canada. Its ruling said melding TV and print newsrooms owned by the same company might “enhance the quality of news coverage” or instead cause “loss of diversity voices and … distinct editorial voices available to the public.”

However, the 2001 ruling by the regulatory body did say that it would consider suspending the conditions of licence if CanWest agreed with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to comply with an industry-wide code of conduct approved by CRTC.

Note that the CBSC is largely an organ of the broadcasters. As such, were CanWest to get its way, we'd be faced with yet another situation of industry monitoring itself. We all know how well that works.

The cutoff date for public response to the CanWest application is January 28.

Members of the public should immediately demand that the deadline be extended. Only two weeks from time of application to deadline is absurd. One has to wonder: What's the hurry?

As to the CRTC, well they've their own bias. Ergo, without clear, vocal public dissent on the application, confidence in an appropriate ruling would be misplaced.

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