Blog by John Miller

<< back to article list

Object to this

Allowing private broadcasters a free hand to police themselves is a bad idea in the best of times.

In today's era of media concentration -- in Toronto alone, three daily newspapers have owners that also operate television stations -- it's a recipe for the shrinkage and homogenization of news.

That's why journalists should strongly challenge an application by CanWest Global to get the CRTC to drop certain conditions from the network's license. In 2001, the commission required Global and other networks to guarantee they would maintain separate and independent news management and presentation structures. In other words, decision-making on what to cover and how to cover it would not be shared between a TV station and a newspaper with the same owner.

You can't blame the network for wanting this clause replaced. Their move comes because the CRTC last year endorsed a Journalistic Independence Code put forward by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the industry's private, self-regulatory organization. That code has similar-sounding language, requiring every broadcaster to "ensure the independence and separation of its news managment from that of any affiliated newspaper." But it guarantees only "separate and distinct" management structures and editorial boards, not news-gathering resources.

And instead of possibly losing their license for violating this, CanWest Global is hoping to persuade the CRTC to let it refer any complaints to the rather bureaucratic Journalistic Independence Panel mentioned in the broadcast standards Code.

This is a big step backwards from the CRTC's goal of assuring the diversity and quality of information available to Canadians. Complaints would be directed to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which would only refer them to the Journalistic Independence Panel after two months. This is forever in the daily cycle of news, and that's only the time a complaint would take to be heard. There is no timetable for the panel to make its decision, and the TV station would have two months after that to respond and say what it intends to do about it. The whole process, if the performance of Canada's press councils is any indication, could take six months or more.

Furthermore, in today's climate of downsized newsrooms, the temptation to share journalistic resources between newspapers and TV stations operating in the same market may make the separation of "management structures" an academic exercise. How brave can hard-pressed news managers be to maintain separation when they've being forced to do more and more with less and less.

Two clauses in the CRTC-supported Code should raise the readings on any journalist's bullshit detector. Read the full Code here.

First, private broadcasters assert that they have the "collective goal" of assuring the diversity and quality of information, but recent layoffs suggest otherwise. They suggest the collective priority is to continue to make money for their shareholders. Not only that, they say with a straight face that this collective goal "is not inhibited by the common ownership of news-gathering resources and the use of complementary technologies, which can together create greater opportunities to provide information to Canadians."

Then the Code baldly says just what we all should be concerned about: :"Consequently, nothing herein shall be understood as requiring the separation of such resources."

That is directly contrary to the intent of the current conditions of license. The CRTC would be unwise to give away its clout and hand private broadcasters the valuable financial prize of being able to share editorial resources at will.

You can intervene and object to this by filing a statement to

It's application number 2008-1642-3 and the deadline is Jan. 28.