Media Ownership

Western societies are relying increasingly on communication through various media and relatively less on face-to-face contact to organize and co-ordinate activities, to disseminate knowledge and information, to educate and entertain.

Black
Conrad Black controls 58 Canadian dailies, representing 41% of Canadian newspaper readers (courtesy Maclean's).

Media Ownership

Western societies are relying increasingly on communication through various media and relatively less on face-to-face contact to organize and co-ordinate activities, to disseminate knowledge and information, to educate and entertain. Studies indicate that some 50% of the labour force in advanced INFORMATION SOCIETIES are engaged in some form of market-based information activity.

Conditions of access to the media - the implicit and explicit rules governing who may and who may not distribute messages, the nature of the messages distributed, the terms under which messages may be received and by whom - are of vital political, social and cultural importance. Individuals and groups possessing and exercising relatively unencumbered rights to distribute messages through the media can influence large audiences and thereby help shape societal development; conversely, people prevented from so participating are muted and may be politically ineffectual.

Two important and interrelated factors help determine conditions of access to the media: the pattern of ownership, which shapes incentives for media use; and the bundle of rights accompanying ownership, which can modify, or even eliminate, restrictions that could otherwise inhere in ownership. The bundle of rights and duties is primarily an outcome of law, but also may be influenced by traditions and ethical precepts adhered to by the owners. The pattern of media ownership has 4 major constituents: owner characteristics, concentration of control, cross-ownership and vertical integration.

Owner Characteristics

Owners may be distinguished by the sector in which they reside: government, private or co-operative. Within each sector additional distinctions can be made. For example, government comprises 3 levels, each of which can, in principle, have media holdings. Moreover, managers of government-owned media can have varying degrees of independence from their proprietors, depending on the goals set for the media.

Likewise, in the private sector, many variations are possible: ownership can reside with family-run businesses; with large, professionally managed, publicly traded corporations; with religious, political or social organizations for reasons extending well beyond profit incentives; and so on. Particularly troublesome, from a public policy perspective, is conglomerate ownership of the media, whereby media holdings constitute but a portion of the firm's economic domain; conglomerate ownership can create incentives for the manipulation or suppression of news that impinges on the diversified activities of the parent company. Other important characteristics of owners include nationality and language. In media studies, media owners are also often classified by social class in order to detect possible biases resulting from social stratification.

Concentration of Control

Concentration refers to the number and size of competing outlets within a market or audience grouping, eg, newspapers in a community. Concentration indicates the degree of monopoly power enjoyed by the media owner(s) and hence the owners' power in determining conditions of access within the relevant market. The "marketplace of ideas" is premised on notions of equitable access to the media by all segments of society.

Cross-Ownership

Cross-ownership refers to common control over different media genres (eg, print, film, electronic). It indicates the extent to which intermedia competition thrives or is restricted.

Vertical Integration

Vertical integration is the extent to which media owners create, select or otherwise determine messages. It exemplifies the interrelationship between media ownership and the variable bundle of rights and duties accompanying ownership. The telephone industry, for instance, historically has been proscribed by law from tampering with the messages transmitted, and only recently have telephone companies been permitted to engage in industries originating content. Moreover, access to telephone facilities for message originators must be provided by telephone companies on a "just and reasonable" basis, without "undue preference" or "unjust discrimination"; regulatory bodies (principally the CANADIAN RADIO-TELEVISION AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION) endeavour to ensure that these conditions are met. In declaring TELEPHONE companies to be common carriers, government has reapportioned rights from the owners of the medium to the general public in order to diffuse control over the origination and reception of messages over what for years had been considered an inherently monopolized medium.

Ownership governance

 The CRTC governs media ownership in Canada - this excludes newspaper and internet media ownership. Media in Canada are owned by a small number of companies; each holds a diverse portfolio, including television, cable, radio, newspaper, magazine and internet sites. There are a limited number of community broadcasters that serve specific geographic or interest/cultural communities. Media ownership has changed in recent years due to a significant number of mergers and takeovers by industry giants. Such mergers have resulted in a significant decrease in the number of independent newspapers - from approximately 17% in the early 1990s to less than 1% today.

Criticisms and concerns about media ownership trends in Canada have sparked debate about the ability of the CRTC and Competition Bureau to effectively govern ownership concentration (seeMEDIA CONVERGENCE).

In 2008, the CRTC introduced new polices that govern media ownership in Canada. In order to maintain editorial diversity, new rules were adopted that restricted cross-media ownership. These rules limit a company or individual to control only two of the following types of media in a single market: a local radio station, local television station or a local newspaper.

Additionally, the CRTC decided to impose limits on the ownership of broadcasting licences to ensure no company controls more than 45% of the total television audience share in a given market.

Canada's media landscape has changed dramatically in the past decade. Many companies have diversified, while others have sold off less-profitable arms. The result is a series of mergers and buy-outs, closures and expansions.

Major Canadian media companies include: Astral Media, Bell Media, Postmedia Network, Shaw Media, CBC/Radio-Canada, Corus Entertainment, Quebecor Media, Glacier Media Inc, Rogers Media, Transcontinental Media and Torstar Corp. (see alsoNEWSPAPERS; MAGAZINES; BROADCASTING, RADIO AND TELEVISION; BOOK PUBLISHING; FILM DISTRIBUTION.


Further Reading

  • R.E. Babe, "Canada," in Vicki Macleod, ed, Media Ownership and Control in the Age of Convergence (1996); James Winter, Democracy's Oxygen (1997).

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