Free Press doesn’t equal free market

Voting, fair elections, freedom of speech, rule of law, non-politicalized judiciary are all critical to sustaining a democracy, but arguably too is the media, which was once seen as the fourth estate.
Today, I would suggest the media in Canada, as in most Western democracies, is so weak that it does little to protect democracy.
We have become a media of opinions rather than facts. A media of trivia rather than substance. A media of personalities rather than un-bias reporting.
The 24-hour news channels have promoted watered down reporting dominated by opinionated talking heads rather than facts and I would argue the decline in media reporting came long before the on-line phenomenon.
The Kent Commission that studied newspaper ownership in 1980 concluded that conglomerates were weak on political journalism, allowed little editorial freedom and generally produced a poor newspaper.
It is as true today as it was in 1980 –  there is little editorial freedom among the majority of papers today.  Just last election major dailies, with the exception of the Toronto Star, carried the same editorial to encourage readers to vote for Stephen Harper.
A few weeks back, the publisher and I spoke with one of the media personalities from Global News in Edmonton. That person indicated that all local news content throughout the country would now be set by Toronto.
Do readers of newspapers owned by conglomerates, whether weekly or dailies, believe they have a better newspaper?  You’d be hard pressed to find many former subscribers to say, the Hanna Herald, who would brag about their conglomerate-owned newspaper.
Trained and intelligent news journalists cost money so the first move all media conglomerates do when swallowing up private-run newspapers is to lay off journalists. Leaving communities stuck with minimal local reporting and lots of canned copy and editorials/opinions representing the downtown Toronto crowd.
Community coverage with the exception of crime, weather and traffic reports, has become almost obsolete on Calgary and Edmonton local TV news.  And if they do a local story, it’s often re-ran two and three days.  Worst of all, twitter stories have become news items!
Then there’s the CBC which has been starved for cash and it’s once great investigative and factual reporting has quickly been replaced with talking heads spouting their political bents.
We were wrong to buy into the argument that free press equals free market. In free markets the primary goal is to get rid of competition, reduce financial risk and increase profit margins. In Canada’s media landscape most competition has been effectively eliminated.
Winnipeg and Toronto are the only two major cities that have competing daily newspapers.  All other major cities have two dailies both owned by the same entity, an American hedge fund. The purpose of a hedge fund is to make money, not support democracy.
Media in the hands of a few is not freedom of press, it’s a monopoly and dangerous.
The conclusion in the Kent Commission report was, “In a country that has allowed so many newspapers (now we can say all media) to be owned by a few conglomerates freedom of the press means, in itself, only that enormous influence without responsibility is conferred on a handful of people.”
And that’s exactly what we have today. A small group of unaccountable and unknown men are the masters behind what we think.
We’ve been conditioned to accept sound bites, personalities in politics, sensationalism and news produced on the cheap.
As citizens we no longer can count on an independent third party media to supply un-bias verifiable facts. Much of what is presented as facts today have been manipulated by third parties with vested interests to make us think a certain way.
We need only look at the presidential race south of the border and the possibility that Donald Trump could become President to see what irresponsible media eventually creates.

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