Blurring or Obliterating Objective Communication
From humble beginnings as a neighbourhood newspaper started by Pierre Peladeau in Montreal in 1950, Quebecor is now a communications Goliath.
Peladeau, born in Montreal, went on to get a degree in law from McGill University and another in philosophy from the University of Montreal. Then, in 1965 he founded Quebecor Inc. and in less than ten years he had made his first million dollars. That was the beginning of a voracious appetite that did not stop.
Paper is a commodity much like oil with fluctuating prices and, as everyone knows, with raw resources being drastically affected by climate, newsprint is now at a premium. According to sources, Peladeau resented having to rely on the paper industry for raw materials and, wanting control over every aspect of the print medium, he entered into a partnership with the British press magnate, Robert Maxwell. Together, they purchased the Donohue paper manufacturing company from the Quebec government in 1987.
From there, Quebecor Printing Inc. grew rapidly. It acquired Maxwell Graphics in 1990 and expanded throughout 17 countries in the United States, South and Central Americas, Europe and Asia acquiring companies in Mexico, California, France, England Belgium, Chile, Peru and Scandinavia to mention only a few.
Among its acquisitions, Quebecor owns:
Videotron, the largest cable supplier in Quebec and the third largest in Canada; TVA, the largest provincial French language broadcaster in North America; Canoe Inc., one of the largest networks of English and French Language, Internet portals in Canada; Quebecor Media Book Group the largest group of French language publishing houses in Canada and the list goes on.
In 1999, in a $2.7 million deal, Quebecor Printing Inc. merged with World Color Press. The result? The largest commercial printer in the world was born...Quebecor World.
Now, some may ask so what? What does this have to do with us here in Bruce County on Lake Huron? Well, it has everything to do with small town Ontario. It has everything to do with journalism in a democracy or, in other words, the voice of objectivity.
Why? Because Quebecor has just purchased Osprey Media for $517 million - Osprey Media, whose newspaper network spread throughout small-town Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. According to reports, this purchase not only doubles Quebecor's presence in the Ontario community newspaper business it makes it the largest newspaper publisher in Canada.
With that deal, Quebecor now owns 54 newspapers in the province, including 29 Canadian community papers and some 20 dailies. Among those are some of the oldest daily newspapers in Ontario, including the "Sun" chain that holds the Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary Suns, the London Free Press and, of course, the Owen Sound Sun Times.
According to a UBS analyst, "Integration costs of several million dollars will be required to cover severance costs, the closure of printing facilities and the breaking of leases."
Therefore, it's expected that Quebecor will try to save money by spreading content from the Sun Media's papers across the previously owned Osprey chain.
Mertroland Media Group, owned by Torstar Corp., owns 100 newspapers in Ontario and is Quebecor's nemesis. If a community newspaper can return 25 per cent profit to the parent company, it is considered a success, therefore, between the two media mogul groups, reader competition will be tugged at like a dog's bone, along with competition for ads and flyer distribution.
What does this mean locally? Does it mean a watering-down of local news? Does the spreading of content throughout the entire chain mean that more news articles will simply be "pulled off the wire"? Does it mean that news involving a major local advertiser will not be printed because it may affect that advertiser's investment? Does it mean that a writer's work will not be printed if he/she does not agree with the publisher? Where does it end?
In June, 2003, a report by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, "Our Cultural Sovereignty", recommended that the "Government of Canada issue a clear and unequivocal policy statement concerning cross-media ownership before June 30 2004 the government ignored the recommendation.
In June, 2006, a Senate report was brought forward regarding media ownership restrictions and a new regulatory framework for acquisitions. The government ignored the report.
This isn't just a Saugeen Shores or a Bruce County or an Ontario phenomenon. This is something that is insidiously creeping into our entire society. With each acquisition and each takeover, the voice of ordinary people is becoming more muffled, local content is becoming less and less. More and more, fewer and fewer are controlling what we read, what we hear and, ultimately, does that not lead to what we think?