Feds to study media convergence

With the media convergence bandwagon picking up speed, Ottawa has become increasingly anxious to figure out just where it's headed....

With the media convergence bandwagon picking up speed, Ottawa has become increasingly anxious to figure out just where it’s headed.

Plans for a federal review of media ownership are now in the works, says Len Westerberg, a spokesperson for the Canadian Heritage department.

Heritage Minister Sheila Copps first signaled her desire to take a look at the issue in May, after Hollinger announced plans to unload most of its print and online holdings. (CanWest Global Communications shelled out $3.5 billion for the lot in August.)

Ministry staff have been doing groundwork for the past several months, Westerberg says, and an announcement is expected ‘shortly.’

One group that would welcome an ownership review is the Council of Canadians, a national citizens’ rights organization that has been issuing dire warnings about the impact of massive media deals like the CanWest-Hollinger buyout and the BCE-Thomson alliance.

John Urquhart, communications officer for the Ottawa-based group, says that in addition to reducing editorial diversity, convergence will stifle regional points of view, since these media titans will inevitably do all of their decision-making in central Canada.

Barrie Zwicker, media critic for Toronto-based Vision TV, says mergers and buyouts will make media owners wealthier and may create benefits for advertisers, such as one-stop shopping opportunities. But for the average consumer, he argues, increased concentration of ownership means access to a narrower range of facts and opinions.

Zwicker also fears that editorial integrity will be compromised, especially as media owners acquire sports franchises as a source of content for their various properties.

‘Journalists in general will be looking over their shoulders, as more conflicts of interest arise when they’re covering sports or other enterprises owned by their bosses.’