Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 35 (2010) 361-363
©2010 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation


Editorial

Kim Sawchuk
Concordia University


It has been a memorable summer for Canadian communications researchers. In June of this year it was announced that “Fox News North,” in the guise of Sun Media TV, would come to Canada. Spearheaded by Pierre Karl Péladeau, CEO of the media giant Quebecor, it seemed that Quebecor would be granted a coveted Category 1 licence by the CRTC. Such a licence would include mandatory distribution of the Sun TV all-news channel to cable television subscribers as part of the basic cable package. In the wake of the public announcement a storm of debate and events ensued, including “Twitter wars” between Margaret Atwood and Sun Media reporter David Akin; the resignation of former Conservative communications advisor Kory Teneycke from Quebecor Media; and a massive online petition initiated by avaaz.org, a social media lobby group.

For those attuned to media policy, as well as those generally interested in the future of the news and shifts in news formats, the issue sparked fervent discussion about the autonomy of our national regulatory agency, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), from government interference. Rumours circulated that the Quebecor application was being fast-tracked through the CRTC because of pressures from the Prime Minister’s Office and speculations that CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein was being prodded to support the application. Quebecor has since rescinded its application and asked, instead, for a Category 2 licence: a public hearing on the application has been announced for November 19, a hearing that will be closely watched.1

The second event of direct importance to media researchers in Canada was the July announcement by Munir Sheikh of his resignation from Statistics Canada. Sheikh left because of the government’s decision to make filling out the long form of the census voluntary, rather than compulsory. Government minister Maxime Bernier originally contended that the number of complaints was the reason for documenting social and economic changes and inequities, a charge that has since been proven incorrect. As researchers in a variety of fields have argued, the ending of the long-form census has a wide range of repercussions.2 Arguably the complete census offers a comprehensive portrait of Canada and reliable statistical information, which are critical for understanding and documenting change, and has provided data used by a number of Canadian communications scholars (see Middleton & Sorensen, 2005).

In the midst of these two debates comes the recent announcement that Bell Canada (BCE) has bought out CTVglobemedia to the tune of $1.3 billion. The merger points to media content for wireless services. It is projected that consumers can expect more TV content on their computers and wireless devices as BCE integrates the CTVglobemedia television assets into existing services. On the policy front, the buyout contributes to an even further blurring between the traditional distinction in regulation between telecommunications and broadcasting, or carrier and content.

In light of these shifting sands of policy and ownership we present a very timely article by Dwayne Winseck, “Financialization and the ‘Crisis of the Media’: The Rise and Fall of (Some) Media Conglomerates in Canada,” which examines in fine detail the networked media economy in Canada. Winseck addresses the idea that the move to digital distribution and modes of interaction has brought about a financial crisis in the media industries. He looks at three interrelated dimensions of the networked media economy: the expansion of new media and the displacement of old media by new; the concentration of media ownership; and finally the issue of a crisis of the media. His research indicates that what should be of concern for researchers—and the general public—are two matters: the financialization of the media and the increasing debt load of media corporations.3

James Cairns’ essay, “From Social Celebration to Social Deliberation: The Rise of Liberal-Pluralist Symbolism in Ontario,” takes a historical look at the news coverage of the opening of the legislature in Ontario from the turn of the century to the present moment, offering a unique contribution to political communications and the symbolic aspects of liberal pluralism. As Cairns’ research indicates, news coverage of the opening of the Ontario legislature until the 1940s can be characterized as an era of “social celebration.” At the midpoint of the century, newspapers began to pay more attention to the contents of the Speech from the Throne and to examine the policy pledges made, inaugurating a period of news coverage that Cairns defines as “social deliberation.” Cairns explains this shift as a response to actions by extra-parliamentary individuals and groups, suggesting that the rise of liberal-pluralist symbolism is the result of numerous intersecting factors, including the struggle for a more robust definition of citizenship among non-elite political agents.

Kathleen Cross’ “Experts in the News: The Differential Use of Sources in Election Television News” examines the use of news sources in the mainstream television coverage of a Canadian election, considering these findings within the context of broader studies on the significance and role of sources in election news. Cross offers an insightful overview of debates on news sources, articulating four general types of sources—political actors, experts, individuals, and interest group representatives. Although leaders are the most frequent sources, what is surprising is her finding that party leaders accounted for only about half of the quotes from political actors and only about 30% of quotes from the total number of sources. Her data also suggest that the use of individuals in television news reports occurs with almost as much frequency as the use of political leaders. Cross also studies the length of the sound bite by these actors, indicating a shortening of time that is allotted to expressing a position or point of view. This study demonstrates that “ordinary people” appear in election TV news and represent about one-quarter of all sources, however most quotes from voters are relegated to being representations of a viewpoint or an issue, primarily to reinforce a storyline, rather than being part of the actual debate on issues.

Thierry Giasson, Colette Brin, and Marie-Michéle Sauvageau’s article, “La couverture médiatique des accommodements raisonnables dans la presse écrite québécoise : Vérification de l’hypothèse du tsunami médiatique,” which follows Cross’ study, is a close examination of news content. The authors’ analysis centres on the media coverage of the 2006-08 hearings on “reasonable accommodations” in Québec, also known as the “Bouchard-Taylor” Commission. What happens when a volatile and socially charged story that touches on linguistic and cultural diversity dominates news reporting? Their study looks at the escalation of media coverage of the commission for a sustained period of time. To describe the overwhelming impact of the event as a news story, the authors deploy and examine the potential and the limitations of the highly suggestive metaphor of a “media tsunami” as an alternative to the oft-used concept of “media hype.”

We end our selection of full-length articles with Mitchell Akiyama’s article on the use of sound to monitor and control access to public space. In “Silent Alarm: The Mosquito Youth Deterrent and the Politics of Frequency,” Akiyama focuses on one specific audio technology, the Mosquito, a device that produces frequencies that physically can harm human hearing. What is crucial is that the frequencies are audible to those, generally under the age of 30, whose hearing can detect a wide range of frequencies. Akiyama describes the Mosquito as a technology that “weaponizes sound” because it is intended to inflict pain on those within hearing range. For these reasons it has been used to control the congregation of “youth” in public space in Great Britain.

This issue of the CJC is rounded out by a report on the Spry Memorial Lecture, held annually at the Université de Montréal. Julianne Pidduck’s cogent analysis, “The Graham Spry Memorial Events of 2009: Citizen Journalism in Burma,” situates the annual lecture as a homage to Graham Spry’s legacy of activism, sense of social justice, and political courage. As such, she explains the decision of the organizing committee to bring the collective who produced and created the film Voices of Burma to Montréal to make Spry’s contributions to Canadian broadcasting and Canadian society relevant in the present national and international context. It is a timely reminder of the need for engaged, critical media and communications research given the events of this summer.

Notes

1. For the Quebecor explanation see the following story: Akin, David. (2010, October 6). Sun TV drops CRTC special request. TorontoSun.com .

2. For more on the implications of this decision on the long-form census, see the work of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

3. Financialization is a term that refers to the increasing role of finance capital in the economy.

References

Akin, David. (2010, October 6). Sun TV drops CRTC special request. TorontoSun.com  . URL: http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/10/05/15590016.html [October 12, 2010].

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (2010). URL: http://www.policyalternatives.ca and URL: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/newsroom/updates/all-latest-census-long-form-debacle [October 12, 2010].

Middleton, Catherine A., & Sorensen, Christine. (2005). How connected are Canadians? Inequities in Canadian households’ Internet access. Canadian Journal of Communication, 30(4), 463-483.


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