Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Transport and Communications
Issue 2 - Evidence - March 9, 2004
OTTAWA, Tuesday, March 9, 2004
The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met this day at 3:33 p.m. to examine the current state of Canadian media industries; emerging trends and developments in these industries; the media's role, rights, and responsibilities in Canadian society; and current and appropriate future policies relating thereto.
Senator Joan Fraser (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: Welcome, witnesses, members of the public and members of the television audience to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications.
The committee is continuing its examination of the appropriate role of public policy in helping to ensure that the Canadian news media remain healthy, independent, and diverse, in light of the tremendous changes they have occurred in recent years — notably, globalization, technological change, convergence and increased concentration of ownership.
Today, we welcome representatives of the Canadian Media Guild and the Periodical Writers Association of Canada. The CMG is represented by Lise Lareau, the President, and Scott Edmonds, Vice-President, Canadian Press Branch.
The Periodical Writers Association of Canada, PWAC, is represented by Michael OReilly and Doreen Pendgracs. Thank you for being with us today.
I will ask our witnesses to make an opening statement of 10 or 15 minutes and then we share go to questions.
Ms. Lise Lareau, President, Canadian Media Guild: Good afternoon, all. Thank you for being here. It is a privilege for us to be here on this special day on the Hill.
I am the President of the Canadian Media Guild, which represents about 6,000 journalists, technicians, and administrative staff at the CBC. It also represents about 300 employees at Canadian Press — the national news wire — and Mr. Scott Edmonds is the Vice-President of that branch of the gild. We also represent others at TV Ontario, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and Reuters News Agency.
With us are two representatives of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, PWAC, which represents more than 500 independent professional writers across the write country. You will hear more about them shortly.
The folks here represent about 7,000 people across the country who practice radio, television, print, wire, and online journalism in English and French in all provinces and territories. Together our members probably have the most in- depth knowledge of this country and the issues you are dealing with at this committee. Our members are the people on the ground in the communities and they share the interests that you are examining.
There is hardly a community in this country where the local newspaper does not carry the material produced by our colleagues at Canadian Press and where magazines and newspapers do not carry the material produced members of PWAC. We are the generators of a lot of the content that you are looking into.
Truth be told, the concentration of media and the related issues actually brought us together as two groups. You will hear a bit more, a lot more, from our colleagues from PWAC about some of the financial impact they have been suffering as a result of concentration and consequently, we have pooled our resources a bit to look at this and other issues.
As a committee, I know that you have heard and seen many witnesses about this issue. You have heard corporate representatives from Rogers, Quebecor Media, and Transcontinental state that there is less concentration today than in the past, that bigger ownership groups have brought stability, and that quality has not suffered. You have also heard the flip side: The newspaper industry is just a dangerous monopoly. You have heard about editorial interference by some owners and that a public trust has been breached. We hope to bring you a different perspective from people working in the field — the people actually producing what you read and see.
At the end, we will propose some solutions.
With that — that is a brief overview — I will throw it to Mr. Edmonds, my colleague, who will focus on what is going on at Canadian Press.
Mr. Scott Edmonds, Vice-President, Canadian Press Branch, Canadian Media Guild: I appreciate being here. For Senator Fraser, I suspect, much of what I will say is old news because she was actively involved in the Montreal Gazette in 1966 when a good deal of what I am going to discuss happened. It was, for us at the Canadian Press, a somewhat frightening example of what can happen because of concentration of ownership.
I will go back to 1907, which is when the roots of the Canadian Press were established. It was also an early example of the problems with cross-ownership. Prior to 1907, the railway telegraph companies had control of the distribution of foreign and Canadian news as well as the distribution of foreign and Canadian people in Canada. Most of the foreign news came from the Associated Press.
In 1907, the Canadian Pacific Railways made a mistake. It decided to eliminate Canadian content and double the price for what amounted to a reduced package of Canadian and foreign news. Three newspapers in Winnipeg revolted: the Manitoba Free Press, the Winnipeg Tribune and the Winnipeg Telegram. They formed what was then Canada's first cooperative news service: The Western Associated Press.
They decided they could gather and supply their own news. It was a daunting task. They did not have a technology of the day and they did not have the people but they tried to put it all together. Over the next decade skirmishes over telegraph rates followed and despite a temporary truce, eastern Canadian and central Canadian newspapers did the same thing. Eventually the railway decided to get out of the news business entirely. We could call that one of the early examples of "de-convergence." They decided that it was frankly more trouble than it was worth; it was not making them enough money.
Attempts were made to turn this into a true national news service but it did not really gel until the World War I added a little impetus and the Dominion government put up $50,000 a year to help bridge some of the technical gaps that existed across the country. Canadian Press Limited was formed in 1917. In 1923, it reformed under an act of Parliament as the non-profit that essentially exists today.
It served the Canadian newspapers, which have controlled it very well ever since. It has provided news to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation virtually from the inception of the CBC, and in 1941 it formed Press News Limited to sell its news to commercial radio stations.
Today, as the Canadian Press/Broadcast News, CP/BN, it serves close to 100 member daily newspapers and 600 radio and television stations across the country in both of Canada's official languages. It can be counted on 24 hours a day and has offices from coast-to-coast. CP/BN delivers award-winning news and photographs provided by its staff as well as news provided by member newspapers and broadcasting clients. It transmits material from the Associated Press and provides its material to AP for use in the United States. Much of what Americans know about Canada comes from CP — either directly, when AP picks up a CP story it deems of interest to a U.S. audience, or indirectly, through CP content inserted into AP stories on issues such as softwood lumber, mad cow disease or the Canadian Wheat Board. We cannot make them read those stories however.
CP also reaches into government and corporate offices with products such as Command News. It provides much of the content on major Internet Web sites across the country. Even large member newspapers rely on CP to keep their Web sites current with news that Canadians want to see when a story is still happening, and not hours afterwards.
Its Canadian bureaus and correspondents are supplemented with two remaining foreign bureaus in London and Washington but CP continues to staff important news events involving Canadians wherever they occur in the country or in the world. Canada's continuing military role in Afghanistan is one example. All of this is accomplished with a staff of fewer than 400, including managers and temporary and part-time employees.
Throughout its almost century-long history it has earned a reputation as a fair and unbiased source of information that is relevant and important to Canadians no matter where they live in this country. It is respected in Quebec, just as it is respected in the rest of Canada, as a reliable source of general news, entertainment, sports, business and foreign affairs. That is the good news.
We are here, however, because concentration of ownership has already threatened once to destroy the Canadian Press in the not-very-distant past. CP's last near-death experience was in 1996, when Southam notified CP in January of that year that it was pulling 18 daily newspapers, including some of the largest in the country, out of the cooperative. It did so with the blessing of Hollinger, which by then controlled Southam and together they accounted for almost half the daily circulation in the country. The other members, not wishing to be left holding the bag for severance and other financial obligations to CP and BN staff — and if I remember correctly, those amounted to around $80 million — were forced to issue their own notices.
CP had its supporters on the board of directors who wanted to save the cooperative. The gild also waged a determined campaign. It put up $100,000 and we did what reporters normally do not do: We did not just ask questions, we lobbied politicians, commissioned polls, and pulled out all the stops to convince Canada it was about to lose something irreplaceable.
To us, the motive for killing CP was transparent. With no CP, the Southam-Hollinger news service, which was to be expanded, would have a ready market for its news. Smaller papers without the resources to fill the empty pages created by the departure of the Canadian Press would have little alternative, effectively subsidizing the Southam-Hollinger chain.
It seems unlikely the offer would have been extended to newspapers competing with Southam. Even if it were, it seems unlikely some would have accepted but that is hypothetical.
Then and now, the gild viewed this as a striking example of why too much concentration of ownership can be bad. From our perspective, the good guys won. The Conrad-Black-controlled Southam-Hollinger group backed down. A committee of the board of directors led by people like strong CP supporter John Honderich of the Toronto Star came up with a new plan to operate a cheaper news service. Member assessments, the basic fee based on circulation, are lower today than they were a decade ago.
The late 1980s and early 1990s had already seen cuts at CP to trim costs. As a result of the restructuring in 1996, there were further cuts. The cumulative effect was a smaller and less expensive CP. The news service no longer has bureaus in New York or Moscow, for example. Prior to 1996 a domestic bureau in Winnipeg was closed. Staff counts were trimmed at other bureaus. Ottawa was almost cut in half.
Today, however, just as in 1924 or 1974, CP remains the best and sometimes the only way for a newspaper reader in Montreal to find out what is happening in Medicine Hat or Regina or Saint John's.
There was a human cost to all this change in the 1990s. Some of my friends lost their jobs, and many opted for severance packages and moved to new careers. CP's capacity as a national and international news service was diminished. However, it survived.
It is true that the ownership of Canada's daily newspapers is a little more diverse than it was in 1996. We call that the "zenith of concentration," but the pressure on CP continues. Just as newspapers are not the only source of revenue, they are also not the only source of pressure. CP has received provisional notice already, however, that one of its largest newspaper members, the National Post, may leave July 1. Provisional notice means it has the right to do so. We ask members since 1996 to provide guarantees of how long they will remain, to prevent a repeat of the sudden imminent death syndrome that CP encountered at that time.
Losing the National Post would cost the news service hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. All of this puts pressure on an operation that remains a non-profit cooperative and runs at a slim margin. Any surplus revenues are usually relatively small and go into accounts to pay for coverage of things like federal and provincial elections or the Olympics. Without these funds CP would simply not have the revenue to cover these events. Unexpected news events such as war or a natural disaster put a further strain on CP's resources.
Employees of CP are coping as they have for the better part of a century with these and other forces. They have looked outside of their traditional role to increase revenue in ways that would probably astound the founders of the cooperative. However, at CP's core — at least, as far as many of its employees are concerned — remains the belief that Canadians need and deserve a national news service of their own, one that provides timely information tailored to Canadian needs, unbiased, uncoloured by the views of owners, free of pressure from advertisers, and free of political interference.
Mr. Michael OReilly, President, Periodical Writers Association of Canada: Thank your for giving us the time and the opportunity to address you on an issue that has been close to our hearts for many years.
The Periodical Writers Association of Canada, PWAC, serves and represents more than 500 independent professional writers across Canada. At last count it was 526. This not-for-profit association maintains chapters in most major cities and delivers a range of services to its dispersed and diverse membership.
PWAC is an active member in the community of Canadian creators and is a leader in developing policies and services that contribute to our nation's intellectual, artistic and political life. We are founding members of the Canadian reprography licensing agency known as Access Copyright, formerly CANCOPY. We have helped to establish the Creators Copyright Coalition, an umbrella group of creator organizations. In 1996, PWAC was certified by the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal to represent non-francophone freelance writers in Canada. This designation under Status of the Artist legislation gives PWAC authority to negotiate on behalf of non- fiction writers in areas under federal jurisdiction.
PWAC members' works are found in nearly every Canadian newspaper and magazine. Our members write for radio — most notably the CBC — television and now Web sites. Many of our member's stories are found in major international publications. The simple reality is that most Canadian magazines would not exist without Canadian freelance writers. Freelancers write most of the articles you read in your favourite publications. The next time you pick up Canadian Geographic, Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Reader's Digest or look at the feature pages of The Globe and Mail, the National Post or the Ottawa Citizen, take a look at the bylines and the contributors' biographies. Virtually all of these people will be independent non-fiction writers — freelancers.
The typical PWAC member holds two post-secondary degrees, is middle-aged and has been working as a freelance writer for more than 10 years. As small business owners and professional writers, our members are highly skilled and highly educated people who choose to work freelance and to tell the Canadian story. Our members have been telling these stories for nearly 30 years. From Inuvik to Windsor and from Victoria to Saint John's, PWAC members, and freelance writers in general, write about what it means to be Canadian. We are the chorus of diversity that sings the Canadian song, both in this country and around the world.
Unfortunately, these Canadian stories are getting harder and harder to tell. The stories are there and the interest in them is high. Canadians want to know about themselves. The simple reality is that those who own our newspapers, our magazines and our airwaves are demanding more and more from us, the writers, and they are paying less and less.
Large publishers such as CanWest, Transcontinental, Quebecor/Sun Media, Rogers and Thomson are demanding more work, more content and more rights; and they are paying less for it. According to our association's last comprehensive member survey, the average annual income for a working freelance writer was $26,000. This is almost identical to the average income in 1979. Factoring in inflation over the past 30 years means independent writers in Canada have watched their standard of living drop by more than 60 per cent.
At the same time that rates and incomes are dropping, these same large publishers are demanding more rights from their writers. Contracts demanding a broad range of licences for little or no additional money have replaced what used to be the norm: single-use agreements. When I first started freelancing in 1993, a publication such as The Globe and Mail or Maclean's would purchase the right to print my article once. These one-time print licences allowed freelancers to re-sell their works to non-competing markets, thereby allowing us to increase our incomes. Rates were not good but at least we could makeup the difference by recycling our works.
All this came to an end in the mid-1990s with the first round of media mergers. Now when I licence an article to the Ottawa Citizen or to Chatelaine, the publisher demand the right to reuse my work throughout their corporate media empire. My article can now appear in all chain newspapers and magazines, on the company's Web sites and in their commercial databases. It can also be used on their radio and TV broadcasts in the case of cross-ownership. There is no room for negotiation of these contracts anymore. Local editors have been ordered to get virtually all the rights to my articles or I do not write for them. Those who do not sign do not work. Some of our members even tell stories of being blacklisted for speaking out. The corporations receive unfettered use of my work. In exchange I usually receive nothing, or at best a small pittance.
To put it bluntly, independent writers and producers in this country face economic starvation. An increasing number of my colleagues have stopped writing for the magazines and newspapers that Canadians read. Many are turning to corporate or government work to pay the bills. Those who stay face a diminishing standard of living.
I would like to turn things over now to my colleague, Ms. Pendgracs. She will share with you some of the stories from our members.
Ms. Doreen Pendgracs, Past Member, PWAC National Executive, National Board Member, Access Copyright, Freelance Writer: I, too, started freelancing in 1993 after leaving the corporate sector. Over the past few years, several of my magazine and on-line clients have reduced their rates considerably, making it much more difficult for me to maintain the already low income I was making. We surveyed our members from across the country and I have a selection of comments that I will read to you to let you know what they are all facing.
George Kynman, from St. Andrews, Manitoba, writes:
I am a freelance writer and cartoonist. I began my career 15 years ago with small independent newspapers. Today, those independent newspapers have disappeared. The newspapers still exist but their content is now supplied from central clearing houses, reflecting the corporate rather than the local perspective. Media concentration has resulted in an increasingly difficult and corporately controlled marketplace. Corporations use their concentrated buying powers to force freelance rates lower and often mistreat freelancers further through restrictive and abusive copyright agreements.
Allison Finnamore, from Moncton, New Brunswick, writes:
In late February, I received a "non-negotiable" contract from Transcontinental Specialty Publications. For 12 cents a word, they want exclusive first publication rights for 30 days, electronic rights and the right to republish my work without further payment. I am not signing this contract. I am walking away with my head held high, but I seriously wonder how I will make up the lost income and, indeed, how I will pay for childcare next month.
Gil Parker, from Victoria, British Columbia, writes:
Over the last five years, I have noticed a degradation of rates of payment for freelance articles in newspapers and magazines. I attribute this to increasing centralization of the publishing industry and the competition from all forms of media. Many of my fellow writers are abandoning traditional markets in public media, relying on commercial work for corporations and government. Canada is poorer for their loss.
Alison Hughes, Chamcook, New Brunswick, writes:
Eight years ago, I began freelancing for the Telegraph Journal in New Brunswick. At that time, I received about $500 to $600 per story. Now, NB publishing, which is part of the Irving Group of papers, pays $125 for a freelance article, and they also demand the rights to reuse the story and photos in any electronic medium in perpetuity. I used to sell stories to the Ottawa Citizen or to the Vancouver Sun but now they access them without my knowledge or approval.
Marvin Ross, from Dundas, Ontario, writes:
The amount of payment for a long newspaper feature today is the same or less than I received in the late 1980s. Not only have many papers and magazines not increased their rates in a number of years, they have even reduced them, as one editor told me she was ordered to do, and contracts are becoming much more demanding. Most publications want E-rights without wishing to pay for them.
Dave Preston, from Victoria, British Columbia, writes:
After almost 20 years as a professional freelance writer and editor, I'm all but finished with the periodical industry. I haven't seen a rates increase in about a decade and the treatment of writes has slowly but surely worsened. The real loser in all this is the Canadian reading public who are being fed more and more wire copy and syndicated pieces written by people who know little or nothing about Canada, let alone its regional cultures, politics and heritage.
Tracy Arial, from Verdun, Quebec, writes:
In the late nineties, all the newspapers started distributing draconian contracts. Instead of selling an article to the Montreal Gazette in and then receiving the same rate of pay for the same article at the Toronto Star and then, perhaps, trying to sell it out west, I could now sell it once to the Montreal Gazette and receive a measly 5 or 10 per cent for any other publication choosing to use it. Freelancers who didn't agree to such terms were blacklisted.
Bob Bott, from Calgary, Alberta, writes:
During my first decade of freelance writing, between 1977 and 87, magazines and newspapers accounted for more than 90 per cent of my income. The national magazines then paid $1 a word, and other markets generally paid at least 35 cents per word. It was a good living, especially in the early years, and very satisfying. However, inflation whittled away at my purchasing power. I can no longer afford to write for Canadian magazines. Other writing and editing has filled the economic void for me, but I am concerned about the future of the Canadian periodical industry.
Nora Abercrombie from Edmonton, Alberta writes:
I was a literary critic who used to publish reviews related to feminism, Canadian literature and cultural criticism until I sued Southam — now CanWest — for copyright infringement in the late 1990s. Needless to say, I cannot work for Southam or CanWest anymore. The problem is that there are no other companies to write for in any Canadian city. These publishers have a near-monopoly, they can set the business environment unilaterally so that Canadian dialogue is limited...and I am shut down.
Suzanne Boles from London, Ontario writes:
Rates offered by publications to freelance writers are going down. The London Free Press, now part of Quebecor/ Sun Media, used to pay $500 for the business section cover story. They now pay $200. Columns that once fetched $200 are now $100 or less.
The Chairman: Ms. Pendgracs, particularly for a former journalist, this is the most fascinating stuff, but since we do have a copy of your text, I will ask you not to continue reading the specific examples. We will read them. We will pay close attention. It is the volume that you are trying to give us that shows there are a great many people who are all saying the same thing.
Mr. OReilly: With very little effort and editing on our part, these are generated from actual members, and we did want them to speak.
As you heard, media concentration is having a direct and measurable impact on Canada's independent writers. We are being strangled out of the business. Some would say this is simple market economics at work — let the market decide. That assumes that we are dealing with a freely operating market. That is not the case. With each merger, each buy-out and with each step along the path, these massive broadcasters are able to distort the market more and more to their own benefit. From where I sit, this is a monopoly.
Our voices are being silenced. With them goes the diversity of views and perspectives that is such a part of being Canadian. My members and I do not want this but it seems that we have little choice. Thank you very much for listening to us.
Senator Corbin: I would like to request that the unread portion of this presentation be part of today's record and printed as such. I find that individual examples bring out new points that might otherwise escape us.
The Chairman: We could do that. All senators are agreed. I agree that there is a great deal of interesting matter in the testimony.
I return to what Mr. Edmonds was saying about the experiences in the mid-1990s at CP. Let me run against the current grain and say something nice about Lord Black.
If my recollection serves — and take that for what it is worth, because it is a while ago — it is when he took control of the Southam company that the drive to kill CP was halted. He saved money on CP and slashed the budget.
Mr. Edmonds: I would say that there are two schools of thought, and that is one of them. At the time in January, we were all eager to see what Hollinger had to say about it. David Radler said that Hollinger had been informed of the decision. It was essentially done with Hollinger's approval in January.
Later in the summer, Mr. Radler expressed more bewilderment at what Southam was doing, but we at Canadian Press were never sure who was pulling the strings and who was on the other end of them.
Senator Gustafson: Mr. Edmonds, you said that much of what the Americans know about Canada come from your pen. You also said that you, for the most part, are free from political interference.
Canada has suffered considerably in the last two or three years from what we have portrayed to the Americans. That has happened in the softwood lumber issue. It is happening in the cattle industry. Just today, the Americans announce that they were placing an embargo on hogs because we are producing too many. The Americans cannot take them. Eighty per cent of the natural gas that Americans use comes from Canada. Recently the ambassador was talking about the million barrels of gas and oil that are coming from the tar sands. That will be increased to 4 million barrels within five years. Much of what we have in Canada depends on that U.S. $1.5 billion to U.S.$2 billion that crosses that border.
As I listen to the news, I see an extreme left-wing, anti-American projection.
You would think that Kerry was elected already by listening to the Canadian news. Where is the "balance" that we have talked about? Perhaps we need a little more balance in the other direction.
Mr. Edmonds: The Canadian Press does not carry editorials. Throughout its history, the Canadian Press has been scrupulous. Most people who operate newspapers would agree that CP has stayed clear of politics in any form and from appearing to lean to the left or to the right. We have been accused of being dull as a result, but no-one has accused the Canadian Press of being political in any sense of the word.
If you see a political bias in media coverage, I do not think you could say that you see that in the stories of the Canadian Press.
The issue may not be that the stories that Americans see are biased, it may be that they see very few stories at all about Canada that are not written entirely from an American perspective. I suppose that is the nature of the business in the United States.
Senator Gustafson: You mentioned the fact that the writers were not getting the business of writing. The media chains are not buying your work.
Is that because of the political slant on the writings?
Mr. OReilly: No.
Senator Merchant: You have about 500 members, did you say? You said that about 70 per cent of the revenues come from your members?
Mr. OReilly: Yes.
Senator Merchant: I would commend you on that because obviously your members value your organization very much. Where does the other 30 per cent come from?
Mr. OReilly: Canada Council funding is a significant chunk of the rest of the 30 per cent. We receive some grant money through the Ontario Arts Council. We have separate fund funding sources through foundations and through our efforts. That is the bulk of it.
Senator Merchant: Nothing was said here today, but I would like to hear you comment about libel laws. I believe that libel and slander laws are a provincial purview and not a federal purview. In Canada, libel laws allow a defence based only on truth and fair comment regarding people in the public domain — politicians and movie stars, for example. In the United States, a good-faith defence is available to the media. Do you think the system in Canada or the U.S. is better?
Mr. Edmonds: I cannot say. I have not studied the issue deeply, so I cannot comment on that subject.
Senator Merchant: We have had previous witnesses who brought up the libel laws and the libel chill.
Mr. Edmonds: As a journalist, I am naturally concerned about the issue of libel chill, every journalist is. Analyzing how to remedy it, however, is another matter. This is not an issue that I have devoted any time to. I will not make a fool of myself by coming up with an answer to that.
Senator Merchant: We see big libel suits in the U.S. sometimes. How do you feel about the Canadian system? We do not have that one good-faith defence.
Mr. Edmonds: I have been sued once, I can tell you that. I consider it a mark of distinction — I suppose, every reporter does. I have never been sued successfully, however. I have no complaints with the way the system worked.
Ms. Pendgracs: In recent years, publications now demand that freelance writers actually waive the publication of rights of any libel that may be contained in the article, so that responsibility falls on our shoulders. The cost of libel insurance for freelance writers is prohibitive. I believe it is, $1,200 or $12,000? It is so much that none of us could afford it. We looked into the matter to try to get a group insurance plan for our members and I am pretty sure it was $12,000 per person. It was so astronomically expensive that none of us could afford it. The best remedy is that we are all careful in what we do and do our research so that we are not infringing on any law.
The Chairman: Would you be able to provide us with information on the cost of insurance for freelancers? If your income is $26,000 and you are being asked to fork over $12,000 of that to an insurance company, that seems unworkable.
Mr. OReilly: This is an example of some of the "Draconian" contracts, as one member called it, that we are being forced to sign or we do not work. We are asked to indemnify publishers against all potential legal action, including libel. We are to bear the brunt of the potential financial cost of this, and yet we get a pittance for it. We would be happy to bring in examples of that.
Ms. Lareau: We did not get a chance to talk about proposed solutions at the end of our presentation. You have heard some of the financial impact problems from both sides of the table. On behalf of all of us, I have a couple of suggestions.
First, I would support Parliament's heritage committee and what it said about cross-ownership. I know Mr. Clifford Lincoln, their chair, was here not too long ago. The heritage committee was calling on the government to issue an unequivocal policy statement on cross-ownership by the end of June this year. There was a certain urgency to that when the committee issued its recommendations and we would urge your committee to weigh in with a suggestion on what such a policy statement might look like.
The committee also recommended that the CRTC postpone all decisions regarding the awarding of any new licences and basically placed a moratorium on anything involving cross-ownership. That is something we support. I wanted to put on the record that a committee that heard deputations for more than two years considered this an urgent issue. That bears repeating.
The heritage committee also recommended stable, multi-year funding for the CBC. This is not news to honourable senators. I know you have heard from representatives of the CBC and others that this is probably one of the more effective ways to counterbalance perceived issues of editorial control in the private sector from one political leaning or another.
All of the things put forward by the heritage committee is just part of the solution. Many of your witnesses, including us as we prepared for this, have wrestled with the fact that we need oversight, facts and research.
Donna Logan, the director of the School of Journalism at UBC, spoke about the serious lack of independent research out there and about trying to quantify what many people believe is an issue but have a hard time verifying it with facts.
In the United States, there are many independent media research centres. The debate relating to the issue of cross- ownership has been much more robust and vigorous. That is because they have better research and many more centres of media studies to provide some of the grist for the mill.
We propose the establishment of a centre of excellence in the media in this country. There are universities that specialize in media studies, but we believe that a centre of excellence would be set apart somehow — possibly housed in the university, but funded by a combination of government, industry, union, and association sources, beholden to no one particular group. Its role would be to research and track how the media does its job, as opposed to providing training for media employees in particular.
Such a centre would define and celebrate success. That would be a positive impetus in this debate and others. It would be a combination of a think tank and resource for people. It would be Canadian. More importantly, such a centre could be the foundation of the development of a national media strategy, along the lines of what Mark Starowicz spoke to you about, for example. That is why this would be worth funding.
That would be a noble beginning to wrestling with this problem. Industry would support it because it would be a positive contributor to a problem, as opposed to any suggestions of government interference, for example.
Most industries have centres for excellence. This is an idea worth exploring. A centre of excellence would require leadership from the government, from your committee and others.
I know today's committee hearing was delayed because of the address of Mr. Kofi Annan of the United Nations. In 2002, Mr. Annan spoke at an environmental conference in South Africa. We quoted him when we appeared before the heritage committee, but the quote is now even more apt. He said, "Let us stop being so economically defensive and start being politically courageous.
When we study the not-always-concrete issues of media diversity, reporting, slants, left and right, we need facts. We need a courageous attempt to get better research to put this issue on the agenda in a more substantial way than any of us have been able to do. Much of this research trickles through our hands. It is hard to track this subject without really good, solid information.
Those are some of the solutions that we propose. I did not want this proceeding to get too far along before we had a chance to make those suggestions.
Senator Carney: I should like to focus on three specific areas They are not the only questions that I have, but there is a significant amount of competition among committee members to get more information from you.
With regard to the CP problem, it is inconceivable to me that you would not have the Canadian Press. It is, as you say, the binding element to ensure that news from all parts of the country gets to other parts of the country.
Back in the Stone Age when I was a journalist and we wrote our own copy, CP got a copy. Has that changed? With the rise of the chains, does that still happen?
Also on the CP issue, what are the rates? If you had 400 people and they have been cut back, what are the assessments? If a newspaper decides — as they have sometimes- — not to take the CP service, what are the alternative news services? Where do you get the copy? Is it all self-generated? Has the rise of the chains changed that? What are the rates in the assessments?
Mr. Edmonds: The member exchange still takes place. It has from the inception of the Canadian Press and it still does. Primarily, as it did then, it happens at night after newspapers file their copy. There is a still a distribution of news generated by the member papers, as well as news from CP staff that is pumped out during the day. As anyone who has worked in newspapers knows, it is more useful to get copy earlier in the day than later at night. The member exchange is still part of the Canadian Press. That has not changed.
In response to your second question on rates, that is actually corporate information of the Canadian Press. Most of it I do not know, although some I do. Due to the position I am in with the union, I am aware of some of the corporate information of the Canadian Press. It is confidential, and I learn it under terms of confidentiality, so I cannot divulge it.
It is a significant amount of money for a major daily newspaper. Anyone who has run one knows the costs. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars for a major newspaper to belong to the Canadian Press. It is based entirely on circulation. That is the basic assessment and there are additional fees for additional services such as photographs that are provided by the news service. The restructuring in 1996 reduced the basic fee and turned some things into extras that were not extras before. It altered the structure in some ways, but the basics remain the same.
It is not an inexpensive process, but if you look at most major newspapers in Canada will you see a considerable amount of Canadian Press content.
Senator Carney: Any information you can give the committee about how the assessments work and how much they are would help us understand what we would do in Canada if there were no CP.
My second question deals with the centre of excellence issue. It is ironic that, as the rates have decreased, so has the quality of many of the stories, because you simply cannot spend the time to research a story. You may do a telephone survey or something like that instead of field research because you just cannot afford to spend the time. As a result of that, readership has often declined because there is less for the reader. You are getting paid less, so you do less, there is less for the reader, and the circulation drops. We see that every day in Canada. Elm Street is an example of a good magazine that simply disappeared — shortly before it was to publish one of my stories, I might add, so I am particularly bitter about that.
Your centre of excellence is an interesting idea, but I do not see how it solves the problem. Prior to attending at this committee, I spoke to Donna Logan. We were making a pitch to the president of the BBC for more money for the school of journalism. It is clear that there is much competition for money for the schools of journalism, for the training centres and for a centre of excellence.
Regardless of how good it is, I do not see what good it would do for writers who are getting paid less today, for more work, than they were getting paid 20 years ago.
Third, what do you suggest about the issue of rights? That must be addressed. You cannot be bicycling the stuff around without getting paid. What would a centre of excellence do for the writer?
Ms. Lareau: There are two issues. The centre of excellence would not solve this problem. I believe that collective bargaining will ultimately solve their problems. That is part of the reason the two organizations are sitting here. The Canadian Media Guild is used to collective bargaining and has collective bargaining rights. The PWAC folks do not, and we are exploring ways of fixing that. Ultimately, that is how their money situation will get fixed.
The centre of excellence is certainly not the final solution. It is hard to come up with a final solution because of the dearth of information and facts. Sometimes you do not know what solution you need until you know the facts. I appreciate the work this committee and the House of Commons heritage committee is doing in looking into it, but it is very hard to evaluate issues of diversity and quality, and other qualitative kinds of issues in committee format rather than in constant research format. I do not believe there has been a continuum of research on this issue. There have been little thrusts here and there by various universities.
Senator Carney: There are current media studies being done by McGill and UBC.
Ms. Lareau: They do not necessarily have buy-in by the industry, and nor is the industry guided by them. I think that a centre of excellence would provide a guideline for industry, as much as for people like us in this room worrying about the issue. It would be a positive role and a positive factor on this issue. It would be because other centres of excellence in other industries have buy-in by all players in the industry. That is the difference between it and university studies here and there.
Senator Carney: That is an interesting approach, but is not the question of bicycling the material around without payment a negotiating issue, too?
Ms. Lareau: Absolutely. Most of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada issues are ultimately collective bargaining, and currently they do not have those rights.
Senator Carney: What can we do to help?
Mr. OReilly: The question of the centre of excellence is not the final end-all solution, but I think the concept is important. You have just connected the dots very succinctly and clearly, and it is amazing to me how they remain unconnected in the minds of the publishers who own the magazines and the newspapers. They do not seem to get it. Now, maybe I do not understand them, but they do not seem to understand the connection between quality of writing, quality of production of their content — which we need to support, otherwise I cannot pay my rent and therefore I cannot put the necessary resources into producing quality content — and the fact that their circulations are declining.
We had this discussion recently with the executives at the Canadian Magazine Association. We received sort of a blank stare from across the stable when we raised connecting the dots between quality content, supporting that content, and the bottom line.
In some ways, it is a blinding flash of the obvious, but I think the obvious needs to be said, especially in these days of corporate structure where the owners of the publications no longer necessarily filter through the organizations. Back in the good old days, people understood the business because they would rise up from the ranks. Now we have much more of a business model into the system and there is a disconnect between that and what actually happens on the ground.
A centre of excellence would be able to bring that information forward in a real and authentic way and in an academically accurate way. I think it would, as Ms. Lareau said, have quite broad acceptance by all sectors.
Senator Carney: What about the issue of rights? You should not be able to reprint without permission and without pay. You say it involves negotiations, but you cannot reproduce that painting behind you without paying something. What do you have to suggest for us there? It does involve negotiations but what can we do to ensure that you get the right to negotiate?
Mr. OReilly: Collective bargaining is one option. Ms. Lareau will suggest something else. There are specific tools that we could use right away through the Competition Act, for example. From our perspective, we are dealing with a monopoly. There are legislative interventions and tools that already exist. There are other specific tools such as the Canadian Magazine Fund, which is a funding body that could very specifically and clearly attach the content production to freelancers to the point system that magazines must go through to achieve their grant. There are specific legislative tools that are already in place that could be used right away to help our members pay the rent.
Ms. Pendgracs: What I have to say capitalizes on what Mr. OReilly said. It is in response to Senator Carney's point about the fact that there are only so many dollars to go around and what could we do about that. My point is about accountability of what is already being dished out. For example, the Canadian Magazine Fund gives money to certain publishers. We know for a fact, through PWAC, that some of the magazines that are getting money from the Canadian Magazine Fund have actually cut their rates to freelance writers since they have been getting money from the fund.
We would like to see greater responsibility to ensure that, if they are getting money, they are not pocketing it themselves or using it for administrative costs and that, maybe, it is going out to the freelance contributors that are helping making the publication a quality publication. That is another idea.
Ms. Lareau: There is a legal point. The federal government passed the Status of the Artist legislation several years ago. To date, only the federal government has signed on to it. That legislation gives collective bargaining rights to independent contractors in the culture and other sectors. Unfortunately, employers in this field are not federal employers. The only way to get over this hurdle is to ensure that the provinces sign on to the Status of the Artist legislation. They were supposed to do so. However, I believe Quebec is the only one that has. Ultimately, that will be a bit of a tool in the collective bargaining arsenal to fix the situation.
The financial situation in which periodical writers find themselves is part of the reason our two organizations have started talking to each other. We are working on those very points that you raised.
Senator Spivak: I have a question on the issue of collective bargaining. That is a horrendous hurdle to overcome as the current titans in that industry will do everything in their power to prevent it. How far have you gotten in your thinking? Will it be province-by-province or nationwide? What are the issues you must overcome in order to make this a reality?
I agree with you. I think that is the only way. As each industry falls by the wayside — not Wal-Mart — as they get unionized, people can achieve a better salary and a better quality of life.
I am curious to know how far along you are in your thinking and what your strategies are.
Ms. Lareau: We are new at this. We at the Canadian Media Guild, have had some experience representing independent contractors, freelancers — mostly at the CBC, where it is a much different field. The CBC is a federal employer and also a single employer for freelancers. They are actually covered under that collective agreement.
How far are we in thinking? Not very far. But what I outlined was what we believe is the road map. I think it will be a long road; there is it no question. However, unless some of the other tools that Mr. OReilly talked about in terms of legislative tools happen, we will have to do it.
Senator Spivak: Are there any Charter issues here?
Ms. Lareau: Not that I know about. We did come together recently to start working on this so this is a work in progress.
Mr. OReilly: The hurdles are huge — you mentioned herding cats earlier.
Senator Spivak: You need good legal advice.
Mr. OReilly: It is a challenge. We cannot keep going where we are going. Our members are leaving the business. They cannot continue to work for the Canadian periodical industry. That is not a tenable end result. How do we change that? That is why, as Ms. Lareau said, we are working together.
Senator Corbin: What happens if you sign away your reproduction rights on the sale of an article to any agency, newspaper, magazine, Web site or whatever? Do the people who purchase that resell the material and do you get anything out of it?
Mr. OReilly: The first answer is "yes," they resell our works in various forms and various manners. Usually we do not receive anything else for it.
Senator Corbin: Have you an idea of what the asking price is on resell?
Mr. OReilly: It can vary. The wonderful advent of technology is such that content — and we are now "content producers" and no longer writers — can be repackaged in many different ways. The example that I am intimately familiar with concerns the old The Globe and Mail story that I wrote. It ended up on the InfoGlobe database, on various data CD-ROM products that were resold to various other commercial databases in the U.S., and has probably has made it to Europe. For all of these things, I see not a penny.
On Web sites, the content is it now being recycled, repackaged and reformed in many different ways. In some ways, we are all for these kinds of developments; we would just like to get our fair chunk of the pie.
Senator LaPierre: Is concentration in ownership and cross-ownership the same thing? Does it have the same consequences?
Ms. Lareau: No, they are not. Cross-ownership means owning a television station and a newspaper in the same town or city. Concentration of ownership means owning lots of papers across the country.
Cross-ownership is a much more serious issue. I think Senator Carney knows very well the impact in a place like Vancouver, where the same owner owns the papers and the major TV station. That situation exists in many other communities in this country. That is a significant problem. If that particular owner has an editorial bias of one way or another, the people in that community will not hear the other side of the story. That is the cross-ownership issue. That is the issue, I think, that propelled this debate much more so than concentration.
Senator LaPierre: But the CRTC forbids the owners of newspapers and television stations and radio stations to use the same editorial material. It is a condition of licence.
Ms. Lareau: That is true. That was after a fair number of hearings. As you know, the Competition Bureau did not feel the same way. It is true that they cannot have the same newsgathering ability, but the key editorial decisions are made at the same office.
Senator LaPierre: It is corporate.
Ms. Lareau: That is correct. A decision to place a staff member in "x" location is made at a different level than the daily newspaper or television assignment meeting, for example. Broader decisions that extend beyond day-to-day conduct are made at corporate head office. Those are the decisions that we are talking about today.
Senator LaPierre: Does the public feel that concentration of ownership means that they are not as well served? Doe they care? God knows there are many sources of information that we can plug into every day.
Ms. Lareau: Let us talk about that. There is a myth that there are so many sources of information that you can plug into in a day. There are certainly a lot of Web sites and a lot of matter on the Internet. Very little of it is checked or originally produced. Much of the stuff you see on the Web and other sources has actually been put out by a member at Canadian Press and regenerated onto the web.
Senator LaPierre: What about radio or television?
Ms. Lareau: Again, it is the same thing. Many of the radio newscasts you hear are "rip and read" from Canadian Press broadcast news. Fewer and fewer people are serving many more media outlets in their many incarnations. It is not like there are more people doing this work. There are probably fewer, just serving many more masters in many more hats.
From a union perspective — while that is not your main concern — many of our people are being asked to serve many media and file the same story in radio, TV, print or whatever. You have heard that. It is a concern from workload and stress view, and we are dealing with that in a traditional union way. However, there is no question that those are developments that also lead to fewer points of view out there and fewer eyeballs on a story. This is what happens in the markets that you are referring to with the cross-ownership issue.
Senator LaPierre: Is the public, the individual reader or watcher or whatever aware of this?
Ms. Lareau: Sometimes they are, if they are actively involved in an issue.
Senator LaPierre: It is a minority.
Ms. Lareau: I do not know. Again, I do not mean to sing a one-note song here, but on the centre of excellence idea, I think the public would be more interested if they knew some of the impact or if they had quantifiable facts about the impact. It is very hard to get anyone in the public involved in something called concentration of ownership in the media. It is not really something that most people are talking about at the coffee shop.
However, I think it would if they learned that in the coverage of, say, the Middle East or other issues that matter to them, the media may have a particular slant in an entire market, I think that does matter to them. However, they may not know why.
Senator LaPierre: How many homes in Canada get three newspapers? How many homes in Canada watch the news on more than the CBC or the CTV network?
Ms. Lareau: It is not what the one individual person is reading; it is what a collective of people are reading. If there is one view in a whole group of people and there is only one view disseminated in that community, that affects life in that community. It does not matter that you may only read one paper and she reads three; it is that the collective knowledge in this room has amounted to a narrower perspective because of the concentration.
Senator LaPierre: Concentration of ownership is a curse. There is no doubt about that. On the other hand, would the public be better served by a return to multiple sources of information? CTV controls God knows what. The CBC has a radio network and the news television network. In other words, it also has a sort of monopoly.
Therefore, there seems to be an argument that the public will be better served this way than if there were not any at all. "'I cannot hire all of you, you know. I run a network. I run a newspaper. I cannot hire all of you. The editorial cost is reduced if I spread it around." Therefore, that is a good business decision.
What you seem to want me, as a legislator, to do is to legislate this freedom of ownership — to determine what it will do with what belongs to it. In other words, what can the Parliament of Canada do to cure whatever it is you think is wrong?
Ms. Lareau: My primary concern is the issue of cross-ownership. I do not want to impact people's businesses any more than the next person. However, you can declare that a goal of the government is to move us away from cross- ownership situations and not grant any new licences. You can be flexible about what current businesses have in cross- ownership situations. You can be flexible about how they deal with that over time. You do not force them to sell in any year, for example, some of their interests, but you work out a long-term strategy for these businesses that is fair.
Senator LaPierre: Do you think essentially that the federal government should legislate in this direction?
Ms. Lareau: To be honest with you, I am always torn on that. This is the reason we proposed the centre of excellence. In respect of cross-ownership, the government should take a long-term view and not grant any more licences. You could also direct the CRTC to do this. It does not necessarily have to be from the federal government level. You can say to the CRTC, "Do not do this." The Heritage Committee steered Parliament in that direction, and you can continue what the Heritage Committee started.
Senator Carney: This follows on the earlier question by Senator LaPierre. The industry uses this new term "re- purposing." We used to call it "rewrite." Now it means you take something from the newspaper and you re-purpose it for a television show. Someone is hired to do the re-purposing. How does that comply with the CRTC ruling that an owner cannot use the same news organization for different media outlet? Can you clarify the re-purposing?
Mr. Edmonds: These are questions that would be best directed at the people who are doing it. We can feel one way or another about it, but as to whether it meets the rules that have been set out, it is really for the CRTC to decide. They can look at it and say, "Does this meet our test? Does this not meet our test?"
I wanted to add one thing to Senator LaPierre's comments. As Ms. Lareau was saying, as journalists, we are loathe to talk about any interference with a free press. It is something that all journalists believe in fiercely.
However, the issue is that a freedom of the press cannot just be a residual right that is of use only when making decisions that fatten the bottom line. For us, what really counts is what people get to read and see and the quality of the information that they receive to help them make decisions. These issues must be taken into consideration as well. It is, to me, a phenomenal juggling act to decide where rights and responsibilities come into play. I do not envy you because you have to do it and I do not.
Senator Merchant: This is an esoteric discussion here because many of the members of the panel are journalists. I am not one of them. However, I am always concerned because I am sure that whatever you write or produce, you want the public to read. There seems to be disengagement between the public and the product that you put on the air or in newspapers. How do you engage the public?
As an example, when I was travelling last night I stopped in Toronto for a few minutes around midnight. The television in the lounge was on CNN. This happens all the time. Canadians, for some reason, are not always engaged. There is a disconnect there.
With all these things we are doing, will we be able to pique the interest of Canadians to read and listen to our stories?
Mr. Edmonds: That is a tough question that you are asking. We naturally hope that Canadians care about their own country and want to see stories that concern what happens in Canada. At the same time, however, Canada has always been a country that looks to the world, much more so than many nations, and a country that looks to the United States as well for much of its information. It is in our history, I guess, living so close to the United States.
These are cultural questions to which it is almost impossible to provide answers. What makes Canadians watch what they watch? Perhaps our proposed centre of excellence can add this to the list of issues to look at; namely, why do Canadians make the choices they make when they pick up a newspaper or turn on a television set? It is an interesting question.
Ms. Lareau: I will also add to that. I am not here representing the CBC. I represent people working there. I know that CBC's research has shown that when there is any kind of story going on in this country, it is much more likely that the airport lounge television would be tuned to Newsworld than to CNN. It really depends on the news day at hand, for the most part. I think that that possibly was an anomalous situation.
Senator Merchant: I do not think so, at least where I come from.
I buy three newspapers, and I watch the CBC news, which I think is very good, but there seems to be a disconnect. I am wondering whether we can factor that in, too. It is wonderful for this committee to set parameters. I am wondering what we can do. We cannot make people read our stories.
Ms. Lareau: No, but life intervenes. In the past week we have had Martha Stewart and the trial around her. People will watch CNN over CBC in such cases, when the verdict is announced. That is life. However, there are other days where the reverse is absolutely true.
The Chairman: Such as the Stanley Cup.
Ms. Lareau: There are many others, not just sports. The CBC's research has shown that to be true time and again. I do not want to sound too partisan here, I am sure CTV and others have shown this, too. We are a country of observers of the world; there is no question about that.
Mr. OReilly: I am not as familiar with the broadcast side but on the print side, quality matters. To get quality, you need to put the resources into it. You cannot do a good job rushing around. This, obviously, relates directly to our issues, but I think in some ways that is the simple connect-the-dots that Senator Carney outlined. Quality matters and it takes resources to produce quality.
Most readers probably could read two stories and tell you they liked one over the other. Can they tell you why? Are they even aware of it when they are reading through a magazine or a newspaper? They are probably not. However, over time, people will react to quality. That is what we are seeing in our industry. We are seeing declining readership because people get a sense that quality may be slipping or they are just not drawn to it. That is a simple answer: It takes resources to produce quality.
The Chairman: I would like to go back to the repeated comments from PWAC that editors who buy your work are asking for more and more of it. I am talking now about quantity, and only indirectly about price. Is that because there is an increasingly bigger market, and more outlets for you to sell to, or is it because the existing outlets perhaps are downsizing their own staffs? It is more expensive to have a staff reporter than to have a freelancer. What is happening there? What is going on?
Mr. OReilly: When we refer to "more and more," we mean that they are demanding more and more rights to our work, and different licences. The further extension may be true. However, when we licence an article — and we are licensing our work because we own the copyright as we create whatever we create — they are demanding the right to use it in virtually all formats now. Not so long ago, that is how I would generate additional revenue. If I sold the licence to The Globe and Mail for an article and they decided to reprint it, they would come back to me and ask if they could negotiate a fee to repackage it in some way. The demand of additional rights for no additional money is what we are seeing.
The Chairman: On the matter of rights, the principle is easy enough to understand. You think you should get money for the reuse of your work. In practical terms, however, it is easy to see difficulties arising. To use the example of your story in The Globe and Mail, how will you track how many times someone goes to The Globe and Mail's Web site, goes past a listing for your story, and may or may not read your story? At what point are you entitled to get a right? Perhaps someone went past that headline on their way to something else, or maybe they read the little bullet about it and got a jolt of information. Should you get rights for that? Who is in charge of tracking it down? Would tracking it down not be horribly expensive? Have you addressed those issues at all, and the sheer practicality of what you are asking for?
Mr. OReilly: There are endless derivations of how we could look at it. There are some direct and simple ones. When my article is placed into a commercial database, which is generating large revenues now for many publishers, they know how to charge because the system credits a certain amount to the publisher. It is certainly easy enough to set up another data field in the database and say that a nickel goes off to the writer. The systems already exist.
Web sites are a different kind of application. We would need a different kind of licensing arrangement. In fact, we have suggested a number of ways to do that with publishers.
The point is that we want to have these rights acknowledged and we want some identification of a value attached to them. Clearly, there is great value because the publishers are demanding them. They are simply refusing to pay, out of expediency.
There is no bad guy here. I do not think publishers are sitting at the top saying, "How will we get these writers today?" I understand the expediency of it. It is simpler to say, "Grab it all and do not worry about it." That has been the knee-jerk reaction. We are saying, "If you would like the licence, we are more than happy to sell it to you for a reasonable price." Let us identify what the licence is and let us negotiate a price.
The Chairman: We will have to have the CBC folks come back because we have not even touched upon what has been happening to journalists there. It is a whole separate story.
On Canadian Press, would you give me a thumbnail notion of what has been happening to pay scales and working conditions for the journalists since budget squeeze in the mid-1990s, since the budget squeeze?
Mr. Edmonds: I would like to think it is because the Canadian Media Guild is such an effective union but pay scales have improved since the period. Our staff has been cut sharply and naturally what we do differs greatly from what we did 10 years ago.
The other issue is that the Canadian Press, like many media companies, is involved in the convergence and the multi- skilling, perhaps to a greater degree than many because we have always, to some extent, been a converged company. We have had broadcast news since 1941 when the commercial broadcast news was formed as Press News Limited. We have always had some sort of dual role. However, it is increasing. With a smaller staff, the demands on individuals are increasing. Workload, for the last six or seven years, has always been one of the top issues whenever we survey our members prior to negotiations.
The issue of doing both print and broadcast has remained a concern for many of them, not because they do not embrace new technology but because everyone wants to do the best job they can. To do that takes time. For that reason, yes, it is a concern to our members.
Senator Gustafson: The pen is powerful. What is becoming of Canada? It is quite alarming that the Premier of Saskatchewan announced last week poll results that showed 25 per cent of the Saskatchewan people were ready to join the United States.
There must be some reason for that. Is it because we are moving too far one way or too far the other way? Do we just think we need to be part of that big power? As Senator Merchant was saying, we are listening to CNN. Have we really begun to analyze the seriousness of what is happening out there?
I was surprised to hear about that poll. We hear about the formation of a political party whose aim will be to join the United States. There is one in Saskatchewan right now, but I did not think the numbers would be anywhere near that. The Premier of Saskatchewan announced those numbers. Where are we at in this whole important question?
Ms. Lareau: That is a tough question. How do you analyze what is going on in the minds of a nation in terms of where peoples' allegiances are? It is very difficult. Is it the media influence on their lives? Is it something else? I do not know. Again, the centre of excellence could be there to examine such questions.
A centre of excellence could provide ongoing research on the impact of the media and on the job the media is doing. In my view, that is the only way to get at some very tough questions, such as the ones you posed. These are qualitative, difficult-to-analyze questions that can only be dealt with in a very concentrated centre.
Senator Gustafson: That becomes a screening process then, does it?
Ms. Lareau: I do not know that it is a screening process, not at all. It is, rather, a place where there is a continuum of study along the lines of impact of the media. If you are asking those questions in this forum, you are possibly thinking that the media's impact on those people may be making them think that way. The only way we could ever get at that is through very serious research that is done over time, not just as a snapshot of 2004. That is why we need a permanent centre of research such as we are proposing.
Senator Gustafson: I would not blame the media for all the problems. One of the problems, in Saskatchewan at least, is economics. I live right on the border. I see the Americans getting $5.70 for their durum wheat while I am getting $2.68. You can bring all kinds of comparisons like that to make someone think they would be better off living in the United States than in Saskatchewan right now. Times in agriculture are very, very difficult.
The Chairman: In fairness, these witnesses are not about to make pronouncements on that level of policy issue.
Senator Gustafson: That is true but their role is a very important part. The power of the pen is powerful in creating the images that exist. You mentioned in your presentation the Canadian Wheat Board. One mention of the Canadian Wheat Board to an American farmer who lives across the border and he will jump that high. These issues and how they are capitalized on is very important.
The Chairman: We need more expert journalists telling stories about the country.
Ms. Lareau: We all agree to that. I will say one thing about that. We are not here specifically to talk about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I do that with 90 per cent of the rest of my time. However, I will say that the cuts to CBC's regional programming have hit hardest at the stories such those you have mentioned. The regionally based stories are not being done the same way, particularly for television. That is not as true for radio, but television stories are not done the way they once were, since the end of the hour-long, supper-hour shows and the beginning of very short local news taking up 20 to 25 minutes beginning at six o'clock. The resources on issues like yours have been much reduced.
I know you have heard in this committee from Mr. Rabinovitch and from Carol Taylor, so I will not belabour the issue.
Senator Johnson: Regarding the centre of excellence, who, what, when, where, why, how? I do not know how you will accomplish this, with what and with whom? What are the five W's of journalism here?
Ms. Lareau: Who? We think it would be based in a university, possibly Carleton because it currently has a journalism program and because it is in the nation's capital. What? It does not need a building, but I think it needs to have a permanent staff. Most centres of excellence have a core staff of a handful of people. Why? I think we have talked about ongoing research on the job the media is doing. It would not be precisely about training journalists; that is a much different thing.
Senator Johnson: Is some of this being done now?
Ms. Lareau: No, I do not think it is. That is why the Heritage Committee and this committee have been wrestling with some of this. It is hard to get good, solid facts on the effects of concentration on issues of diversity and quality and such difficult-to-qualify issues. That stuff takes time. It is expensive to analyze, expensive to research.
A centre of excellence would be interesting because it would provide a role model; it would provide a positive reinforcement for people doing good work. It would highlight the good work that is going on out there and it would also bring to light some of the not-so-good — some of the areas that have been covered badly and why those areas have been covered badly. The wheat situation is just one of many where the reporting is not good because of actual factors brought on by the ownership structure. These things are difficult to gather, as I am sure you are finding as you go about your deliberations.
The Chairman: Thank you all very much. This has been a most interesting meeting. We are most grateful to you. Do try to send us that extra information that we asked for. Similarly, if there is something that you wish to add to your presentation from the Canadian Media Guild, please send it in. We will be glad to see it.
The committee adjourned.