Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Transport and Communications

Issue 15 - Evidence - October 21, 2003


OTTAWA, Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met this day at 9:41 a.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.

[English]

The Chairman: Welcome once again, senators and witness, members of the public and viewers across Canada to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, which is continuing its inquiry into the state of the Canadian news media.

We are looking at the appropriate role of public policy and helping to ensure that the Canadian news media remain healthy, independent and diverse in light of the tremendous changes that have occurred in recent years, notably globalization, technological change, convergence and increased concentration of ownership.

[Translation]

We welcome Ms. Armande Saint-Jean, journalist and professor with the Department of Literature and Communications at the Université de Sherbrooke. She is an author and was recently Chair of the Advisory Committee on Information Quality and Diversity in Quebec, which published its report in January of this year.

That report triggered a full debate in Quebec. Ms. Saint-Jean will tell us about it and outline the thinking of the members of that committee.

[English]

Professor Amande Saint-Jean, Department of Literature and Communications, University of Sherbrooke: Honourable senators, it is a pleasure to be here before you this morning. I appear before you as an academic researcher in the specific area of press and information ethics and also as a former journalist. I was a journalist for over 25 years. That is the basis of the knowledge and experience that guides me through research and intervention now.

It is also because of that experience, as well as my academic status, that I was asked last year to chair the advisory committee set up by the Quebec government that was called —

[Translation]

The Advisory Committee on Information Quality and Diversity was established by the previous Quebec government headed by Bernard Landry. It was created in response to concerns raised by a series of transactions in the Quebec media as well as in the media of Canada and the Western world in general. Those transactions raised concerns over the potential negative effects of increased concentration of media ownership.

The committee that I chaired had a very brief and very broad mandate. We had four or five months to complete two components. The first was research which ultimately produced a progress report on the media in Quebec and the second an analysis of potential consequences. We submitted a two-volume report in February of this year.

The first volume contains a set of 12 recommendations which I will comment on in a moment. The second is a study of the situation regarding the problem of these theoretical bases and the findings that can be made therefrom.

I will begin with those findings. The situation currently observed in the Quebec media is the result of developments over a number of decades. None of the measures previously suggested either by royal commissions or Quebec parliamentary committees has been implemented, as a result of which the present situation could be characterized as the result of a gradual process of slideslipping. I will explain further on what I mean by that.

In Canada, we have very poor defences against the effects of the concentration process. To all intents and purposes, we have the Competition Act and the obligations set by the CRTC for renewing and transferring broadcasting licences. As a result, today in Quebec, the number of players in the information industry is extremely limited, and when I say media, I am only talking about information.

In daily newspapers, for example, there are two giants: Québécor and Gesca, each of which has slightly less than a 50 percent market share. Then you have an independent paper, Le Devoir, and two English-language papers, only one of which covers the province as a whole.

The situation is the same with regard to weeklies. Once again, there are two giants, Transcontinental and Québécor, which share ownership of half of all weekly titles and two-thirds of circulation. Weeklies are news media that cover all of Quebec, whereas the dailies are distributed in an extremely narrow corridor from Montreal to Ottawa and from Montreal to Quebec City, with a small jag toward the Saguenay. But the rest of Quebec, such as the Gaspé Peninsula or Abitibi or other regions, is virtually uncovered by the dailies.

There are two sectors in television: the private sector with two players, TVA, which belongs to Québécor, and TQS, which belongs to another player, but this time a Canadian and public player, Radio-Canada, and Télé-Québec.

In radio, we once again have the separation between private and public, this time with Radio-Canada, the only public broadcaster with 14 stations, and three major networks covering all of Quebec, Astral, Radio Nord, Chorus Entertainment.

These people have common news resources, which they draw from the same sources, NTR, a service provided by the Canadian Press Agency and Radiomédia. In all private stations in Quebec, we see the same short newscasts put together by the same journalists at the same network head offices.

The news media concentration affects only the traditional media that we studied, that is to say the general media, dailies, weeklies and radio stations. There are also the Internet gateways, specialty television networks, radio stations and community television stations, independent and alternative periodicals and so on.

Concentration also poses a problem in three more technical sectors: printing, distribution and cable TV. In printing, there are two giants in Quebec, Quebecor World and Transcontinental Printing. Transcontinental Printing now publishes all Quebec dailies except those of Quebecor and Gesca, which still have old presses and are waiting for them to become obsolete so that contracts can be awarded to Transcontinental. It is a matter of time before Transcontinental becomes the printer for all of Gesca's dailies in Quebec, and, by time, I mean months rather than years.

The same is true of distribution: two giant services, Transcontinental Distribution, operating in printing and weeklies, and Messageries Dynamiques, owned by Quebecor which, as we know, also owns two dailies, the Journal de Montréal and the Journal de Québec, and which is also a partner with Réseau TVA.

In cable TV, we have two main players: Vidéotron, owned by Quebecor, and Cogeco, which is owned by another Canadian player. There is also satellite TV, but it is Bell ExpressVu and Star Choice are the main players.

It should also be noted that the main Quebec players are always the same. I am thinking mainly of Québécor and Transcontinental, which have ties with other printing businesses outside Quebec. For example, Québécor owns the Sun newspaper chain, including the Toronto Sun and other papers, a total of 10 dailies across Canada. Transcontinental bought a number of weeklies in the Maritimes and Alberta from CanWest Global. As may be seen, the Quebec news media scene is monopolized by a few very large players, which also have branch operations in Canada and outside the country. Québécor World, the printer, has very significant ties in the United States, Mexico and elsewhere in the world.

In view of this observation, what can be done and who is responsible for doing what? The committee that I chaired examined those questions and came up with 12 recommendations which were set out in Volume 1 of the report and which are summarized on a sheet that has been distributed to you. I can send complete copies of both volumes of the report and appendices at a later date. I apologize for not having done so to date, for lack of time.

What can be done? That is a very big question. Who should do what? We chose to study the problem from four angles: the responsibility of government, the responsibility of the media companies themselves, the responsibility of the journalists who are the major professional players and the responsibility of the public. The recommendations concern those four responsibilities.

The committee felt it was the government's responsibility to assert, solemnly and in concrete terms, the public's right to information as the foundation for the entire information system and to ensure its implementation. To date, the Government of Quebec has recognized the public's right to information, including it in the Quebec Charter of Rights some 20 years ago. As to its implementation, the means for doing so are extremely limited. We therefore proposed a series of measures such as passing information legislation. This would not be an authoritarian or restrictive act, but rather a broad, liberal, comprehensive piece of legislation reasserting the fundamental principle of the public's right to information and introducing a certain number of measures. For example, it would create an information council, a central agency responsible for implementing the various aspects relating to the quality and diversity of information, the adoption of an information charter which would be espoused by the media companies, journalists and the public, jointly and voluntarily, the creation of an information assistance fund, financed not out of public funds, but rather through royalties paid on advertising revenues, somewhat like the arrangement existing in other areas such as television and magazines, an assistance fund designed to promote independent initiatives, that is to say initiatives not associated with the major conglomerate, and also vigilance measures such as the systematic examination of transactions and corporate operating reports.

When I say ``corporate operating reports,'' that leads me immediately to the second responsibility, which this information act and the government would confer on media companies. The first of those obligations is a formal commitment by all media companies to the public service of information, which is the reason they exist. That commitment should take the form of a statement of principle to be published or broadcast and to be filed with the Information Council. You will see that all these measures form a coherent whole.

The businesses should also be required to comply with transparency measures by, for example, disclosing the names of their directors, the transactions that have been conducted over a given period, at one year intervals, respecting the purchase or sale of information media and what percentage of their revenues and profits is associated with information. This effort of vigilance should be made by the business council, through the Information Council and be managed by a permanent independent statutory agency such as a parliamentary committee.

The underlying principle — if you will pardon the paradox — is mandatory self-regulation. The committee does not recommend coercive measures as such, except for a few minor items, such as having a contract with information directors protecting the independence of newsroom managers, or the obligation to belong to a press council, pay press council fees and contribute to the council's proper operation. But beyond the measures, the idea is to have a general statute that recognizes the principle of the public's right to information and leads the partners, businesses, journalists, public representatives and representatives of the common good of the state to join forces in an Information council. The council would adopt a charter, monitor changes in concentration, have a registry where reports are filed and contributions to the fund are made, and manage the independent information assistance fund. The Council would have four mandates.

The idea is to equip ourselves with tools that will enable us to avoid having to restart the work you are doing right now, which we did a few months ago and which a number of other groups did before us, having to start from scratch every time: where do we stand, what defences do we have, what are others doing in Canada or in the provinces, in the United States, in Australia, in Europe? What could we do? And here are our recommendations. And we start all over again in five years, 10 years, 15 years or six months.

The other two levels of responsibility contemplated by the committee are lower levels, and I will begin my conclusion immediately after this. They are the journalists, whom the committee asks to develop a code of ethics together with their media companies. If you would like details on our reasons for this recommendation, which may appear somewhat tenuous, I can give them to you in the discussion that follows.

The Achilles' heel of the entire information system is probably the notion the information world has of the public. The public was defined at the outset as a citizen in the traditional liberal sense, as in the Enlightenment liberal sense, of course. However, as a result of the slippage through which information has been entirely given up to market forces, the public is now defined as a consumer. By definition, a consumer is reduced to a being who approves by buying or disapproves by refraining from buying or frequenting. The idea is to restore to the public their status as citizens, to equip them to take a critical view of the information provided to them, even to go so far as to raise their awareness so that they can demand the information deemed essential to a democratic life worthy of that name.

This is obviously an undertaking that calls for media education. In Canada and Quebec, there is as yet very little media education, whereas it is a very complex and developed activity in certain countries. In Argentina it is a permanent fixture of the school curriculum from elementary school to university.

To summarize, the action that the committee is suggesting the Quebec government take lies between the two fundamental notions of freedom and responsibility. That freedom has its constitutional basis in paragraph 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and itself is the fundamental basis of the entire information system in Canada, and there can be no question of undermining it. Media companies and journalists are the agents, and all partners have a duty to comply with this principle of freedom.

But with freedom comes responsibility, and the system in which we have been operating for 50 years in North America — a legacy of the Hutchins Commission in 1947 — is the system of media social responsibility.

Media businesses enjoy a freedom that no other sector in our society has because they are responsible for providing society with a service essential to democratic life. That social responsibility must be generated internally by media companies, and we believe that they need a bit of a shove in order to discharge that duty which they have not spontaneously discharged for 50 years.

They cannot be blamed for that, since the main purpose of a business is to make profits. To a certain extent, the notion of profitability is relatively inconsistent with public service defined in terms of quality, diversity and accessibility of information.

We must consider a set of measures that leads and compels them to discipline themselves, so that they carry out this public service mandate which is their purpose and which is the basis of the freedom they enjoy and of which they may not be deprived.

That is somewhat the paradox I referred to at the outset, of reinforcing self-regulation mechanisms in order to compel essential self-discipline. I am speaking to you as a committee of the highest authority in Canada. It is the duty of the state to represent the common good and to assure society that symbolic and actual means are taken to respect this freedom which is the basis of our society, but also to respect the responsibility which is the duty of media companies and journalists as major partners.

The Chair: Thank you very much. There is a great deal of material in your presentation. We are going to move on to the question period, starting with Senator Graham.

[English]

Senator Graham: I must say that your bona fides have preceded you, and I congratulate you on an interesting presentation. You are well respected in your field.

My first question is, in assembling your report, did you stray outside the province of Quebec and examine the situation in the rest of Canada?

Ms. Saint-Jean: The answer is no. We had no time to look into the Canadian or the American scene. We only had time to gather a little information that is contained in volume 2 of the report concerning foreign legislation. We looked at the legal barriers in the United States, Australia, France, Sweden, Great Britain and a few other countries, but we did not have time to look into the problem in Canada or the United States.

Senator Graham: As a journalist, and certainly a professor of communications in Quebec, and in your examination of what was happening in Australia or wherever, did you determine any major differences between journalism, for the lack of a better word, in French Canada as opposed to English Canada?

Ms. Saint-Jean: In the way journalism is practiced?

Senator Graham: Yes.

Ms. Saint-Jean: No, not really. We did not note any major differences. There is this general trend all around the world, and in all parts of Canada, toward a greater integration of what used to be very specific genre. Opinion is now blended into news, facts and information. There is a trend toward entertainment through information and news.

News has to be entertaining and attractive. It has to catch the eye or the ear of the public.

I would not say that there are major differences. I know this is a very sensitive topic that has been raised over the years through all sorts of studies. I am of the opinion that there are no fundamental, major differences between the two types of journalism in English and French Canada.

Senator Graham: Your report seemed to call for a greater role for the government in the media. You talked about freedom of speech. You also said in your presentation that this entails a huge responsibility.

Some witnesses before our committee have suggested that an approach that includes a greater role for the government in the media might weaken the function of the media as a watchdog with respect to government. A greater role might have a negative impact, or at least have the appearance of having a negative impact, with respect to freedom of the press.

Have you an opinion on that?

Ms. Saint-Jean: Yes, I do. When we talk about the greater role that should be undertaken by the government in matters of information, there is a major difference between our recommendations and previous ones. There is a difference in measures that have already been taken in other countries to curtail concentration of property.

Until now, governments and people who study the subject have seen the necessity to intervene before the main problem arose. Those measures were fairly ineffective. The perspective has to be shifted now to look at measures after the problem has arisen. It is impossible to imagine that the situation could be overturned or changed.

It is the evolution of many decades and we have to live with it.

However, certain measures have already been taken, in some countries more than others. To my knowledge, there has been a way to create equilibrium between respect for freedom of the press, freedom of speech and basic rights and legitimate government intervention to either protect property or prevent concentration.

Asking government to now play a greater role and take measures after the process does not mean that any government should not stay at arm's length from the press.

So far, the so-called ``watchdog role'' of the press has been greatly undermined, in my opinion, by other types of interests pursued by the media, namely profit.

Without saying that we had a glorious past, I believe there used to be a stronger critical stance towards government activity than there is now, due to so-called ``lack of resources.'' As you know, investigative journalism and intensive coverage of government activity require staff time and a lot of investment that the media are less inclined to make. Therefore, I think that although government has to stay at arm's length from the media and keep away from any intervention concerning the content of information, it is the role of the state to oblige the media, in some way, to assume their duty, to play the role they have to play in a democratic society, and remain or become again the watchdog of government activity that they need to be.

[Translation]

The Chair: Other senators want to ask questions, but I would like to continue in the same vein, Ms. Saint-Jean. In recommendation 1 in your report, you say:

The committee recommends that:

(a) A commission of the National Assembly

The equivalent in the federal government would be a committee of Parliament.

... be directed to conduct a systematic study of all transactions involving the transfer of media ownership that may have an impact on the public interest with respect to information.

That could be any transfer of ownership, I imagine?

Ms. Saint-Jean: Yes.

The Chair: I must say that, as a parliamentarian, I reacted quite strongly when I read this text. I am not sure that parliamentarians would like to assume that responsibility. There is always the danger or perceived danger — but I am thinking of a real danger as well — that the decisions or recommendations of the said commission or committee would be highly influenced by everyday partisan political considerations.

I am going to cite an entirely hypothetical example, which I think a lot of people will understand. It is no secret that Lord Black of Cross Harbour, Conrad Black, did not really like the current Prime Minister of Canada, but he is nevertheless the Prime Minister of Canada and has a majority of seats in Parliament.

Imagine Lord Black having to appear before a parliamentary committee controlled by persons faithful to the Prime Minister to seek permission to acquire a newspaper. It would definitely be hard to conceive that parliamentarians could express considerations that would be entirely objective, non-partisan, calm and detached from the situation. I would like to have your comments on that subject.

Ms. Saint-Jean: I entirely agree with you. You are right. I would like to draw your attention to the wording of the recommendation. The recommendation states:

That the culture commission of the National Assembly [...]

You have added:

... be directed to conduct a systematic study of all transactions.

It does not refer to approval, permission or recommendation. The idea here is to create a constitutional forum where media companies have to be accountable by reporting transactions which they have conducted in the period that has just elapsed, not to request permission or to obtain any kind of blessing.

We believe, and this may be naive, that merely testifying before public representatives on what is done in the area of information, such as, for example, the act of purchasing all the independent dailies remaining in the market or merging all weeklies, would be sufficient. Having to answer questions such as ``In the purchases of dailies and weeklies, have you merged the newsrooms?'' or ``What are the terms and conditions on which the independence of the news managers in the various newsrooms of the papers you publish will be respected?'' would make the owners and officers of media companies aware that they must be more respectful of the public's right to information.

That is the new dynamic that we have considered, which, I would point out to you, is the result of a consensus. Our committee was composed of 10 members of different professional and political backgrounds and different opinions. I believe that one of the merits of our work is not the recommendations as such, but rather the fact that we tried to strike a balance between various visions.

That balance is not perfect, and it may have at least theoretical deficiencies, and it proposes action that has never been taken anywhere. Based on the assumption that the types of intervention or non-intervention envisaged in the past have not produced the desired results, let's try something else based on what we thought were the strengths of the previous attitudes.

[English]

Senator Spivak: I agree with our chairman that it is very difficult not to be cynical about the surveillance of economic activity by a legislative body. Look at the situation we are in now. In many places in Canada there is a single newspaper. There is no competition. We do have the CRTC. Thank goodness for the CBC, so that we do have a diversity of opinion.

There is great controversy at the moment in the United States over a law that would allow one owner to have more radio stations or newspapers. Do you not think it is probably more effective to have stringent laws regarding ownership, in other words, encouraging competition, rather than surveillance over whether someone should buy something or not?

Also, could elaborate on how you view the ownership situation in terms of making editorial opinion front-page news, et cetera. That is what is happening in our country, to a great extent. In other words, what should be a columnist's view is often an owner's opinion, and somehow that opinion is on the front page.

Ms. Saint-Jean: Would stringent laws concerning ownership be more efficient?

Yes, certainly laws would be more efficient, however, it is getting late. Thus far, we have relative protection in whatever is in place in Canada, for example, la loi sur la concurrence. As it is now, I believe that protects us from the take-over of Canadian media by foreign ownership or complete control.

Senator Spivak: Thus far.

Ms. Saint-Jean: That is right.

Yes, it would be a good way to provide protection, but when one says that, one has to say, ``protect whatever is left of diversity.'' In certain areas, as you outlined, this diversity is non-existent or has disappeared. I do not think that stringent laws would have the effect of restoring a diversity that has long gone.

Concerning the relationship between ownership and editorial stands, it has been long admitted by scholars as well as information professionals that diversity of ownership favours diversity of opinion. By the same token, lack of diversity in ownership entails lack of diversity in opinion.

Senator Spivak: Does the literature back that up? Does evidence back that up? It seems that most owners, as you pointed out, have the same opinion: They want to make a profit. Generally speaking, and within reason, they will do whatever it takes to make a profit. Those attitudes are similar, no matter who is the owner. Diversity of ownership does not guarantee diversity of opinion.

Ms. Saint-Jean: Of course it does not. Thus far, we are short of any sound academic evidence or research that would give us a nuanced or detailed portrait of the situation concerning diversity.

[Translation]

The committee that I chaired commissioned a piece of research from an academic researcher on the question of diversity, the theoretical definition of diversity and the various studies conducted to date on the links between the concept of diversity and other aspects of information. The conclusion that expert came to is that there is very little theoretical knowledge that provides us with a refined notion of what diversity is.

However, apart from profit-seeking, the other common denominator of all media companies is that they embrace the trends and fashions of the information world. That is easy to understand. It is also linked to profit-seeking and institutional and organizational survival.

When we talk about diversity of opinion, we are talking not only about diversity of partisan editorial opinion, but also about different approaches to information. We are talking about concerns that reflect various sectors of society and various categories of the population, not only an opinion decided at the time of elections. We still have a lot of work to do to determine a suitable definition of diversity of opinion and editorial diversity.

[English]

Senator Spivak: One last question. Do you think our laws are valid in terms of diversity? For example, Al-Jazeera wishes to come here and a decision has to be made. Very often, there is the question of whether what they promulgate is hate speech. If you want to be totally diverse, I suppose you would permit that? How do you view that?

Ms. Saint-Jean: I am torn between two positions concerning that specific question. Part of me says that if we are to be faithful to freedom of speech, we should allow Al-Jazeera in. Part of me says that we should be careful. I have no definite position and am like most people, torn between two things.

I would like more information concerning the possible repercussions of such a decision and the potential public effect and so on. This is a very sensitive question.

[Translation]

Senator LaPierre: It is not difficult at all, Madam. The cost of freedom is risk. If you have freedom of the press, you have to have all possible opinions.

I am told this system is guilty of messages of hatred toward Jews. We have laws in Canada to deal with those situations. The Criminal Code can be used.

I could argue that the vast majority of Canadian dailies, television and radio stations, with the exception of Radio- Canada, encourage hatred toward Islam and Palestinians. They never report positive news about those two international groups because they are afraid of that Islamic or Muslim network, and there are reasons for that.

The cost of freedom is risk. I prefer it that way, and I want it here without someone going and saying tomorrow morning

[English]

You cannot have this one here because of this and because of that.

[Translation]

Do not you think my position is very reasonable, if I can be reasonable?

Ms. Saint-Jean: You express part of my thinking in very eloquent terms. There i another one on counterbalance and the actual protection the laws afford us, on other types of propaganda to which we are exposed, perhaps more in the American than the Canadian media. All that is not simple. Now if we stick to a strict position on respect for freedom, you are entirely right.

If we use other arguments, we can come to different considerations.

[English]

Senator Spivak: Talking about impact, remember the situation with radio in Rwanda. Media can be hijacked, that is the problem.

Senator LaPierre: With all due respect, media have already been hijacked in Canada. Do you want to have a discussion about that?

The Chairman: Senator LaPierre, we have a long list.

[Translation]

Senator Corbin: Could I ask you whether somewhere in the world there is a situation in which freedom of speech, the free exercise of the prerogatives of private ownership and social responsibility in the media field are in ideal balance. You told us you had studied situations outside Canada.

Ms. Saint-Jean: Ideal situation? No, I do not think that exists.

Senator Corbin: Or one that is approaching an ideal situation in the field, having regard to your recommendations?

Ms. Saint-Jean: The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. There have long been situations which are the envy of people who consider these issues in North America. One of my frustrations in the work I did for the committee was that I did not have the time to go to certain Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland to see how things work. Sweden was the first Western country, long before Great Britain, to adopt the press council model. Sweden established a press council in the eighteenth century. It was in the same spirit of social responsibility that the Hutchins Commission and the British revived it at the same time in the 1940 and 1950s.

The Scandinavians have a long tradition of respect for the fundamental freedoms that actuate us as well: freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press. They also have large and very powerful media businesses. An additional feature is that they have languages that are little used outside their own countries. That is the case of the Danes, Norwegians, Swedes and Finns. And yet there are no restrictive laws prohibiting this type of thing. A balance has been established. There are also striking trends: the city of Stockholm has experienced a gradual decline in the number of dailies published over the past 20 years. That trend appears to be less strong in Finland, which has the largest number of dailies per capita in the world, even though it has fewer than one million citizens. That may be why it is a bit easier.

I believe there is a balance, probably resulting from culture, tradition and political history, which can serve as an example for us. However, that is the vision of someone who is speaking in virtual ignorance of the matter and who tends to see the grass in her neighbour's field as greener than her own.

Senator Corbin: Do Quebecers baulk at the fact that the Montreal Gazette, L'Actualité and Châtelaine are foreign- owned? I was reading this morning in one of those publications that The Gazette's circulation has appreciably declined recently. Have Quebecers reacted to this control by English Canadian interests?

Ms. Saint-Jean: When you talk about control, you are mainly talking about the transaction through which CanWest Global became owner of The Gazette, because the two publications you mention have long belonged to Rogers, previously MacLean Hunter, and were thus Canadian- or Toronto-owned. I know of no opinion polls that would give us any indication of Quebec opinion on these types of ownership. L'Actualité and Châtelaine are among the publications with the largest circulations in Quebec. So one can reasonably think they enjoy a good business reputation. Furthermore, I do not believe it was the change in The Gazette's ownership as such that had the greatest effect on Quebec public opinion, but rather certain editorial decisions, such as, for example, the question of the single editorial for all CanWest dailies, which brought some reaction, although it was relatively limited to a certain circle of insiders. The general public is not very concerned about those matters and I would not draw any connection between the decline you refer to in The Gazette's circulation and its present owners.

The Chair: I would like a clarification. The Gazette had been owned by Montrealers from at least 35 years. It was first bought by the Southam company, then with other Southam papers by Mr. Black, then by CanWest Global.

You said that the Swedes have had a press council since the eighteenth century?

Ms. Saint-Jean: That is correct, in 1753 or 1793.

Senator Corbin: The Montreal Gazette's circulation has nevertheless fallen from 210,000 to 170,000 readers. That is happened since Mr. Asper took control. I read the article in the latest issue of L'Actualité — you can take a look at it — there may be measures to take in response to this state of affairs. I do not know why it has happened.

Ms. Saint-Jean: I am sorry, Senator Corbin, but I cannot comment on that situation. However, many factors influence increases and decreases in the dailies' circulations. The situation of The Gazette in Montreal is very particular.

To continue on with Sweden, the name ``ombudsman'' is Swedish in origin. The first press council arrangement consisted of not only a tribunal of honour, but also an arbitrator ombudsman to settle differences between the partners over information.

[English]

Senator Gustafson: I find this interesting. You mentioned the responsibility of journalists and the public.

I am a grandfather of 12 grandchildren from the ages of 28 to 8. They are engineers, teachers and accountants. I find that they do not read the newspaper. These kids are not reading the newspaper.

I call them to find out what happened in the hockey game, and they are on the Internet. A large portion of the public is really not into the media. It is a changing world.

The second thing happened quickly. They are watching football in Europe. Football has caught on big with the kids over there.

We are talking about CanWest, Conrad Black, Izzy Asper and so on, but are we really keying in to what is happening in Canada that is important?

People do not read the Western Producer, the Estevan Mercury, the Leader Post or The Globe and Mail. They do not read the National Post.

Senator Graham: Or the Antigonish Casket. They do not read that in sufficient numbers.

The Chairman: Senator Gustafson is from Saskatchewan, and he is citing a long list of Saskatchewan newspapers.

Senator Gustafson: I did not hear you address that large portion of our young people who will be the citizens of tomorrow and how they will deal with the global situation in the media. It is already happening.

Ms. Saint-Jean: That is a very big question. Actually, your oldest grandchild is the age of my son. I am also a grandmother of a young baby.

I am also very preoccupied with the fact that the younger generation — and I meet them every day in the university — are totally uninterested in the news.

Over a number of years I have asked myself: Why do these young people, especially university students, have no interest in newspapers or newscasts on television and radio? The only sketchy answer that I can come up with is that news is not an essential staple in their daily life. Why is that? I think that being a citizen now does not mean the same as it used to when we were their age. This gives a relative sense of this whole trend toward revival of what we call in French ``la société citoyenne,'' a new way of being a citizen in our modern countries.

Having said that, I am conscious that I have not said much concerning the future of news media. This reinforces my strong belief that we have a collective responsibility, in bringing forward media information, to consider this lack of renewal of their readership or viewers for television media, and to use other means than favouring sexy trends on the front page.

We saw two weeks ago a new, uplifting version of ``le plus grand quotidien français d'Amérique.'' I was amazed, because we were all expecting this new baby, an uplifting La Presse with a front page with colours, a new printing device and everything. I see Senator LaPierre laughing; he probably saw the same as I did.

First, on the upper part of the paper there was no news. There was a human-type story concerning drugs in schools, which we have known about for a long time. There was nothing new there. There was a large, main picture of three babies, with people saying how risky it was nowadays to have babies through medical-assisted devices, because you end up having three instead of one; and there were two pretty women, one standing on the left side of the column and one on the main portion of the newspaper. That is what you saw in this new, uplifting image of La Presse: No news, but babies — of course, the generation between 18 and 34 are interested in family and bringing up children — and the old, traditional attraction of nice, smiling women.

I personally do not believe this is the way to bring the younger generation into the readership of large newspapers. I think we have to address their preoccupations in a different way and help raise their consciousness as citizens involved in all the main questions with which a country or province has to deal.

Senator Gustafson: I have another question with regard to Canadian content and what is happening, especially, to the younger listening audience.

When I check with my grandchildren again, the older ones are listening to the World Series. The younger ones have already given that up. When they listen to that, they are listening to New York or Florida or wherever. Then you have the National Football League and the soccer league. They were all engaged with the playoffs in Seattle. Add to that the fact that Canada is becoming a very multicultural society. In fact, I am told that Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world — more so than New York now. We have a changing world. We have a changing country. Maybe this committee has a lot of work to do to come abreast with where we are at and to educate the public. We are caught up with who owns this or that, but it is moving so fast that by the time we get the report drawn up, it may be in other hands.

The Chairman: Just a reminder that one of the reasons why Ms. Saint-Jean is here is that the mandate of the committee of she was president was to look at concentration of ownership. You cannot blame her for talking to us about that. We asked her to talk about that.

Senator Gustafson: I am not blaming anyone. I am just trying to cite the reality of where I think we are at and where we are going. That is my last question.

Ms. Saint-Jean: I did not get the question in your comments, senator.

Senator Gustafson: I am asking about Canadian content. I am talking about the international situation. Our young people are watching the BBC, for goodness sakes. They are watching CNN, and when it comes to sports, it is almost completely dominated by American interests — whether it is the World Series or even hockey. Canada used to own hockey. We do not own hockey any more, not to the extent we did. That is changing our whole media approach, internationally and nationally.

Ms. Saint-Jean: One situation that was made clear to the committee that I headed was the fact that people had a greater facility to know what was happening in Toronto, Ottawa, New York, Washington, Paris, London, Quebec City and Montreal than in their own backyard. I think this came out blatantly — that regional and local information is the most affected by concentration of ownership.

The scale goes up. It is the same for people in a larger city, for example, Montreal, which has now integrated portions of the suburbs, and so on. It is harder for citizens of Montreal to know what is happening, for example, in Baie d'Urfé or in Longueuil or in Pointe-aux-Trembles, which are areas around the Island of Montreal. It is harder for them to know that than to know what is happening on the international level, in Baghdad or in Kabul. However, one must be careful. In spite of this converging situation in which channels bring us international information, I am not sure that we are well informed about what is taking place in Baghdad or Kabul. We see portions of that, and it helps people like former journalists — we have a tendency to be high consumers of information — to switch from the BBC to TV5 and TF2, the French information network, and the American channels, and see different versions of what is happening. Yet I am still convinced that in spite of the greater technological means, we still cover a very small portion of what is happening around the world, in our capitals, in our main cities, in our own countries, in our own province and in our own place.

Senator Merchant: Professor, this follows on from what you just said in your answer to Senator Gustafson. I, too, come from Saskatchewan. We get very little local information. I have been told that we only have one half-hour of local programming on CBC television, and that is between 6:30 and 7 o'clock in the evening. The rest of the day, there is nothing local on that particular network.

You spoke about the right of the public to information and the responsibility of journalists to get fair information to the public. You also spoke about the fact that we receive a narrow view of what is happening in the world. Could you explore this with us? Is this problem due to media concentration? We seem to be frequently pouncing on this issue. Where does the journalist fit into this picture? Perhaps we could say that Canadian journalists, by and large, come from what I would call the lower middle class; are picky, in that they like to poke at the issues; are not builders because they tend to take things apart and break things down; are left-leaning people who are well educated and humanitarian in their causes, in that they concentrate on poor peoples' issues; and, by and large, they are anti-religious. How does this give us a diversity of opinion and present a complete picture of what is going on in the world? Rather than continuing this singular focus on ownership, what about putting the responsibility on the individual journalist?

Ms. Saint-Jean: Concentration of the press is only one of the factors that can explain why the profession of journalism has changed so much over the years.

I am being cautious because I think that we have very good journalists in Canada and in Quebec. We also have journalists who are not so good. Most journalists have in common the fact that they are employees, and so they submit to the decisions of their bosses and of the media owners. The market is very competitive, and if one is not pleased with one's situation, then one has only to leave and five candidates will come forward to fill the vacancy. It is difficult today for younger journalists to behave in the same way that the more seasoned journalists used to — the great heroes of journalism 50 years ago.

Last year, I published an essay entitled, ``Ethique de l'information,'' which is a study of the evolution of journalism information and ethics over a period of 40 years. This began as my PhD thesis and evolved into a research project. The main conclusion I reached was that a series of displacements has occurred. I was cautious in using as neutral a word as I could find because one cannot qualify this evolution in positive terms. It has not improved, although it has changed. Being a journalist today does not mean the same as when I was a journalist in the 1960s.

I must admit that this is a preoccupying question. The description of the average journalist that you gave is totally in agreement with what the scholars say. I deal with students in universities each day of the year, year after year. What motivates most university students who come to our programs is not what motivated us 30 or 40 years ago. Is it better or is it worse? I cannot say. I can only tell you that a link exists between the quality of information provided by the news media, by professional journalists, and the values that are predominant in today's society.

I would place the problem in a larger sociological frame than just the journalists, but there has been a series of displacements.

Senator Merchant: I could be wrong about this, but I am presenting only one side, namely, that journalists pretend that the opinion they provide is unbiased. There is bias among ownership, but there is also bias among journalists.

Right now, there is a provincial election campaign underway in Saskatchewan. I talked with someone who said that it does not truly matter what the party platforms are, what literature you put out or what doors you knock on because the press has already decided what will happen on election day. They zero in on an issue and work that over and over again. For those people who listen, that then becomes the issue. The media do not put everyone on an equal footing and yet they would say that they are unbiased.

Ms. Saint-Jean: Unfortunately, part of what you say has been documented and demonstrated in much academic research by Professor Fred Fletcher, whom most of you know. Bias is a delicate question. I would not say that journalists begin their election coverage biased.

Senator Merchant: That is only one example.

Ms. Saint-Jean: The whole process of election coverage tends to give a selective and restricted picture of the ideas and the platforms. This horse-race kind of coverage creates a distortion. Without even talking about bias, there is a distorting effect in the way that elections are covered.

Senator Merchant: I like the word ``distortion'' better than ``bias,'' but I raise this as an example only. I am trying to say that the press can create an issue and forget the political aspect of it. They can zero in on a story and suddenly that becomes the important story. Journalists could, for example, put so much emphasis on the same-sex marriage question that it becomes the big issue even when the public does not deem it such. By the time journalists are through with it, it has become the main issue. Journalists can unearth an issue and make it the big one. There may be nothing wrong with that, but that is not the only thing in which people may be interested.

You spoke about the right of the public to information and I will return to that now. The public is not receiving accurate information about the issues. The journalists bring their own bias into it and then it becomes an issue. With so few media sources available, the public hears the same opinion over and over again.

Ms. Saint-Jean: However, I would not single out an individual. I would put it in more collective terms and in terms of organizations. An American scholar named Fallows published, about 20 years ago, a well-known book called News as Spectacle. In it he demonstrated that the media actually take certain social phenomena, air them as news and ignore other issues. A cycle occurs, in that a previously preoccupying topic becomes less preoccupying when another topic arises.

The wheel goes around. You could talk about same-sex marriages or capital punishment. Any topic returns regularly. There are five-year, ten-year, twenty-year circles. This is called the agenda-setting process.

It is important that we have very few means as a society to make news media really respect the right of the people to know. There have been initiatives in the United States and in other countries to integrate the public more into the process of the making of news.

[Translation]

It is a new kind of citizen journalism that is beginning to appear. These are groups of citizens, popular groups or community organizations which sit on an editorial committee to define the subjects of files or long-term investigations that will be assigned to this group of journalists in the room.

It is an interesting approach in which these media companies can receive suggestions from the public and ordinary citizens who put journalists on to subjects that they will not necessarily look into. It will also convince their bureau chiefs and news managers to attach importance to those subjects.

Many journalists in the newsrooms dream of working on major issues, which will suggest subjects for stories that will not be heard by their supervisors. Involving the public in this exercise may give more weight to those journalists who are still passionate about the news.

[English]

The Chairman: Listening to Senator Merchant, I was reminded of an editor I had many years ago who said that the job of a journalist is to give the public all information that the public will sit still for. There is also the question of the public.

[Translation]

Senator LaPierre: When you come from Sherbrooke, you have to let people know. It is really important. It is as beautiful as Yellowknife or Yellowknife is as beautiful as Sherbrooke.

[English]

The kids in the neighbourhood where the little girl was kidnapped in her sleep are sitting with radios to their ears. We discovered, when I did some work for the CRTC in 1992 —

[Translation]

Kids are afraid when they see violence on television and they are touched by it.

[English]

I think that they are now doing this. I understand, Madame, that —

[Translation]

... when you talk about information, you're also talking about public affairs, as it was called in my time. Is it still public affairs?

Ms. Saint-Jean: That is correct. Public affairs, which I have been involved in like you.

Senator LaPierre: For your information, on the subject of media education, there is a national association in Ottawa that handles that. There is a marvellous Jesuit in that association. There is also CHUM — their centre is located in London, Ontario — and Access Information, which do a lot of media education work.

There is an idea market. That market requires a number of players in order to be able to distribute the largest number of ideas so as to represent them to the public and to discuss them. Media concentration weakens the quality of the idea market. When I advance that argument, people say: ``But you're nuts.''

When I did television, there were two channels; now there are 100,000. People have all the diversity of information and public affairs possible. Press and media concentration has nothing to do with that. If they do not like CanWest Global, they switch to another channel because there is so much diversity. What do you think of that?

Ms. Saint-Jean: You are right. I share your opinion that the concentration of media ownership weakens that market, that is to say that vision that we have of information as the main square in the village where ideas are exchanged.

The unfortunate thing is that the absolutely orthodox supporters of the position of the main square for ideas are completely opposed to all forms of intervention designed to put a brake on a movement that plays against their main foundation. We fall into the argument of who controls whom or what. We cannot get out of it.

We were looking for solutions that appear to exist elsewhere. One of the things that exists in Canada and that I think we must absolutely preserve is public television and broadcasting systems.

There is a balance and counterweight safeguard and a quality guarantee to the extent that political and governmental authority continues to provide that public business with the necessary resources to carry out its mandate.

At Radio-Canada, I hear a lot of concerns that budget cuts and rationalizations have a direct effect on quality of information and the manner in which journalism is practised.

That disturbs me a great deal. It is not new. You have been aware of the situation for a number of years. I deplore the fact that we do not hear more demands and claims on the subject. Governments would do well to be very closely monitored by public opinion on the question.

The orthodox supporters of the idea market theory take a dim view of public broadcasting and news businesses, which they consider as players that distort the ground rules.

You can have a very liberal vision of information within the meaning of the fundamental freedoms and all the bases of society from the Enlightenment down to contemporary society without necessarily going to extremes.

Senator LaPierre: Tell me about the Internet. Young people are on the Internet nearly 23 hours a day. The Internet will obviously one day be the only source of news, public affairs information and information on all the other subjects Senator Gustafson was talking about.

The Internet is becoming the key instrument for information, relations, visions and values that young people receive. The Internet is now part of the media.

[English]

They may be new media, but they are getting to be pretty long-in-the-tooth media.

[Translation]

You studied the impact of the Internet on access to information in your report.

Ms. Saint-Jean: We did not have time to examine that aspect. In the universities now, when students are asked to write term papers, they are now required to include more than Web sites in their sources and documentation, and we are forced to compel them to consult those very old media: books, scientific journals and other paper sources. I have seen student papers which cite only Web sites as references. They are forced to go back into that medieval world that they do not come from.

Even though I agree with you about the phenomenal impact of the Internet and its consequences for information balance, I try to reassure myself by saying that, when radio arrived, people feared that it would make the dailies disappear. When television appeared, they were afraid it would be the end of radio and, as a result, of the dailies.

Fifty years later, we realize that the dailies still exist, in different form, of course, but they are there, radio still exists, and television also provides information. So I figure that, once this fascination we are witnessing has passed, we will probably come to a balance in which the Internet will be part of a broader media landscape. I agree with you that that must be taken into account.

The Chair: We have 15 minutes left, and I have three persons for the second round.

Senator LaPierre: Further to a question that follows from that of Senator Corbin, during the Iraq crisis, we essentially realized that the vast majority of people who use English watched CNN or NBC, and they came to an understanding of or an attitude toward the Americans in Iraq that people in Quebec, who watched TV5 or Radio- Canada — because those were the only sources they had in their language — did not have.

One party leader in the United States said that the vast majority of Canadians were in favour of Canada's participation in the Iraq war, but that Quebec was not, as though it was not part of the vast majority of Canadians.

That showed a culture gap because of the supply of information. Do you believe that was merely a spontaneous phenomenon that will not reoccur?

Ms. Saint-Jean: I believe we observed these cultural differences with varying degrees of direct media influence on all the major issues that have been raised in Canada for many years now and that cultural differences run much deeper than media watching differences.

Senator Corbin: The case of Le Soleil in Quebec City has already been referred to the committee. I do not know how familiar you are with the act that prevented the take-over of that newspaper. I am not familiar with all the details of the act. If you studied the case of Le Soleil of Quebec City, I would like to have your particular perspective in the context of press ownership concentration.

Ms. Saint-Jean: You are referring to an episode in the unusual history of the media in Quebec. There was no act preventing the purchase or sale of Le Soleil in the 1970s.

What we know from local history is that Mr. Desmarais, the owner of Gesca, was interested in buying Le Soleil and that his good friend, the premier of Quebec at the time, Robert Bourassa, had dissuaded him from doing so.

They came to that conclusion on the basis of a friendly agreement. There was no act prohibiting that transaction. That was discussed in parliamentary committees, but the transaction was never prohibited.

Two years ago, Gesca acquired Le Soleil, buying it from Hollinger, which owned it at the time.

Senator Corbin: One witness told us that an act had been passed by the National Assembly.

The Chair: There is an act respecting La Presse from the nineteenth century.

Senator Corbin: I am talking about recent history.

The Chair: In the case of Le Soleil, I do not believe so. According to local history, there was political intervention, but no act.

Senator Corbin: I would like this act business to be clarified. I thought I understood that a witness told us a few weeks or months ago that the National Assembly had in fact taken legislative action.

The Chair: We will check that.

Senator Corbin: If that is the case, we should examine that way of doing things and possibly apply it to New Brunswick, where a major financial interest controls a large portion of the media, whereas not a single politician has spoken out against this kind of acquisition and press concentration, something I find absolutely scandalous.

What kind of inter-university or inter-academic cooperation is there between the University of Sherbrooke and, for example, institutions such as the University of Moncton in the area we are concerned with?

Ms. Saint-Jean: It exists on an individual basis between persons who have common interests and who carry out research projects. To my knowledge, there is no protocol for collaboration between the University of Sherbrooke and the University of Moncton in the humanities and social sciences, the field to which I belong.

Senator Corbin: May I encourage you to consider avenues for cooperation between our two universities?

Ms. Saint-Jean: You can tell my colleagues at the University of Moncton when you meet them that they are welcome at our university and that we will be pleased to accept their invitation.

[English]

Senator Graham: Your report emphasizes the right of the public to information. Several times today in your presentation you have used the words ``collective responsibility.'' Senators Gustafson and LaPierre have talked about the influence of the Internet. Your book examines 40 years of journalism in Quebec, so you come to us as a journalist and as a professor.

I want to talk about the responsibility of the education system to inform our students and encourage them to be more aware of what is going on in their province, in their country and in the world.

Do they get that adequately from the Internet, or should we have a responsibility through the education system, which is mostly publicly funded, to encourage our students to read newspapers? I will repeat a story I told another time, and I will do that in 30 seconds. A hundred years ago, I was a teacher in a two-room, rural school where I taught grades 6 to 11 in the same room. One thing I did was to encourage the students to talk about current affairs. Most of the farmhouses did not have a subscription to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, which was the provincial newspaper.

Two weeks after I arrived, every household in that farming community was subscribing to the Chronicle-Herald. I was absolutely amazed by the beneficial influence it had on the students in terms of their local, provincial, national and international awareness.

Do our students receive the same kind of information from the Internet today? Are students today as aware as the students of 20 to 40 years ago, or are they more aware, of what is going on in the world?

Ms. Saint-Jean: I cannot say if they are more or less aware, but I do know that they are unaware. I do not know to what extent we were aware when we were schoolchildren, but I agree with you and I like your story. We should emphasize the importance of the responsibility that teachers have toward schoolchildren. This is key in the solution to increasing the quality and diversity of information in Canada and to relying more on media education programs. Earlier, I mentioned that some countries, such as Argentina, have invested a great deal of time, energy and money in introducing media education at a very early age. Schoolchildren are encouraged to become familiar with the newspaper and to use it for a variety of purposes. As the children grow, they retain the link that has developed with newspapers. Although teachers cannot ensure that all households subscribe to newspapers, they certainly can take responsibility in encouraging children to become steady readers of newspapers and citizens who want to be informed of events in their home country.

Senator Spivak: I will be brief. Senator Graham raised the question of the importance of education, which is a key factor. Some students do not study history throughout their education. However, it is not all black, because some students are smart as can be, thanks to the Internet. My grandson is a hockey fiend, knows the top 40, is reading Life of Pi and is learning to write very well, but this is at a private school.

We are straying from the topic a little, but does the literature mention an examination of the left side and the right side of the brain? Are these kids exercising both sides equally when they use the Internet? Should we look at this in our education system? I know this is very esoteric, and we may need psychologists to help us on this because I think it is a key point. How will we influence the awareness of our young people?

Ms. Saint-Jean: I am sorry, Senator Spivak, but this is beyond my field of expertise. I could not give you a proper answer to your question.

However, I think that the Internet can be both a wonderful tool, if it enhances awareness and fluency, and a monstrous thing, if it is the only source of information, entertainment, communication, correspondence, et cetera. I tend to think positively about the Internet so I believe that things will settle down when this relatively new device finds its place. We are in an extreme situation right now because it is so new and has such a tremendous power of attraction for young kids. Perhaps things will calm down and something else may be forthcoming to counterbalance its influence.

The Chairman: I have several more questions that I may put in a letter to you.

Ms. Saint-Jean: Please do.

The Chairman: If you have additional comments for the committee, could you write to us? We would be grateful. People raise the topic of the impact of fragmentation of markets on the financial health of journalistic enterprises. It is suggested that that is one reason one sees growth in the concentration of ownership in some sectors. It is essentially a defence against the fragmentation of markets created by myriad channels and the Internet. Do you have a comment on that issue to share with the committee?

Ms. Saint-Jean: I would gladly write a letter in answer to this question because it is an involved topic. The issue of fragmentation of markets was perceived as early as the 1970s and 1980s, when there appeared to be a major trend against generalist and in favour of specialized media. This occurred much more in the magazine trade than in daily newspapers or television stations. However, when one looks at a newspaper today, one can easily see that it has specialized areas.

[Translation]

These are sections of the newspaper that target very specialized segments of the readership. I believe this trend in information specialization is a strong and lasting one.

In other words, few things now are not part of a specialized sector because things are becoming more complex. Reality is becoming more complex, politics, economics, business, everything now is so complex that we can no longer expect general interest to embrace all those sectors.

On the other hand, we observe a phenomenal rise in the news items sector. These items include car crashes, dogs that have been run over, accidents, murders, minor police matters. How can this phenomenal increase in news items be explained simply as a counterweight to the mandatory information specialization that is occurring in all types of media?

We have the two extremes. I would not say that the media that focus on news items do so for lack of a broader field to cover such as general information. However, I can say that what used to be called general information 30 or 40 years ago has become something quite limited.

Today, and I am coming back to the idea of the citizen society to maintain citizens' role relative to information, ways must be found to simplify and popularize many things which are very complex.

The Chair: Which I know is only a start to your thinking on the subject.

Ms. Saint-Jean: I will be pleased to write you in response to that.

The Chair: Thank you for your presentation, which was extremely interesting. It is not every day that the senators applaud a witness here.

The committee adjourned.