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The time for action in the news media is now
By  CMG  •  Posted on  January 22, 2016

Signs that times are getting even tougher in the news business are everywhere. We are long past the canary-in-the-coal mine alarm,  and are now watching a crisis unfold.

Recent cuts and newsroom mergers across Canada at Postmedia papers – putting more talented journalists out of work – combined with increased media concentration as Corus buys ShawMedia, were preceded with harsh cuts at Hamilton’s CHCH, the destruction of ethnic media as Rogers jettisoned OMNI’s diverse newscasts, and CBC’s insistence on selling assets including the iconic “La Maison” in Montreal, another reminder of the ongoing devastation at the Corp. Not to mention the the potential fallout of thousands of jobs lost as a result of the CRTC’s changes.

Toronto Star’s Chantal Hebert rightly calls it “the biggest journalistic fire sale” in Canada’s media history.

It is hard to imagine it getting worse.

And yet, here we have Halifax’s Chronicle Herald, threatening to lock out staff, cut jobs and salaries, while asking journalism recent grads and freelancers to do the staff’s work.

A brief shining moment: After the Herald’s call  to grads and freelancers to replace locked out staff, their peers urged them not to do it – read their plea here.

CMG and our parent union CWA Canada are pressing the feds to ensure Canada’s press remains healthy, independent and diverse, with fair salaries  and protection for journalistic integrity. Please read the letter below.

Carmel Smyth
National President, CMG

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Jan. 22, 2016

The Hon. Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada

The Hon. Navdeep Bains
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Bains:

I’m writing on behalf of CWA Canada, the country’s only all-media union, to formally call on the federal government to take urgent action in regard to the troubling developments at Postmedia.

Specifically, we are urging legislation or regulations to:

  • Break up Postmedia’s monopoly over English-language newspapers across most of Canada.
  • Limit the concentration of media ownership in Canada across all platforms.
  • Block destructive debt-leveraged takeovers of companies in important national industries.

This week, Postmedia fired 90 journalists and began merging its papers in four markets: Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. This after the company had already cut more than half its staff and slashed newsroom budgets.

We’re now seeing why it’s so dangerous to let one corporation have so much control. It’s bad for journalism, the economy, and democracy – and the federal government has a duty to do something to protect the public good.

I was pleased to see Prime Minister Trudeau’s tweet of concern about the layoffs: “Journalists are vital to our democracy. I’m saddened to hear of the cuts at Postmedia today and my thoughts are with those affected.”

Now it is time to turn those words into action.

Postmedia blames shrinking print advertising for its woes but by far the biggest factor is its debt, which stands at a whopping $672 million.

This is what happens when an individual, group or company is allowed to buy a business using a huge amount of borrowed money and then bleed it dry to pay New York hedge fund lenders while keeping the CEO in their pocket with big bonuses.

It’s effectively a financial scam and there should be legislation or financial regulations to prevent it. It’s particularly egregious in this case because they’re not just destroying a company and hurting shareholders, they are well on their way to destroying quality print journalism in Canada.

It’s difficult to understand how the Competition Bureau could have allowed Postmedia to take over the Sun chain of papers last year – a move that secured Postmedia’s virtual newspaper monopoly.

The fact that the takeover was approved shows that either the Competition Act must be revised to give the Competition Bureau more teeth, or that new legislation or regulations must be created to undo the Postmedia monopoly and limit any such concentration of media ownership.

CWA Canada represents about 6,000 media workers at companies across the country, including the CBC, The Canadian Press, Thomson Reuters, and many Postmedia publications.

Sincerely,

Martin O’Hanlon
President, CWA/SCA Canada

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