COLUMN: Media downsizing highlights need for change

MORRISBURG — The latest round of downsizing announced on Tuesday by Bell Media saw over 250 people in the media industry lose their jobs. In Eastern Ontario, long-time CJOH-TV anchor Carol Anne Meehan was among the over 20 people losing their jobs. Job losses are never good, but in the media industry it is a continuing sign of the times. This latest round of cuts stands to highlight the two biggest issues with media in Canada; over-regulation and consolidation.

The two issues run lock-step with each other. The broadcast industry is over-regulated by Industry Canada and the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC). The cost to get a broadcast license in a market can run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if you can get one. The CRTC and Industry Canada limit the number of licences allowed in any given market, under the guise of helping existing licencees stay viable. This may have been a good strategy in the early days of radio and television. It is redundant now. Over-regulation stiffens new business development with new and diverse voices in a community or region. By making the cost of attaining new licences un-affordable to everyone but the media conglomerates, the public loses out.

Restrictive licence plays to the favour of the consolidated media operators such as Bell Media, Rogers and Corus Entertainment to name a few. Mergers and acquisitions across Canada have transformed a diverse group of companies into corporate pillars of mediocrity. Where you can now drive across vast stretches of the province and hear the exact same radio station format, play the same music, at the same time. And we are not talking about the CBC networks either. By stiffening competition in the name of corporate profiteering, the much acclaimed “diversity of voices” is lost. Bell Media’s cuts could be justified if the company was losing money. However they posted an adjusted-profit last year of $183-million.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation does nothing to help matters, by controlling a vast amount of television, radio and cable outlets, it leaves little room for anyone to start out. Newspapers face similar challenges, but are largely un-regulated except for when one large chain buys another. The Competition Bureau attempts to weakly sort that out.

The solution to both problems is to stop the over-regulation by government and get out of the way of competition. If the cost of starting up a new radio station in a market was just the physical costs of a transmitter, tower, studios and staff, how many more stations would start in markets like Cornwall or Brockville? Yes, companies might fail, but government is not supposed to decide who wins or loses in business. The market, the viewer or reader, they get to decide and advertisers go where the people are.

By having less regulation in media, it will create more competition and  offset the consolidation by corporate players like Bell Media or Corus Entertainment. This is not the 1950’s and Canadian culture does not need the government over-regulation to protect Canadians from themselves anymore.

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