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Media Concentration: Self-Promotion and Not Much Else
By Herschel Hardin

Media convergence may so far have failed to achieve the glorious economies and profits that were initially expected from it, but in several back-scratching ways, the CanWest/Global convergence, at least, is proving useful to the company - ways that are at odds with the public interest.

One of those benefits is free cross-over advertising. I'm using the Vancouver Sun as example, but expect the same kind of practice has been showing up in other CanWest papers. Earlier in the fall, a glossy 24-page leaflet, Global: Your Guide to the New TV Season, Fall 2002, showed up in my newspaper, promoting largely Global programs in a tied promotion with Mazda. Global advertising, similarly, regularly shows up in issues of the paper, especially in cross-page banners, about three inches deep, at the bottom of the page. One day recently, one such cross-banner ad plus three quarter-page ads showed up all in the paper's second section. Kevin Newman and Global National feature coverage are especially promoted, sometimes with those quarter-page ads, sometimes with an even larger display (I seem to recall, once, a full page).

Occasionally a CBC feature ad, sometimes as large as half a page, will also be carried, but I can't remember seeing any similar ads for CTV or other stations except in the TV weekly. Those CBC ads notwithstanding, one is given the impression that the only television channel doing anything is Global and certainly one is being directed to watch Global for feature coverage on specific issues. In advertising terms, those ads day after day, and sometimes in multiples, must have a significant impact on boosting or reinforcing an audience, to the cost of the CBC and other stations.

Global might, on paper, be paying the Sun for the full cost of those ads, or they may be logged as barter ads for Vancouver Sun ads on Global. For all intents and purposes, however, they're free - the one medium indulging the other.

It's true that CBC television advertises CBC radio and the latter promotes CBC television, but I doubt if it has the same impact.

Another benefit, preferred coverage, raises questions about journalistic independence. In September, the Sun's television columnist ran a big feature story on Kevin Newman recalling how he covered 9/11. It was one big promo. Would a story like that have run without CanWest ownership of the paper? I doubt it.

The peg for it was just too wobbly. This aside, how much independence do any of the CanWest television columnists have when it comes to Global programming? Whatever they do, they're in conflict of interest-- conflict which they would be loudly berating if it happened in the legislative world with politicians involved. This question was one of the first that came to observers' minds when the takeover news surfaced.

And here's another item: a substantial report running one column down the whole length of the page, entitled "Executives defend cross-media ownership." The report recounts the usual flacks repeating the usual rationalizations about convergence before the Commons Heritage Committee.

One shouldn't have expected anything else but such indulgence from convergence. Such incidences nevertheless are worth documenting.

Herschel Hardin is a media democracy activist in West Vancouver and author of several books on media and corporate concentration.



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