Rafe- Death of the newspaper has a happy flipside

The Shattered Mirror: What caused the fall of mainstream media – the Internet or shoddy, sycophantic corporate journalism?

Rafe- Death of the newspaper has a happy flipside
“Nine-year-old newsie and his 7-year-old brother ‘Red.'” (1915 Photo: Lewis Wickes Hine/Shorpy)


On January 27, an outfit called the Public Policy Forum released a report call the The Shattered Mirror, dealing with the state of Canada’s media. It was quarterbacked and written by Edward Greenspon, best remembered as editor of the *”Toronto Globe & Mail”. Discovering the terms of reference takes some doing and this is the best I could find:

[quote]When the Public Policy Forum (PPF) began thinking about a study on the state of the news media in Canada, in early 2016, the headlines were all bad. Within a fortnight in January 2016 alone, Rogers Media and Postmedia announced new rounds of staff reductions, Torstar revealed plans to close its printing plant, and Confederation-era newspaper titles in Guelph, Ont., and Nanaimo, B.C., were shuttered, the first of six daily papers to close, merge or reduce their publishing schedules before year’s end. The situation wasn’t much better on the broadcast news side, where revenues, especially in local television, followed the downward track of the newspaper industry, inducing the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to step in.

A parliamentary committee was formed. News companies and industry associations queued up with complaints of inequities in the marketplace. Some made requests for public assistance.

The Government of Canada contracted with the PPF, a non-partisan and independent think-tank, to assess the situation and make recommendations on what,if anything, should be done. The object was not to defend any mode of news delivery, but to evaluate the risk to democracy.” (Emphasis added)[/quote]

The Public Policy Forum mandate states “to serve as a neutral, independent forum for open dialogue on public policy, to encourage reform in public sector management and excellence in government”. I’ll have a look at “neutral, independent” in a bit.

After several readings of the The Shattered MirrorI’d say that the mandate is credible so long as your notion of public sector management and excellence in government jibes with that of the upper 20% or so of the population, the late Denny Boyd’s “Higher Purpose Persons”. The recommendations make clear that the essence of the report is getting more money to the news media as it exists by taxing digital providers on the Internet.

Let’s go back to the last line of the Terms of Reference.

“The object was not to defend any mode of news delivery, but to evaluate the risk to democracy.”

It’s interesting and I think central to this critique to note that there is no attempt in The Shattered Mirror to assess “democracy” in the “Mainstream Media” today, so let’s take a peek at the industry that wants more money to take care of it, and see how democratic it really is.

Selling its soul

Rafe- Canada's biggest newspaper chain has sold its soul to oil and gasThe largest Canadian newspaper chain, Postmedia, has a deal with The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry shill, which guarantees that Postmedia will support the latter at every turn. I’ve called the pact, indelicately but I think accurately, a mutual masturbation agreement. (See www.postmediaadvertising.com)

What does this deal mean in the real world?

Surely we can all agree that this is a fair and reasonable statement of the basic code by which journalism should be judged: “The core purpose of a journalist is to research, document, write, and present the news in an honest, ethical, and unbiased way”. Clearly, failure to meet those elementary standards would be to fail the principles of democracy.

In law, there’s a maxim which reverses the onus called res ipsa loquitor, which simply means “the thing speaks for itself”, so that, in the absence of an explanation, no further proof is necessary. When a newspaper or a chain makes a back scratching deal with the fossil fuel industry, it surely can be taken as producing a “bias” contrary to the principles of journalism, thus undemocratic.

What if a Postmedia newspaper, say the Vancouver Province, were to make a deal with a company promoting an LNG refinery, highly controversial in the community; would that not also take away the journalistic independence so necessary to democracy?

What if that paper became an actual partner in that project? How could it possibly report on Woodfibre LNG in an honest, ethical and unbiased way? As we all know, the Province is a formal, legal partner with Resource Works whose only raison d’être is to promote the Woodfibre LNG project.

How much news, adverse to the production of LNG in Howe Sound, do you suppose the Province or any Postmedia company is going to print? How about LNG itself? And there’s the rub – it’s difficult enough to know whether or not what is printed is valid but when media outlets simply don’t print anything on a notorious subject, it’s impossible to know what news they avoided.

A higher-up in the Vancouver Sun admitted to me that they are under orders to be supportive of the BC government and it’s common knowledge that when the NDP were last in power, Sun political columnist Vaughn Palmer roasted them at every turn and was widely credited with killing the Glen Clark government. Since 2001, Campbell, Clark and the Liberals, now in power, can do no wrong if the deafening silence of the Vancouver Sun, the Province, their editorials and columnists are to be believed.

How come? Did Mr. Greenspon raise this clear bias with them? If so, you wouldn’t know that from the The Shattered Mirror!

See no evil, print no evil

I, among others, long ago raised the Independent Power Project/BC Hydro issue, warning the Liberals publicly that this policy would not only ruin many rivers but would be the financial ruination of BC Hydro. None doubted that had the NDP brought in such a deadly policy, there would have been hell to pay in the Vancouver Sun and Province but Campbell and Christy Clark got a free pass. That is by no means the only Liberal catastrophe Postmedia has avoided raising.

BC Premier Christy Clark touring Petronas' operations in Malaysia (BC Govt / Flickr CC licence)
BC Premier Christy Clark touring Petronas’ operations in Malaysia (BC Govt / Flickr CC licence)

As this is written, we’re down to election time yet the colossal misdeeds of the Liberal government continue to get a very soft ride. The Liberals’ social services record is appalling; BC Hydro is in financial tatters; the public debt has more than doubled; the so-called “balanced budgets” are as phoney as a $3 bill; Liberal party fundraising is an ongoing scandal; now we learn that affairs of the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) have been mangled by endemic Liberal mismanagement and is in deep trouble. How remarkable that a “business-oriented” government could even lose bundles with monopolies on power and on car insurance, and get away with it in the Postmedia newspapers. It’s not difficult to connect the dots between the pleasant treatment that the Sun and Province give the Liberals and the “sweetheart deal” between Postmedia and CAPP. It’s also not hard to understand why Kinder Morgan was always going to get Clark’s approval, nor a mystery why Clark supports the climate-destroying fossil fuel, LNG. Her political motto should be “money over morality”.

Old boys’ club

We’re supposed to be a country that honours, indeed demands, competitiveness in the marketplace. The Toronto Globe and Mail and Postmedia are competitors.  With Postmedia financially crippled, why hasn’t the Globe and Mail gone on a major circulation campaign and driven Postmedia to its knees and picked up the pieces at fire sale prices? That’s what capitalists are supposed to do and we even have laws to compel competition but evidently they don’t apply to the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Shattered Mirror chair Edward Greenspon (nsb.com)
Shattered Mirror chair Edward Greenspon (nsb.com)

I should remind you that the head of Public Policy Forum, Edward Greenspon, was long associated with and editor-in-chief of the Toronto Globe and Mail and clearly sees this as a “them and us” struggle between the old boys, much including Postmedia, and the digitalized forces of evil. It’s critical that the “good guys win” meaning they show solidarity rather than fangs.

If the recommendations Greenspon has made to visit GST and PST on Internet companies result in bankrupting them, and the “good ol’ boys” convince Trudeau to put the new tax money into a “completely independent” pot for “needy media companies” (guess who), why, God is in his heavens and the Luddites have won! With respect to the electronic media, that must await another day.

Let me close with a couple of questions to Mr. Greenspon.

As part of keeping Postmedia afloat, did you insist that they divorce themselves from the fossil fuel industry? Did you tell them  that they must restore journalistic principles to their entire operations? Did you insist that they hold government’s feet to the fire? That their writers must have freedom of speech restored? Did you tell Paul Godfrey, head of Postmedia, that he must pay back the $900,000 he paid himself as a bonus as he terminated employees left, right, and centre?

Lawyers don’t just look at the details of a deal but what they call the “pith and substance”. What a contract says it does and what really happens can be very different, so what Mr. Greenspon declares to be the objects and the results achieved require careful, skeptical, indeed near cynical examination.   

Bailing out a failed industry

The Shattered Mirror has bugger-all to do with democracy and good journalism and everything to do with bailing out an industry that’s facing obsolescence just as workers faced in the industrial revolution did when the cotton gin was invented. The electronic media has the same advantages the cotton gin had, being much cheaper and much more productive.

I urge you all to read The Shattered Mirror and reach your own conclusions, but I can tell you what came through to me loud and clear was that the current media industry was going to get financial relief at the expense of the new digital techniques if it gets Justin’s approval – and I suspect he had that, “nudge, nudge, wink wink d’ya get my drift” from the outset. It’s a defiance of history where the machine smashers get to keep their jobs – where the cost of failure to keep up with the times is visited on the consumers and taxpayers.

Shattered Mirror picLet me close with joining dots between the Public Policy Forum and Kinder Morgan. Do you wonder what their position would be had this BC controversy been referred to PPF? Here’s one of their projects – billed “How Canada Can Restore Public Confidence in Resource Development”, complete with this photograph I took from their website.

Trudeau fils, whose views on pipelines are such that he unhesitatingly places the interests, indeed loyalty, of BC a distant second to the prospect of winning 34 seats up for grabs in Alberta and approved the Kinder Morgan line, would love this independent, let the “chips fall where they may” study done by Public Policy Forum:

[quote]Partnering with Enbridge, ATCO Group, Cenovus Energy, Natural Resources Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Public Policy Forum launched an exploration of key issues and opportunities in establishing public confidence in resource development. Through one-on-one interviews and roundtable discussions with more than 80 leaders across sectors, we identified four critical factors in building public confidence in resource projects and the specific roles that key stakeholders need to play.[/quote]

And that, dear friends of democracy,  how the big kids in this country  make their fair, independent and unbiased decisions.

So, do we just let them go broke?

Let me answer this way: If they do, history teaches us that the void will be filled. But keeping them alive with government subsidies is a slippery slope to disaster. Instead of a news industry in thrall to big business generally and the fossil fuel industry specifically, they will no more wish to offend the government than they now do the fossil fuel industry, and guess what – big business and especially the fossil fuel industry plus the Liberal government will be be there, for, never forget, now they’re partners of the government too.

Now whence that democracy so dear to Mr. Greenspon’s heart?


* This paper has no more right to declare itself Canada’s National Newspaper than does The North Shore News and, besides, it pisses them off so.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

25 thoughts on “The Shattered Mirror: What caused the fall of mainstream media – the Internet or shoddy, sycophantic corporate journalism?

  1. This PPF report appears to be nothing other than a handmaiden for a scheme to get public funding to offset the rape that leveraged buyouts have brought on Canada’s mainstream media. If Trudeau goes for this, we should all do our part to ensure that he wears it.

  2. Great comments Rafe.
    I havent bothered buying the Vancouver Sun and Province for years.
    I actually met the new editor of the Province about 10 years ago in a pub . He and his wife and kids had just arrived from Winnipeg and when he asked me if I read the Province I grabbed that days issue off another table and placed it in front of him and said,
    ” First I’m going to tear out all the advertisements.”
    He cringed. His wife was confused.
    After I finished enviscerating more than 50% of the paper I said,
    ” I dont read the Sports section so I’m going to take that out”
    He winced. His wife started to clue in.
    When I was done there was maybe 10 pages of news photos and “infotainment”
    ‘Why would anyone pay $1.00 for that?”
    He mumbled something about how he was going to change things…..
    The paper is worse now.
    I shake my head in disgust at the biased “reporting” that we get from the likes of Palmer or Baldrich. These guys are so close they drink each others bathwater .

    We also have to deal with the unspoken 800lb gorrilla in the room.
    Where have all the unemployed media gone?
    Right into the very same govt and corporations they are supposed to investigate impartially?
    Give me a break!
    “Journalist” may be a lot of things but stupid isnt one of them.
    They see the writing on the wall and know that they may be next when the latest round of “buyouts” and layoffs come….so they hedge their bets with “nonreports” or puffball RahRah suck up pieces to ingratiate themselves with their potential employers.
    Case in point .
    I walked by the election office of former Global TV newsperson Steve Darling in North Burnaby last week.
    How long after he was cut from Global did it take him to run to the Liberal election machine?
    3 months?
    Another former TV newsreader under the Liberal govt or corperate wing.
    Pamela Martin , Jas Johal, on and on and on…….
    So much for impartiality in reporting and resemblence of honesty.
    As for newsprint.
    I read the New York Times on line and get The Economist delivered weekly.
    The rest has earned its place at the bottom of a birdcage or wrapping dead fish
    The entire system stinks and needs an enema.

    1. “I walked by the election office of former Global TV newsperson Steve Darling in North Burnaby last week.
      How long after he was cut from Global did it take him to run to the Liberal election machine?
      3 months?”

      Nope I was wrong.
      3 weeks.

  3. Long time listener, first time caller. Excellent article. One can appreciate the ire of an old lawyer who clings to democratic ideals. Years ago, during the fracas at SFU (1968), bumper stickers that read ” Vancouver Sun Lies” were common. The more things change….

  4. Absolutely, let them go broke! As you say, someone/thing will fill the void. The Province and Sun are full of BS and I haven’t read them in years. The internet is where the truth can be found (and lost) through independent sites; Commonsensecanadian.ca being one of my go to places to get the real story. There is nothing wrong with reporters writing about something they are passionate about as long as they weigh both sides of the story and I think people appreciate that honesty.

  5. The newspapers, if you can call them that, are a victim of their own success.
    The many takeovers and mergers ( that produce nothing new and reduce the working population) bore the reader with mindless repetition across the country.
    Whilst 50% of the population will vote for the first MLA or MP to offer cheap beer during the election run up ; the other 50% Will actually make decisions based upon realities.

    By their very nature newpapers below the views of their ownership; always have done.
    With the consolidation of newspapers we have little to no diversity or opinion.
    Newspapers seldom make money; they are their to project the opinion of the ownership.

    Let the fuckers go bankrupt.

  6. Colour me somewhat skeptical. Take Site C for instance. Please!

    Its been ‘reported’ variously as costing $8 Billion, $9 Billion plus, plus etc.
    Reported by whom? Has anyone (other than Hydro) actually SEEN this budget?
    Are those US$ or CAN$? I think we just accepted that number because it was ‘reported’.

    We were told last week it included some $400 million for ‘geotechnical contingencies’. What other contingencies? Labour? Weather? COLAs? A billion here, a billion there. Take out all the contingencies and it could be built for nothing!

    Speaking of costs, does it include transmission costs? Power houses? A credit for the half billion$ Peace River Hilton upon completion?

    At one time this government was going provide seismic upgrades to schools, four lane the TransCanada from Kamloops to the Alberta Border etc etc. Has that all gone the way of the LNG dodo?
    Don’t forget to take a voter to the polls on May 9th!

    1. John’s Aghast, Having read quite a few of your comments I’m thinking that these are mostly rhetorical questions, but…. The federal/provincial Joint Review Panel chaired by Mr Harry Swain was subjected to the full treatment of Hydros justifications, financial and otherwise in the Environmental Assessment process. Some of the questions from the panel showed quite clearly that Hydros case was unbelievable, unsupported, therefore unverifiable. The panel also went to the extent of admitting that they did not have the expertise on hand to go beyond that, and recommended that the BC Government send Site C to the Utilities Commision.

      I suspect that the BC Liberals have also had a look at Hydros miasma of numbers, but I doubt their competence or desire to find out what it might mean.

  7. Controlling the already controlled media isn’t enough for our governments and business interests. They have it in their souls to control all information, tax the internet providers until they see the bankruptcy arriving as well, and are willing to be more cooperative in spreading the desired messages. Nasty pieces of work.

  8. I quit taking the Sun some twenty years ago. Never did take the Province because they were deemed a “scab” paper during some long-forgotten strike. Haven’t missed them. I got tired of paying for page after page of advertisement, classical ads, and “womens’ pages” and getting little or no “news”.
    Must say the TV isn’t any better.
    Of course they want money money money money. That’s all its been about for a long time. I don’t want to give money to Conrad Black or Rupert Murdoch, they’ve got too much of the stuff already.
    Don’t pay attention to Vaughn Palmer, he looks as if he sleeps in someone else’s car, he needs someone to dress him and do something about his hair. Don’t pay attention to Baldritch, either, although HIS hair is fascinating, someone spends a lot of time trying to hide the retreat of his hair line.
    As for “economist” Michael Campbell… hey, when he comes on I take the dog out to her yard; watching her pee is more interesting, informative and accurate than listening to him.
    Hang in there, old man.

  9. good reporting, rafe. i m appalled at the corruption and lies in the mainstream media. and they are not even embarrassed when called on it. i think most people are so interested in there phones that they have no time for critical thinking. or they are trying to beat you to the tim hortons drive thru.

    1. Marc, coming from you, a distinguished author and eminent critic of current affairs those three words mean a huge amount to me. I sincerely hope that your comments will encourage everyone to read this travesty of justice anf self serving pretence at being a fair-minded evaluation to see one hell of an example of how the old Family Compact Party, now morphed into the Central Canadian elite, plies its trade.A well known member of the elite gets a commission from the too gun, Trudeau, weavex a mask of fairness though wordsmandhip, not fact, of fairness and justice and since it’s always worked before, waits for the money to rolls in. It will likely happen here as the Liberal toadies meekly vote as instructed and is eloquent evidence of the need for Canada to try democracy for a change.

      1. I think you’re on the right track. I believe that I was the one who put the bug in Hedy Fry’s ear about looking into just WTF is going on with our news media, and I don’t like where this is going. It was January of last year and Postmedia had just announced it was merging the newsrooms of the Vancouver Sun and Province, which I knew from my research on Pacific Press they had promised Ottawa they would never do way back in 1957 when they set up shop together. They are also now visiting this travesty of journalism on their newspapers in Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa. I took Dr. Fry a copy of my book on Pacific Press and also one of my 2014 book Greatly Exaggerated, which shows that newspapers are not losing money as they continually claim. She was as outraged as I could have hoped, and I had expected to be contacted by this think tank they farmed out their research to. I can only imagine I wasn’t because they know what I think and didn’t want to hear it. If your readers want to know more about this, they can download those books and more for free from my website, where they can also find the Introduction to my new book, The News We Deserve, in which I tell the story of Hedy and ME.


        If people want to know my thoughts on the Greenspon report, they can be found on the blog I started to follow up on my book Greatly Exaggerated.


        I would also highly recommend a blog entry on this subject by media economist Dwayne Winseck of Carleton University, who absolutely destroys it. It’s a bit long and may be too technical for non-economists, but I have posted a summary of it and included a link to the original on the new blog I have set up for my latest book.


        BTW, if you are wondering about the suffix mt, I am now teaching at the University of Malta because I have seemingly been blacklisted in our Home on Native Land as a result of my criticism of journalism education in Canada. That started on your show 14 years ago after the Russell Mills affair when I came on to convey a few facts about Donna Logan and her corporate advocacy as the founding director of the UBC School of Journalism. That got me the same lawyer’s letter I’m sure you got, but instead of issuing the apology she demanded I have been pulling back the curtain on that seedy business ever since. It’s all in my new book, but your readers can get the best of it here for free.


  10. Hi Rafe,
    After subscribing to the Vancouver Sun for 50 years we canceled our subscription last July.We haven’t missed it at all. I am no longer bothered by their bias. I no longer worry that they print more opinion columns in favour of Site C than they do against and I sleep better at night. No medicae needed for the MSM. Let them pass away peacefully.

    1. Harold – a novel idea from the left, let ’em go broke! Reminds me of Ocean Falls and Panco poultry! Remember us nasty Socreds with our ” Pinko Panko … all left-wings and assholes!

      I tease – you’re absolutely right. One can’t read about the Industrial Revolution without huge sympathy for the workers the macines dislidged. But some things are truly inevitable and fighting it extends and increases the pain.

      Of course the hewspapers will be reolaced electronically and when I say the public will be better served, how could it possibly be otherwise? Like you, my friend, i cancelled the Sun and Province and the only inconvenience is that I have to go on line every morning to read Luann and the Far Coast, my favourite comics!

      On of these days, ere long considering our respective ages, we must meet for a beer … maybe two.

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