How's Our News?: The Quality of Canadian Newspapers

A concern arose about the coverage of a certain news story, and it begged an important question: does newspaper conglomeration affect the information that is presented to Canadians? If one does not know where the news in print comes from it is either gleaned from a news service wire, such as Reuters, Associated Press or United Press International, or submitted from a local reporter before it is rewritten and edited for content. Advertising plays an enormous part in maintaining a profitable newspaper because of a transference away from conventional services to online and television resources. Some believe that press organizations and editorial staff are biased, misrepresenting facts and spin doctoring news to achieve political agendas. I have chosen to challenge this notion by gathering representative daily editions from each of national papers that are not owned by the same company. Hollinger international owns the majority of newspapers in Canada, the largest being the National Post. In fact, all of the newspapers available in Newfoundland and New Brunswick are distributed from Hollinger. Leaving the Tomson Corporation, publishers of the Globe and Mail, and Torstar, publishers of the Toronto Star, as the other English based national papers. By purchasing and comparing the headlines from Saturday, November 25, 2006, publications of these I attempt to uncover if there are omitted or spun articles and if coverage of specific stories vary by publisher. I have specified three types of stories to focus on: human rights issues, environmental issues and coverage of the situation regarding the war in Afghanistan.

The story that inspired this experiment was the allegation by the Canadian Broadcasting Company that there was inadequate coverage of a German court charging Donald Rumsfeld of committing war crimes during his tenure as the Secretary of Defense of the United States. An alleged cover up, such as this, could be an abuse of power on behalf of our newspaper producers. Accusations of bias circulate through the media mill in the United States, magazines such as the New York Time are claimed to be left wing propaganda, but has this occurrence spread to Canada? Many agree. An example is that Prime Minister Steven Harper refuses to make statements to Canadian journalists claiming that they are biased in favor of the Liberal Party. Political spin doctoring is big-business many parties engage in tactics such as writing phony letters to the editor as an effort to sway public opinion and some go so far as paying editors or reporters to add a beneficial slant to their reports. Evidence of corruption surrounds Lord Conrad Black from the time he spent operating and owning Hollinger International but no evidence of him obstructing information from reaching the public. As a branch of Hollinger International, CanWest Media holds ownership of the majority of Canadian newspapers it may seem that I have singled them out, in particular, of wrong-doings. Each national paper that was assessed underwent the same conditions of evaluation, leaving bias out of the equation and strictly using the example of the random sample edition. The categories chosen are politically based, although they were not political themselves, but measuring political coverage was not part of the criteria. Human rights, the environment and the war in Afghanistan are issues that in the fore-front of public concern and also they are indicators of political contention. If an agenda is involved one would think that it would be surrounding these matters. These are issues that there is much debate and reporting on, making them into an indicators of coverage and covering.

The Toronto Star is Canada’s largest daily newspaper and one with the largest readership in Ontario.On the weekend, their name changes from the Toronto to the Saturday Star, which is the most extensive edition of the week. Inside I found the second best overall coverage of my criteria: two articles on the war in Afghanistan, one on an environmental issue, and eleven pieces pertaiing to human rights. Another observation was that this paper published twelve letters to the editor and that there was an article on editorial accountability providing pictures and names of the editorial staff of the Torontor Star. The world coverage was obtained from the Star’s and Reuters’ Wire Services, respectively. As far as obvious bias, there were columns and letters criticizing Prime Minster Harper, no blatant agendas were represented.

The National Post has been compared to America’s Wall Street Journal, having the most extensive business report in our country. For their reporting, they too rely on the Reuter’s news wire as well as their own service, CanWest. Canwest Media also owns Global television so many of their stories are echoed across Canada numerous times throughout the day. Hollinger international owns the National Post as well as a long list of others, in British Columbia alone the corporation owns fourteen daily newspapers, the largest three are the Vancouver Sun, the Province and the Times Columnist. The National Post and Times Columnist were the only papers with flyer advertisements included, also the Times Columnist had more of a local focus and better world coverage than the Post. Through the same process of evaluation the National Post contained five human rights pieces but no articles on either environmental issues or the current situation in Afghanistan. The majority of the paper was focus articles on political and business analysis, with a report on reinventing American foreign policy by Lord Conrad Black. Their letters to the editor page published fourteen opinions, covering a range of view points representing both the left and the right side of the political spectrum. This newspaper is pro-business, the majority of the publishing represents their target audience, not to imply that the editorial team softens items from the news-wire but presents them with their prevalence from a financial perspective. There was a great deal of political satire but none concerning the issues of evaluation in the criteria.

The Globe and Mail had the highest result of occurrence of the guideline principles, with sixteen human rights stories and one article on both the war in Afghanistan and an environmental problem. This outcome reflects their reputation as a left-wing publication, and although the chosen day in news may have been slow, they presented extensive coverage of world events. They receive their topics from Reuters as well as the Associated Press News service. There were fourteen letters to the editor and commentary from respected political analysts such as Rex Murphy. In comparison, the Globe and Mail contained more news than any other newspaper represented.

This conclusion may have been predictable, the paper with the reputation of being a bleeding-heart or left-wing had the most human rights news items and the one that is considered a hard-nosed right-wing paper is aimed towards business. My objective of determining who is publishing the most accurate news has not been entirely proven. The evaluation process concerned the occurrence of certain types of articles not the article’s content and it would be immoral for me to judge each article in my opinion, as I myself may have an unrecognized bias or a personal stake, that could interfere with the outcome. With my evaluation process, determining what consisted a human rights report was difficult but the end result was that it concluded some newspapers report on items from the same service with a prioritized perspective. There is no responsibility, on behalf of the publishers, to print everything that goes over the wire service. These companies have audiences that they must entertain to remain competitive in the marketplace and this may mean that their focus will vary. This experiment showed that coverage is not consistent across the country, our national news differs between publishers and that their may be information withheld from citizens. Freedom of expression under the Canadian Bill of Rights is protected and Canadian news providers should not be involved in protecting those expressions from reaching the public, no matter who they are associated with or owned by.

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  • JWinter

    This essay was an process that paid off. At first I thought that I would be pointing out the obvious but after my conclusion was drawn I found that the outcome justified the obvious. The comments were mainly on grammar mistakes and clarification on points. This process helped to provide examples of how I misuse grammar and how to fix it. The peer-editing of this essay was non-exsistent so for handing in the green copy I think I did very well.