CMN 3133 – Study Guide
Power & Betrayal in the Canadian Media
CH 1 –Putting the Media Under the Spotlight
The Canadian media system is in the midst of a profound crisis. There is a technological revolution that is
changing the very nature of mass communication; we are being bombarded by powerful international
forces. The CBC is threatened with extinction. Newspaper ownership has fallen into the hands of a small
handful of individuals. The quality of journalism has deteriorated.
The combined forces of these changes are weakening the capacity of Canadians to communicate with
each other and see their own reflection. It is narrowing, rather than broadening our perspectives of the
The owners of mass media have an obligation to serve the public interest as they are given unique and
privileged access to a resource that belongs to the public. They must address the needs to Canadians not
just as consumers but as citizens. They must act as a public form and be a public meeting place. They
should provide information, discussion, and debate on public affairs in an attempt to enlighten the
public, thus making it more capable of self-government; serving as watchdogs over government
activities, thus safeguarding the rights of the individual… Owners should reflect Canadian identity.
Increasingly in Canada, the media have power without accountability.
Mass media is society’s meeting ground, its central public square. Television and to a lesser extent radio,
newspapers, and magazines make political leaders and events real.
The essential lifeblood of a healthy democratic society is the degree to which it is open to new ideas,
different points of view, and controversial issues. A public space is by its very nature combative and
chaotic and filled with popular myths and obsessions. It is a place where passions can be vented and
demons fought and slain. But it is also the place where the essential work of a society takes place – the
place where ideas are formulated and debated. We should leave parts of our public space open for
other kinds of messages and for alternative views and perspectives.
The essential lynchpin of the democratic experience is that citizens will have the opportunity of learn
about and then discuss, evaluate, and act on the issues and policies that affect them.
Television is the principal means through which a public is now created and assembled (“imagined
communities”). A large majority of Canadians rely on television as their main source of news (almost 1/3
of the public get virtually all of their news from television). Television programs now invite the audience
to participate in other ways.
The entire tilt of television news in the 1990s was toward giving the viewers the news that they wanted
rather than the news that journalist believed that they should have or needed to know.
TV viewing has now become integrated with the Internet so that watching TV and surfing the net go
hand-in-hand. Some CBC programs have geared their sites to attract particular target audiences.
Newspapers and radio are pivotal in organizing and shaping community life, and the World Wide Web is
both loosening old ties and constructing new ones. They help frame public consciousness and debate. Most radio is intensely local. Radio talk shows draw an audience of “regulars”. Talk radio can be a potent
political force because it can galvanize citizens to take action about issues that they care about. Radio
has been able to reinvent itself.
The future of newspapers does not look particularly rosy, although there is much talk about a
newspaper renaissance. Newspapers can be a vital information “clearinghouse,” telling readers what’s
important, what to pay attention to and what to ignore. Newspapers are the institution that corrects,
verified and debunks in effect guiding readers through the vast forest of information they have to
traverse each day. Economic forces are conspiring to make newspapers more national in scope, and
therefore more important as instruments of national integration. The great question surrounding
newspapers is whether the newspaper as we know it will be washed away by the revolution now taking
place in new information technologies.
The newest public meeting place is the World Wide Web. The internet has created new class divisions
based on access to information. Members of the digital community were more likely to vote, were
better informed about politics, and had greater confidence in their ability to “control” change than non-
The future may indeed be spectacular in terms of new technology, but it may also be bleak in terms of
the choices that are being made available to Canadians as citizens rather than as consumers. A healthy
democracy depends on open lines of communication and a fundamental respect for the views of
citizens. The media window is becoming increasingly distorted by the stained glass of conglomerate
power. The nature of citizenship and community is undergoing drastic changes in the new media age.
There are changes in technology and global markets that are altering the media landscape. Today, a
handful of gigantic corporations control almost all of the world’s media. Cable TV and the internet are
splintering audiences into narrower and narrower segments. The public squares created by the old
media are being threatened by the juggernaut of the new media.
We all have a responsibility to ensure that the society as a whole is as open as it can possibly be to a
diversity of ideas. The main focus is on whether the public spaces that the media create remain open to
new messages and ideas or whether only the voices of powerful commercial interests are being heard.
CH 2 – Media, Citizens, and Democracy
Democratic government, democratic ideal – power rests with the people. This is the essential
foundation on which the Canadian governmental system rests.
The marketplace of ideas, the vitality of the central meeting places of our society, is at risk in some way.
Democracy Without Citizens – the pubic tends to be unstable, unconstrained, uninformed and not
ideological. The public is easily swayed and lacks even basic rudimentary knowledge about public affairs.
People see reality through the tinted glass of their own definitions and prejudices and the press presents
them with a distorted version of the truth. The press never allows the public to see the complete picture
because it can never illuminate events long enough for them to be completely seen and understood.
Only a small number of people who are actually involved in events directly or follow them closely are in
a position to make meaningful judgements. People are so turned-off, tuned-out, uninformed, and
uninterested that they are no longer an important element in the political system. Citizens are for the most part inattentive bystanders and spectators to the drama of modern political life. Power is wielded
and mass opinion is shaped by those at the top of the societal pyramid.
Citizens Without Democracy – people have an instinctive feel for what is right and wrong, and they
actively resist messages that don’t ring true or that don’t conform to their needs and beliefs. The
problem is that elites often distort the message. Citizens are often prevented from receiving the
information that they require by the “power bloc”. Those at the apex of power have designed a media
system whose primary goal is to “manufacture consent” from those who are at the bottom of the heap.
News is “filtered” through a series of constraints – corporate control of the mass media, the power of
advertisers, the dominance of “official” sources, the influence of right-wing media critics, and the
existence of enemies – so that the public receives a highly contrived and sanitized view of reality.
Election Campaigns and Symbolic Politics – political leaders attempt to construct a public based on the
symbolic packaging in which they wrap themselves and their campaigns. The relationship of conflict and
symbiosis between political leaders and journalists sets the tone and conditions for public debate. The
manipulation of messages by political leaders is simply part of the everyday cloth of political life.
Adversarial Journalism – citizens have all the information that they need to make intelligent choices
about the world in which they live. Citizens have a wide variety of sources of information at their
disposal. The media market is open to all competing ideas, all points of view. If anything people are
being inundated and overwhelmed by too much information. Journalists are guided by professional
norms that reward objectivity, balance, and investigative reporting. A generation of adversa