Book Review: The Hostages

Imagine you heard of a hostage taking at your local newsroom – gunfire, cries of help, wailing sirens – but on searching next morning for breathless accounts from your news provider there was no mention of it. Not one word. “I guess that story was too hot to handle,” you might say. More disturbingly, you would conclude your news provider did not depict reality, that information was manipulated.

There was a hostage taking on Thursday, June 20, 2019, the day Parliament passed Bill C-97. It amended the Income Tax Act to pay government-approved publishers a 25 percent payroll rebate, the famous $595 million media bailout. Cabinet brought the rope and duct tape and publishers did what they were told.

Some hostages were frightened and thought of their families. Others sympathized with their tormentors. A few became enthusiastic Mother’s Little Helpers. Author Marc Edge calls this “the bailout campaign.”

Edge’s The Postmedia Effect is the first work to analyze in detail this fatal moment for a free press. Observers “saw something more sinister going on between government and press,” he writes. His research is meticulous. Edge names names at the Toronto Star, the Globe & Mail, the Canadian Association of Journalists, the works.

The Postmedia Effect skewers Postmedia Network Incorporated as the largest beneficiary of the media bailout, “between $7 million and $8 million a year,” according to filings. Postmedia is the largest newspaper chain in our history with a virtual monopoly on print dailies in three provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

“Whether its landing was hard or soft Postmedia was going down,” writes Edge. “The only question seemed to be how much could be salvaged from the wreckage. In the end it was probably best to let Postmedia fail rather than keeping it alive through serial bailouts.”

But there were other hostages in the room. Edge names them, too. “The news media bailout campaign worked so well that soon a second campaign began for Ottawa to claw back some of the revenues that digital media were taking from old media,” he writes. “It was started by Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, which had been founded in 1985 to defend the CBC from Conservative budget cuts.”

This is Bill C-18 the Online News Act. Remember manipulation of news on the hostage taking? “Without information we have no idea of the true state of reality,” The Postmedia Effect tells readers.

An example: On July 5 Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez summoned reporters to announce a Bill C-18 advertising boycott of Facebook. He invited questions. The Canadian Press was helpful.

“Has this experience shaped how you view these tech giants and their power in society?” asked Canadian Press. “It’s been interesting,” replied Rodriguez.

“But I guess specifically I mean on the power,” repeated Canadian Press. Oh, oh, “they’re superpowers,” replied Rodriguez, hitting the soft pitch at last. “They’re huge. They are rich, powerful.”

Three days later CBC pundit Aaron Wherry published a July 8 commentary headlined, “The Fight Over C-18 Isn’t About Journalism, It’s About Power.” The “superpower” quote made it into the second paragraph. Wherry mentioned the word “power” nine times.

This whole scheme runs smoothly as long as everyone plays their part and keeps quiet about money changing hands. Marc Edge ruined everything.

By Tom Korski

The Postmedia Effect: How Vulture Capitalism Is Wrecking Our News, by Marc Edge; New Star Books; 351 pages; ISBN 9781-5542-01976; $25

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