Home > Internet > Politics, the Press and Bad News for Democracy: Newspaper Endorsements Update on Last Day Before Election

Politics, the Press and Bad News for Democracy: Newspaper Endorsements Update on Last Day Before Election

For the last three days we’ve been playing the politics and the press game, counting up the editorial endorsements for Prime Minister made by the major daily newspapers across the country.

I’ve been focusing on 61 daily newspapers that belong to one of the nine main newspaper ownership groups in Canada that account for roughly 95 percent of the newspaper industry revenues. Today I added another newspaper to the list, the Winnipeg Free Press.

This means that we now can speak of the 10 largest newspaper groups in Canada. Our “sample” in other words now accounts for roughly 97 percent of the newspaper business in Canada.

The basic idea behind the free press is that it is suppose to reflect a plurality of a society’s voices and political forces. If that is true, shouldn’t the range of editorial opinion in the press come at least somewhat close to matching up with public opinion?

The news that I’ve delivered so far has not been good. On day one, I showed that out of the four editorial endorsements made by that time — one by the Globe and Mail and three others by members of the Post Media Group (National PostTimes Colonist and the The Province) — all picked Harper as their man. By yesterday, the number of endorsements had grown to 13, with 12 plunking down foursquare behind Harper.

In other words, despite only having support of roughly a third of Canadian citizens, 92% of editorial opinion in the press in Canada were stumping for Harper. Something was definitely out of whack, but perhaps there was hope because conceivably the remaining papers could come along to save the day, singing the praises of Ignatieff, Layton, Duceppe, or May in some way that roughly corresponded with the distribution of votes and voices in Canada.

Sorry, that hasn’t happened. For those hoping that somehow the editorial pages might finally line up with popular sensibilities and the disparate political forces that make up the fabric and culture of democracy in Canada, the bad news is now really bad news.

By today, Sunday before the election, the number of endorsements has leapt to 31. If the ‘editorial voices’ of Canada’s main daily newspapers roughly corresponded to people’s views based on a mixture of current opinion polls and the last election, then we would expect something like, give or take a few, 10 to 12 endorsements for the CPC and Harper, just under a quarter to line up behind either Layton and the NDP or Ignatieff and the Liberals, and the remainder to be split across the Greens and Bloc.

So, where do things now stand? The table below shows the results

Parent Group & Titles Mrkt. Share ($ 2009) Dailies / Group CPC Lib. NDP Just Vote/ Multiple Parties
Post Media 27% 12 10 1
Sun Media 25.9 18 6 3
Toronto Star 13.9 1 1
Globe & Mail 7.2 1 1
Power Corp/ Gesca 9.8 7 3
Winnipeg Free Press 1 3.5 1
Transcontl. Media 3.2 11 1 2
Glacial 2.9 6 1
Halifax Herald 2.2 1 1
Brunswick News 2.1 4 1
10 Groups Total Tally  62 Titles 97.5% Market Share 21  0 1 10

Layton luckily picked up an endorsement from the Toronto Star. He and the NDP also got some mixed blessings among the papers of the La Presse group — which stands out as the most representative among the papers across the country, with papers in its group such as La Presse, Le Soleil and Le Droit backing a mix of candidates from all of the parties.

Counting just the endorsements of specific candidates for PM (Harper, Layton, Ignatieff, Duceppe, May), we find a stunning 21 out of 22 backing Harper. In other words, 95 percent of editorial opinion has solidified behind Harper. This is almost three times his standing in the public mind, and the last election.

The newspapers aligned with the Sun Media Group (Quebecor Media Inc, or QMI) and the re-incarnated Post Media Group have engaged in ‘bloc endorsements’. That they have done so is an indictment of editors who have sold their souls, shilling for owners one by one right across the country rather than exercising any editorial autonomy and freedom of their own minds. Instead, they take their marching orders from Montreal and Toronto. Readers deserve better.

This is also an indictment of the heavily concentrated nature of the newspaper and media business in Canada, with just two entities — QMI and Post Media — accounting for over half of the newspaper industry.

To be sure, their grip is not iron clad, and within both groups a few smaller papers like QMI’s Barrie Examiner, The Brockville Recorder and Times and The St. Catharines Standard as well as the Post Media’s Regina Leader-Post, appear to have been not quite so willing to swallow their master’s line. Instead, each of these small town papers has chosen to write ‘get out and vote for somebody’, civic-duty editorials. More than half of the small city newspapers in places like Nainamo, Sault St. Marie, Kenora, Dawson Creek, and so on offered no editorial endorsements at all.

The editorials of the small city papers listed above and others like them are so important because at least they express an independent local editorial voice, and are more varied than unison of voices that have been strung through most of the big city papers.

But make no mistake that these are minor papers in the QMI and Post Media stables. In Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal (but not Halifax and much of the Maritimes) and other major cities right across the country where these groups have dailies, editors are stumping for Harper. Even single major newspapers such at the Globe and Mail and the Winnipeg Free Press have weighed in strongly on the CPC side of the scale in Canada’s biggest cities and nation-wide.

This is not a free press. This is bad for democracy. The fact that a shackled press now stands to an extraordinary degree singing their praises for Dear Leader S. Harper from the same hymn sheet should give us pause for thought and reflection.

Even though I think that this is a problem of the highest order, let me close with three caveats that I think might lead us to a somewhat happier place:

First, opinions pronounced from the bully pulpit of the editorial page on behalf of media owners comes across as much more of phalanx of congealed opinion than the rest of the pages of the press. In other words, the solidity of editorial opinion is not matched to the same degree by journalistic opinion which, while still constrained, is of a broader range.

Second, journalists, and maybe even editors, are people too. The Globe and Mail, to its credit, seems to be doing some soul searching around these issues. Yesterday it published an exceptionally strong condemnation of its own editorial endorsement by Concordia University journalism professor Matthew Hays.

Today, it has also opened up the pages as well to deeper reflections from readers, while acknowledging the dominantly negative response to its choice. Despite looking like the press of a banana republic from some angles, the editorial pages at the overwhelming majority of Canada’s newspapers that are now serving as the mouthpiece of the CPC — Conservative Party of Canada — are not the same as the Xinhua News Agency and the Communist Party of China.

Third, the fact that editorial opinion is so out-of-step with popular opinion reveals the tenacity and autonomy of the public mind. Our minds are not blank slates upon which editors stamp their views.  That, however, does not excuse the gap one wit, but rather should make us wonder what a real free press would look like, one that actually did simultaneously draw from the public well while also contributing to it.

Tomorrow’s a big day. Let’s change things around so that we can address some of the bigger issues at hand, including some of those relayed here in the past three days.

Oh yes, for the super-duper, updated paper-by-paper breakdown of each newspaper’s editorial stance (with links to the editorial), please see Editorial endorsements Updated (May 1).

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  1. July 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Dwayne,
    I currently oversee a media watch blog over at rabble.ca and would love your permission to cross post this entry (and possibly others in the future) on the blog with full attribution, your info, and a link to your site.

    Please let me know, Thanks.

  2. May 2, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Dear Dwayne,
    Extremely insightful and great research. Showing how easily humanity and can fall of the true north of the democratic compass. And as you said, we are NOT blank slates and Thankfully we have the internet and bloggers like you. All the best today. Shan

  3. Steve
    May 2, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks very much for a timely and insightful post. This is exactly what I was looking for while attempting (in vain, it seems) to add substance to a discussion. Alas, I remain convinced that facts often play second fiddle to ideology. One can only imagine, however, the sounds of teeth grinding in editorial offices around the country.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on that particular dynamic; or perhaps a guest post from the editors of the National Post or Vancouver Sun explaining/justifying their positions on this important issue?

  4. May 2, 2011 at 6:17 am

    I guess the reason I resist the hierarchical structure is that while it’s still in place,as you argue, and the cascading effect is evident, it would seem to be incrementally eroding, becoming less fixed as we move more deeply into the digitization of just about all discourse, political or not. A fair bit moved from your bottom layers up to the top during the election and also during the protests in Egypt, etc., a process which continues. So I think we could agree that the matrix is indeed a dynamic one, not fixed — which is one of your key points in the first place.

    • May 2, 2011 at 9:39 am

      Absolutely, and whilst things are still in flux I don’t want to prematurely declare the triumph of anything. I also have historical patterns in mind, namely where each significant new medium and how it fits into the constellation of existing and emerging media — from telegraph, to broadcasting to Internet — is characterized by an intense period of flux that typically seems to last about two decades before congealing into something that is much more consolidated and hierarchical. Still, though, I want to hold on to those insights but not be closed the very real conditions that you are pointing to.

      By the way, watch for my column in tomorrow’s online edition of the Globe and Mail where I’ll offer some further reflections on a closely related topic. Thanks again for the engaging conversation.

  5. May 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Those layers pushed up to the top in both TV and print media quite often during this election campaign. I’m thinking of all the attention the votemob crowd got in particular in both print and onTV.

    If you include TV in your concept of core media, I agree, and I might agree, too, about the interoperating principle as long as your layers remain in flux and multi-directional. I think TV core media carries more weight than print media in your terms of agenda setters and framers, etc. Certainly in the U.S.

    You may be right about the power core media still has, but I do think that power has been reduced because of what happens on the net, whether a social media platform or not. In fact, core media is more often than not accessed not on TV screens or in print media, but in digital forms online, where your interoperating principle comes into full play. I’m not as comfortable as you seem to be with a hierarchy or layers. I see them figuratively as overlapping circles.

    • May 1, 2011 at 10:39 pm

      Hi again, and thanks for taking the discussion another step further. I think you’re right in how you characterize the differences between us. I do see things as multidirection, and overlapping, but I think I see the core media — in which newspapers still figure largely as primary news agenda setters, even for tv — continues and will continue to play a large role. I’ll just pose two final questions/points for your consideration: first, take a look at tv news coverage and then read the press and listen to the CBC, for example, and you’ll typically seeing a cascading of stories from the latter to the former. Second, yes we do access things in digital form online, but what to ‘news aggregators’ such as Google, Yahoo, etc. aggregate? Content from core media. Nonetheless, your insistence on multidirectionality and overlapping is well taken; I would only add more ‘hierarchy’ to the equation than you seem comfortable with. There are other dimensions to that we need to consider, but we can save those for another day. Night.

  6. May 1, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Insightful analysis. Absolutely no one in the Twitterverse said anything remotely positive about these editorials, and no one said they matter an ounce — except for CPC spin doctors and supporters. They simply don’t matter, and we’ve known for quite some time that they don’t. Given the power of social media – Twitter, Facebook, and Blogs like this – do these papers have the same kind of power over public discourse they once had? I think not. More people gather perspective from Twitter, I would wager, which can reference any of these papers negatively or positively, if relevant. We are all learning more through these social networking platforms than from any hard-copy or electronic version of an “official” newspaper. I would venture to say that even the journalists are more interesting, honest, and witty on Twitter than they are in any of their official newspaper pieces. Dan Gardner, Andrew Coyne, Paul Wells, John Ibittison, David Akin, Susan Deleacourt, to name a few, are all much more informative and forthright in their Tweets compared to their “newspaper” work.

    • May 1, 2011 at 8:28 pm

      Hey, great comments. I’d say, though, the fact that these editorials has generated so much conversation by way of social networks (SNS) is proof of how network media function as interoperating and overlapping layers. I think we need to see three layers of network media and conversation at work, a top layer of ‘core media’, which often remain the so-called traditional media, a mid-level layer of influential media sites/sources where things originate or circulate (good be a blog, YT, or FB) and a ‘micro-level’ of everyday on and offline conversations. The top layer doesn’t set into motion everything that happens in the other two layers, and indeed sometimes, in spasmodic fits and starts, these layers push stuff up to the top and onto the ‘big media’ screen. Nonetheless, to pretend that the core media are not still absolutely crucial, indeed decisive, is not supportable — whether its as gatekeepers, agenda setters, primers, framers, etc. in the political and election process or the gateways to cyberspace (think UBB and net neutrality), as we use to say during the days of web 1.0.

  7. Jane Cudmore
    May 1, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    I’m interested in your view about the obvious paradox of editorial endorsement of Harper who has an astoundingly strong record of shutting down journalists and democratic process.

    • May 1, 2011 at 8:33 pm

      Hi Jane. I am, how to say with some measure of reserve, astounded. This Government’s approach to information and communication in the broadest sense, from its belittling treatment of the press, head-in-the-sand approach to the Internet, lousy support for Library and Archives Canada or willingness to make the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of the US the copyright law in Canada, is abysmal. That editorials would line up so solidly like this is almost beyond belief.

  1. October 23, 2013 at 5:01 pm
  2. September 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm
  3. August 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm
  4. May 31, 2011 at 1:03 am
  5. May 4, 2011 at 7:36 pm

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