Monday, July 11, 2011

Timely question on Harper's intentions on foreign ownership of Canadian media

Geoff Stevens wonders: "Will Harper open door to foreign-owned media?" Specifically, he wonders whether Rupert Murdoch's empire might make its entree into Canada. The quiet meeting between Harper and Murdoch in New York in March 2009 is noted as are the barriers to entry:
Three obstacles stand between Canada and a Murdoch invasion. First, the Income Tax Act requires that newspapers and magazines be 75 per cent Canadian-owned. Second, the Broadcasting Act limits foreigners to a 33.3 per cent stake in broadcasting. The third obstacle is the political resolve of the federal government to continue to protect Canadian cultural industries from foreign control.
With the majority government, there are no obstacles to making changes. It's also an open question whether Stephen Harper would continue to show the historic resolve of past federal governments against foreign ownership of our media.

Given the U.K. scandal, if he wanted to proceed, he might wait it out for a few years before loosening the rules, let it calm down. There will be, however, numerous public inquiries going on in the U.K. for some time to come. Further, the corruption being exposed at News International looks so damaging, there could be serious legal issues for News International and its highest executives to deal with for years as well. There has also been talk of U.S. legal authorities becoming involved, spreading the scandal to North American shores. It could be ongoing for some time.

Murdoch would, nevertheless, be a prime candidate to move in on Canada, his empire would be the one cited as a likely entrant should Harper move to loosen foreign ownership rules, galvanizing opposition. Sure there would be other prospective entrants, but Murdoch would loom over the debate.

And we've now seen the toxic precedent of what can happen when such a dominant media player is able to manipulate pliable police and the politicians of all stripes who seek his blessing. It's a worst case scenario striking at the heart of a democracy. Why would we open ourselves up to the possibility of a foreign player who could bring that mix here? None of this makes opening up Canadian media to more foreign ownership an attractive case at all, now or in the near future.

Good to see the question being raised now while the toxic brew is hot.