Takeover would hurt scope of voice
By Becky Somerville
A bid made Wednesday by Torstar Corp. to take over Sun Media Corp. has left some people wondering what it means for the scope of opinion and coverage in Canadian newspapers.
The $748 million proposed takeover would amalgamate the two corporations and give Torstar 26 per cent of Canada's total daily newspaper circulation.
Southam Inc. and Hollinger Inc., along with Torstar, would dominate after the acquisition, said Joe Matyas, local president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada and London Free Press reporter.
Matyas questioned the effects of media concentration and how the pending takeover would effect jobs.
"In terms of jobs there has been some concern because the corporate mergers are usually accompanied by downsizing," he said.
Sun Media Corp. proved to be relatively good employers after it bought the London Free Press in May 1997, Matyas said. "We're pleasantly surprised at what Sun Media ownership has meant to the Free Press."
However, there was a 20 per cent downsize in all departments at the Free Press after Sun Corp. gained ownership, Matyas said. He added it was a little worrisome to have the ground shaking under their feet again. "It's like corporate wars and we're in the middle of it," he said.
Matyas said the newspaper industry needs more balance than it has now. "What we have is chain papers and corporate entities running the newspaper business," he said. "I'm with the view that a multiplicity of voices is better, but that has not been the case in Canada."
John Paton, publisher and chief executive officer at the Free Press, would not comment on the Torstar bid.
David Spencer, associate professor in the faculty of information and media studies at Western, said a merger of Torstar and Sun Media Corp. would be one more step in the very worrisome process of media concentration.
"I think it would be very difficult for the Sun papers if it does go through which I think it will to maintain its character," he said.
Torstar had no choice but to bid for Sun Media Corp. after Conrad Black launched his national newspaper this week, Spencer said. "It's cheaper to buy it than it is to build it."
Managing editor at the Free Press Richard Hoffman said it was impossible to determine what effect a Torstar takeover would have on the paper.
Third-year political science student Stephanie Brignell said a merger of Torstar and Sun Media may further limit objectivity in the media.
"With less competition there's a potential for less quality," she said. "The concentration of ownership in the media today makes it difficult to get a variety of perspectives on things."