Pressure from media owners leads to underreporting of social issues, study says

January 24, 2000

Ottawa; January 24, 2000--The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives today released a report, The Missing News, which documents and analyzes recurring blind spots in news coverage by Canada's print media. "These blind spots are related to institutional filters and corporate pressures on journalists' working conditions," said Dr. Robert Hackett one of the study's authors and a professor of communication at Simon Fraser University.

The Missing News reports the findings of an independent six-year research project, Newswatch Canada, funded primarily by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Employing content analysis, the researchers have identified categories of political stories that have been systematically underreported. Hackett gave the following examples:

  • stories of government tax breaks for the wealthy--how they shift the tax burden to middle and lower income earners and reduce the capacity to pay for social programs;
  • stories which expose the vested interests and biases of media owners themselves, one case study showing that changes in ownership clearly influence newspapers' coverage of their new parent company;
  • stories of corporate activities which have adverse social impacts; for example, the growing corporate intrusion into public health care or corporate complicity in cigarette smuggling concurrent with their campaign for lower taxes.

Journalists interviewed for the project also identified newsroom cutbacks and increasingly bottom-line-driven priorities of management as important factors filtering the news.

The study also found a large imbalance in the use of sources with business and conservative policy institutes favoured 3:1 over their progressive counterparts.

The study makes several policy recommendations to improve the quality, diversity and independence of print journalism, including: ceilings on media ownership holdings, a right of reply, and independent press councils with teeth.

Professor Hackett urged groups of concerned citizens to form alliances to advocate for media reform.

"Furthermore," said Hackett, "journalists' unions should--as the Calgary Herald strike demonstrates--place a high priority on establishing protections against ownership interference with editorial content."