Written by Hannah Schädlich

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  • Area: 9,984,670 square kilometres
  • Population: 36,3 million
  • Capital: Ottawa
  • State form: federal constitutional monarchy
  • Official language: English, French
  • Religion: Christians (67 per cent)

  • Flag of Canada

    According to the press freedom rankings of the NGOs Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, Canada has a free press. The foundation for press freedom is guaranteed via the constitution and the Declaration of Human Rights. Nevertheless, media freedom is restricted by some legislation like anti-terrorism laws allowing surveillance or defamation laws punishing defamatory statements. Hallin and Mancini (2005: 217, 228-229) sorted Canada in the Liberal Model, together with the USA and the UK. The early growth of private media offers, a weaker political parallelism, and smaller role of the state than in the Polarised Pluralist Model and high standards of journalistic professionalization are typical for this type. Therefore, we decided to sort Canada in the Liberalism type of our typology. However, the strong ownership concentration in the Canadian private media market causes the question, whether political parallelism is replaced by strong influences of investors. Another point for criticism is the unbalanced representation of ‘white people’ and Indigenous communities in the media. Regarding the professionalization of journalism, western role perceptions and codes of ethics are dominant in Canada. Nonetheless, journalists loose credibility in the public.
    Communication policy and regulations

    Regarding media laws, the first important legislation is the Canadian constitution act of 1982 that guarantees the fundamental “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication” (Constitution Act, 1982). Additionally, as Canada signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression and freedom of the media are also ensured via Article 19 (United Nations, 1948). These two general regulations are the fundament for an independent journalism and free media system. Furthermore, Canada has a law, called “Federal Access to Information Act” of 1985, that requires the publics’ free access to information published by the government, excluded data that might compromise individuals’ private sphere or public security (Raboy & Skinner, 2009: 977). Nevertheless, the government is able to limit those freedoms, for example in cases of hate speech or discrimination. For instance, there is one law that proposes fines of up to C$20,000 “for violations against individuals” and C$250,000 “for violations against groups” (Freedom House, 2016a).

    As a consequence of terroristic attacks on the parliament in 2014, two new anti-terrorism laws (Bill C-44, Bill C-51) have been pushed trough in 2015. With those laws surveillance via the CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) became easier and online censorship of terrorism promoting content became legal. Both laws were mainly criticised by the CJFE (Canadian Journalists for Free Expression) and the CCLA (Canadian Civil Liberties Association) because of its vague wording and the resulting space for abuse. Additionally, Canada signed the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) in 2016. This agreement might influence the freedom of the net because of its clauses about intellectual property and e-commerce (Freedom House, 2016b). As various western countries, Canada still has defamation laws, which somehow restrict journalists’ freedom of speech and punish violations with up to five years in jail (Freedom House, 2016a). Problematic about those laws is that journalists and their editors are convicted once a claimant proved the publication of a defamation case. Then the reporters have to “prove that the published material was in the public interest and responsibly reported” (Liem, 2015: 43).

    Concerning television and radio, the Broadcasting Act of 1991 regulates the Canadian Broadcasting Corporations’ and other broadcasters’ duty to provide programs of Canadian origin that serve different Canadian regions and their audiences (Konieczna et al., 2014: 501). In detail, Canadian broadcasters are requested to “safeguard Canada’s cultural, political, social, and economic fabric; provide a wide range of programming that reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values, and artistic creativity; reflect the linguistic duality” and use predominantly Canadian creative and other resources in creating and presenting programming” (Uzelman, Hacket & Stewart, 2005: 158). The implementation of the Broadcasting Act is supervised via the sole authority regarding media regulation: the largely governmental independent Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC; Freedom House, 2016b). So amongst other things, the 1976 established CRTC grants licenses for private broadcasting, the public CBC and also community channels. However, the authority’s scope of action is largely limited to broadcasting. That’s why it can’t, for example, regulate cross-ownership in the print sector. Its sole possibility to regulate media ownership is to prohibit takeovers of newspapers by broadcasting owners (Raboy & Skinner, 2009: 976, 977).

    Since 2015, there is “a voluntary, self-regulatory body for Canada’s news media industry” (Freedom House, 2016a), called The National News Media Council, that has the task to maintain the journalistic code of ethics. Other organisations watching media freedom are the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). The CAJ understands its role as voice of Canadian journalists and guardian of the publics’ right to know things. It offers workshops and conferences for journalists, where young and experienced professionals can exchange knowledge. Additionally, the CAJ has an ethics advisory panel that provides advice concerning journalistic guidelines of ethics. The CJEF is an organisation defending freedom of expression in Canada and other parts of the world because it considers this as an essential human right.

    Canada in the media freedom rankings
    In the 2016 index of Reporters Without Borders, Canada was ranked 18 out of 180 countries, at the same position as in 2014, but eight places worse than in 2015. RWB explains this with the increasing surveillance and the difficulty of journalists to protect their sources (Reporters Without Borders, 2016). According to Freedom House, Canada has a “free” press. In 2016 the score remained at 18 (with 0 as the best and 100 as the worst score). This complains with all the rankings since 2002, where Canada reached stable scores between 15 and 20. The NGO explains these scores with two major reasons. First, there is a general protection of freedom of expression and freedom of the press via the constitution. Second, however, the existing defamation laws and the recently passed anti-terrorism laws limit this freedom. The increasing surveillance impedes the protection of sources and defamation cases can still be punished with imprisonment (Freedom House, 2016a).
    Media offers

    The Canadian media system is characterised by immense ownership-concentration and especially strong cross-media ownership, where both horizontal and vertical ownership-concentration is possible. According to Goyette-Côté, Carbasse and George (2012: 754), there were 136 owners who published 138 newspapers in the beginning of the 19th century, while only five conglomerates rule the market, nowadays. Three omnipresent actors are Quebecor, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) and CanWest Global (George, 2010: 558). The steady process of ownership-concentration in the Canadian print sector led to decreasing competition and diversity between the Canadian newspapers. For that reason, in the 1980s, the Royal Commission on Newspapers proposed a law regulating rights and duties of Canadian newspapers and the implementation of a regulating authority (Press Ownership Review Board). However, the government long-term refused to interfere. So, press freedom has long been a right that belongs to those who own the press. Regarding ownership, there used to be three major companies in the print sector: Hollinger, CanWest Global and Quebecor. After a bad investment of Hollinger in 2000, CanWest bought several newspapers and thus expanded its position on the media market. All together, the five major companies rule 75 per cent of the newspapers market (Raboy & Skinner, 2009: 974-976). However, as a consequence of the economic crisis in 2008 and the continuous loss of advertising, CanWest got in financial struggle too and was divided in two parts: one for the press and one for broadcasting (George, 2010: 558).

    The major Canadian dailies are the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and the National Post. While the Toronto Star has a left-liberal tendency, the Globe and Mail is appreciated as centrist newspaper and the National Post used to have a conservative political orientation (Uzelman, Hacket & Stewart, 2005: 159). The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star both reached circulation rates over 300,000 copies in 2015. Other big newspapers like National Post, Metro Toronto or La Presse sell between 180,000 and 280,000 copies a day (Newspapers Canada, 2015). As in most countries, newspaper circulation rates are decreasing in Canada. However, newspapers offering an apparently more ‘objective’ point of view are higher respected and more frequently read than newspapers clearly supporting political partisanship (Goyette-Côté, Carbasse & George, 2012: 754). Producing data for about 500 radio and TV stations as well as for the press sector, the Canadian Press (CP) is one of the major news agencies in Canada . Many of the newspapers get one third to one half of their information from agencies like this (Raboy & Skinner, 2009: 973). A new competitor for traditional news agencies is social media. More than 40 per cent of the users state that they get largely informed via news shared by their friends on Facebook or other social media channels. Users perceive this range of news as more diverse than the selection in traditional media offers. For that reason, many media outlets started to create their own appearance on social media platforms to maintain their role as gatekeepers (Hermida et al., 2012: 815, 818, 820).

    In huge countries such as Canada, the local newspapers used to play an important role for the citizens to get informed about region-related topics. However, as the national dailies, they are facing some challenges, nowadays. In the past, they were mainly financed through local people’s advertising. But thanks to the growing internet usage for such purposes, local newspapers are losing their financing and the number of offers dropped rapidly. In addition, the broad range of local information on social networks replaces local newspapers’ value. With the loss of money it got harder to pay journalists and generate independent coverage. For that reason, many local newspapers just use data published by the government or the police, which triggers criticism and questioning of journalistic standards (Cox, 2016: 11-12). So, all in all, newspapers continue to fear their existence because most Canadians switch to free offerings.

    TV and radio
    The Canadian broadcasting sector is ruled of private channels – with more than 500 short- and medium-wave channels – reaching more than 80 per cent of the whole audience. However, there is also a variety of offers from churches, colleges, communities and Indigenous people. While advertising is the primary source of revenue for private channels, programmes of the public Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation (CBC) are mainly financed by state subsidies (Raboy & Skinner, 2009: 977). According to Taras (2003: 168), the government supplies about two third of the CBC’s financing. Even if the Broadcasting Act of 1991 requests the Canadian broadcasters to offer a diverse program that treats all cultural groups equally, there is a tendency to focus on such offers that attract the major audience and fit to advertising revenues (Uzelman, Hacket & Stewart, 2005: 159). Nevertheless, the CBC provides a broad range of offers like main channels in English and French language, channels in Indigenous languages, twenty-four-hours news channels and several radio networks (Taras, 2003: 168).

    Concerning media content, Canada is very much influenced by European offers. While media offers from France have major impact in the French-speaking Quebec, the British BBC was something like a role model for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the National Post followed the example of the British Daily Telegraph (Taras, 2003: 160). Canada being a country with several Indigenous populations causes challenges for the media. Even though, the press should obtain diversity through covering all communities equally, there is a strong tendency to stereotypes and negative representation of Indigenous groups and topics. That’s why the Canadian media somehow contribute to racism and a favoured view of white, western people. This coverage fosters the differences and discrepancies between the different cultural groups (McMahon, 2009: 4; Todorova, 2016: 677).

    According to Freedom House (2016b), Canada had an internet penetration rate of 88 per cent in 2016. So the internet access is available for the vast majority of Canadian citizens, even if there are still some differences between big cities and rural regions. However, as Canada is a very urban country, about 80 per cent of the Canadians live in or near to big cities and therefor have easy access to fast internet because there are many places like libraries or shopping malls providing free of charge access. The accessibility of the internet is overseen by the CRTC, which is the main regulator body of the communication industry, but has no impact on internet content. Generally, content is free of censorship in Canada. Only illegal subject matters like child pornography, terroristic website or content violating intellectual property can be removed. Even if the internet theoretically offers a wide range of new sources, the users seem to rely on those sources they are familiar with like the online edition of the major newspapers. As a consequence, the dailies focus more and more on their web presence. This online content also helps them to get over the difficulties in distribution resulting from Canada’s huge land area and the six time zones (Goyette-Côté, Carbasse & George, 2012: 753, 758).
    Journalists' autonomy

    Journalists’ education and working conditions
    The development of Canadian schools of journalism started in the late 1940s and proceeded slowly till the 1970s. Therefore, journalism in Canada has a weaker tradition than in its neighbouring country, the United States. The short history of journalism schools led to the fact that many media outlets prefer to train their employees themselves instead of hiring university graduates. One reason for this is the opinion of newspapers’ editors, that journalism is nothing one can learn, but rather an endowment. Additionally, the shorter tradition of journalism led to a weaker and less developed journalism research and smaller possibilities of media researchers to influence the media system (Edge, 2004: 172-174).

    Gasher (2005: 665-666) also refers to the torn journalism education in Canada when he explains the contrast between industry’s and university’s interests. While the schools train the students to serve the community and become good researchers, the media industry primarily expects them to be qualified as reporters, of course. The balance was mainly held because universities believed in the function of journalists as servants of democracy. However, this role has to be questioned because of the high commercialisation and concentration of the media market, which turns journalists into servants of profit and success. As a consequence, practising journalists instead of academic researchers are the students’ main trainers, which is why their skills are acquired according to the media markets’ expectations. For that reason, Canada’s journalism schools have to face the decision between the market and journalists’ code of ethics. Additionally, there is an enduring debate about the question, whether young journalists should be trained for a particular field of the media or if they should obtain writing skills as well as audio-visual capabilities (Perigoe, 2009: 252). Todorova (2016: 676) adds that in journalism education the western state of the art dominates the curricula, while positions of Indigenous people are nearly absent. She argues, that journalism schools should open their perspective to other cultural values (like the Indigenous) to enrich their facilities. There are ten top schools of journalism in Canada, for example Carleton University, Concordia University and Ryerson University. But only two of them (University of British Columbia and University of Regina) offer programs containing the special characteristics of Indigenous groups and the coverage of their issues (Todorova, 2016: 680).

    Regarding working conditions, journalists had to face some changes because of the development of the market structure and ownership-concentration. Instead of producing content for just one medium, they have to make information available in different outlets and on new platforms. This implies new challenges like fitting the expectations of the respective audiences, diverging from their specific fields and the faster production of more content. As a consequence of the economic crisis, some media outlets have been closed and journalists lost their employments. Especially in the local media, fewer journalists have to produce more stories in shorter time, which leads to decreasing time for deep research, exploration and investigation (George, 2010: 559-561). The struggle emerging from the loss of readership and audience leads to financing problems in both print and broadcasting media. As a consequence, it gets harder for journalists to produce qualitatively good content and earn a proper living. This apparently leads to a vicious circle of underpaid journalists working with insufficient resources and therefore producing unpleasant content that causes lower credibility in the public (Steward, 2016: 17). However, it is questionable where the discharged journalists work if they have no longer a position in big media companies. According to Toughill (2012: 57), the range of magazines is increasing, even if newspapers are selling fewer copies than in the past. So some of the journalists find new jobs in magazines or in niche media, which are widely spread on the internet. Positions as freelancer are also possible, even in the field of investigative journalism. In this case, journalists need to overthink their role because they also have to be business people managing their living on their own, then. This is why Canadian journalists in general need to have a thick skin, nowadays (Troian, 2014: 19).

    Another problem concerning the working conditions is the gender-based difference of men’s and women’s roles in the media production. In Canada, as in Europe and the US, working women have to face a dual role of their employment and their families. For that reason, “news work for women is different because of systematic biases in the social reproduction of the profession” (Robinson, 2008: 124). Nevertheless, an enduring gender-debate leads to higher numbers of women working in the media and better chances to climb the ladder of the profession. Additionally, compared to their female colleagues in the United States, Canadian female journalists are more likely to achieve higher positions and work in the major dailies instead of smaller newspapers. Another positive development is the increase in their salaries. However, even though there are some improvements in the role of female journalists, stereotypes still exist. For example, there are women related topics of coverage like education or health, whereas political interviews are still reserved for their male colleagues (Robinson, 2008: 125-126, 131).

    Self-identity, role perceptions and reputation
    Canadian journalists have similar role perceptions like “truth, objectivity, accuracy, balance, and fairness” (Gasher, 2005: 668) as other reporters operating according to western journalistic standards. Additionally, they see their duties in fast transmitting of information to their audience, explaining complex themes, discussing national policy and investigating politics. The ethical standards of Canadian journalists are also very high as they condemn bribery, the usage of information without permission of the owner and the use of self-delusion or pretence to get information (Robinson, 2008: 132, 133).

    The understanding of journalists’ role perceptions might be improved by having a look at the quality criteria, which are the basis for the judgement of the National Magazine Awards. Those quality criteria are related to the idea of the article, its content and the style of reporting. Especially, newsworthiness, accuracy, credibility, balance and fairness are important parameters for good quality journalism. It is worth noting, that these criteria have different significance for newspapers and magazines. While articles in magazines need to have a special style in writing, newspapers are mainly judged by their fairness in reporting and the accuracy of their information (Shapiro, Albanese & Doyle, 2006: 430-431, 438). These findings somehow suggest, that the National Magazine Award considers technical writing skills to be more important than journalists’ fulfilment of their role as watchdog of democracy and servants of public interest.

    As in many other countries, Canadian journalism has to face a structural crisis that questions the fulfilment of journalists’ duties. There are several critics saying that “journalism as it is practised by the commercial news industry is in crisis (…), a crisis characterised by, among other things, growing mistrust from the public, declining audiences, an inability to appeal to youth audiences, frequent ethical breaches, the narrowing of public debate, and the failure to meet the challenge of new media, alternative media, and media-reform movements” (Gasher, 2005: 667).

    As a survey on the publics’ perceptions of journalism showed, all Canadians – especially the young generation – claim the media to be less credible because of increasing sensationalism and the audience’s impression, that the media try to hide mistakes instead of admit them. This fits to the findings, that more than 60 per cent of the audience think that the news are just sometimes or even never fair and balanced in their reporting. Furthermore, one third of the population doubts the accuracy of Canadian news coverage, even if the majority still believes in the presentation of true facts via the media. Another reason for decreasing trust in the media is, that Canadians doubt the independence of news agencies and claim them to depend in powerful organisations (Ward, 2005: 318). Nevertheless, the public wishes the media to function democracy and public interest. With a proper coverage of issues affecting people’s life, they could be influential organisations again (Uzelman, Hacket & Stewart, 2005: 157).

    Limitations of journalists’ autonomy and interference in freedom of expression
    The on-going digitalisation of the media leads to a rising importance of visual information because the audience can easier receive pictures and videos on the internet and on social media networks. This means an increasing effort in producing visual material for the news organisations. For that reason, especially smaller media outlets with fewer employees tend to reproduce the material that is handed to them by the PR departments of politics and industry. This circumstance is seen critically because the reporters give up on control over news content and its framing. Therefore the question of objectivity and impartiality rises. Furthermore, the PR departments have a more direct influence on the audience’s image of a politician. As a consequence, one can question the independence of journalism and criticism of political themes’ coverage. Particularly the cooperation of politicians with journalists suffers from this trend because politics doesn’t want intermediaries anymore. That’s why the reporters’ access to events and political actors is tentatively restricted. Consequently, those limitations of coverage lead to the fact that citizens get informed about politicians via their websites more than through the usage of traditional media (Marland, 2012: 215-218, 222).

    Other challenges for independent journalism are the recent antiterrorism laws allowing more surveillance and making it difficult for reports to protect their sources. To preserve their informants, journalists need much more expertise and financial resources for the expensive technique, nowadays. Those additional efforts also mean less time for the real journalistic tasks and therefore less efficient work (Lowenthal, 2015). In 2016, there was even a precedent case, when a journalist had to hand all his material and conversations with an informant for the Islamic State group to the Canadian security officials. Critics claim this decision to be an attack on press freedom because journalists should not serve as investigators for the state and potential informants could hesitate to cooperate with journalists because they fear to be caught by the police (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2016).

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    Related Links
    Recommended citation form
    Hannah Schädlich: Canada. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date).

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