Canadian News and Media
Considering the sheer size of Canada, it’s really quite remarkable that such a thing as “Canadian news” exists at all. A cat can get stuck in a tree in Newfoundland, and — due to the miracles of modern technology — it may very well be reported in British Columbia within the hour. One of the main ways Canadians share a sense of commonality, despite being thousands of miles apart, is reading, watching and listening to the same stories of human hardship, natural disaster and political scandal — and then talking about them around the water cooler the next day.
Canada has a rich history of print journalism, particularly during the mid-19th century, when many of the country’s leading politicians and political agitators were themselves newspaper editors or publishers who used their papers as mouthpieces for whatever random cause they were pushing. Though they’re not nearly so radical today, many of the country’s largest publications can still trace their roots back to that tumultuous era.
The Globe and Mail and the National Post are Canada’s two leading national papers, sold across the country. Though both are based out of Ontario, they have reporters working all over Canada and mostly cover news of national importance, as well as international happenings from a Canadian perspective. Both also have acclaimed editorial pages featuring the commentary of some of Canada’s most famous political pundits, including Andrew Coyne (b. 1960) and Jonathan Kay (b. 1968) for the Post, or Jeffrey Simpson (b. 1949) and Margaret Wente (b. 1950) for the Globe. Politically speaking, the Globe is known for being more liberal and the Post more conservative or libertarian. Canadians generally read the paper whose biases match their own.
Every major Canadian city is home to literally dozens of local papers as well, though in most cases only one or two reign supreme. In terms of circulation, some of the biggest local “dailies” include the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun in Ontario, the Montreal Gazette and Le Devoir in Quebec, and the Vancouver Sun and Calgary Herald in the west.
In contrast to newspapers, which are in ample abundance, the number of purely Canadian magazines is fairly limited, and most Canadians primarily read and buy U.S. glossies as a result. Reflecting this, Macleans’, the most popular magazine in the country, is a fairly eclectic mix of news, commentary, pop culture, lifestyle and trendspotting.
Other magazine notables include the Canada’s History (formerly called The Beaver, but renamed for rather hilarious reasons), the women’s/family lifestyle magazines Chatelaine and Canadian Living, the investment-oriented Canadian Business, and the geography and travel-focused Canadian Geographic. Additionally, a number of popular American magazines such as TIME and Sports Illustrated publish special “Canadian editions” as well, usually in the so-called “split run” format that includes a few pages of Canadian content (and advertisements) in a magazine otherwise filled with mostly U.S. copy.
If reading is not your thing, there’s no shortage of places to find Canadian news on the ol’ TV. Most of Canada’s major television networks offer substantial news coverage, both in the form of a nightly 6 o’clock broadcast (usually followed by an 8 and 10 o’clock broadcast, too) and several specialty 24-hour news channels as well.
Founded in 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC is a taxpayer-funded, government-run corporation that provides a whole host of media services to Canadians across the country, including substantial television news coverage in the form of a nightly broadcast (The National) on their main network, and a separate 24-hour news channel (CBC News). Though the CBC’s news coverage is not nearly as popular as it used to be (they are in fact quite substantially losing the ratings war to the news coverage of other networks), the corp is still generally recognized as one of Canada’s leading news-gathering institutions, simply because they’ve been around so long and have such ample resources. When it comes to covering huge national events like elections or natural disasters, CBC can still dominate, but in other contexts, the network’s coverage remains more controversial, especially among conservative Canadians who feel the network has a persistent left-wing bias.
CTV (Canadian Television) offers the most widely-watched news coverage in Canada in the form of their flagship 6 o’clock program, CTV National News. Until very recently, the show was anchored by an elderly gentleman named Lloyd Robertson (b. 1934), who was North America’s longest-running TV anchorman and something of a national institution as a result. Reputed to be fairly conservative in its leanings (some of its most famous anchors have gone on to serve as Conservative politicians), CTV is a generally slick and big-budget network that is able to produce high-quality news coverage thanks to its day job as one of Canada’s “basic cable” entertainment channels. Since the late 1990s, CTV has also operated a 24-hour current affairs station known as the CTV News Channel.
Global Television rounds out the “big three” with its nightly broadcast, Global National. Like CTV, they exist primarily as a basic cable entertainment network that practises journalism on the side. Lacking the market dominance of CTV and the government support of the CBC, Global News’ production values are noticeably more sparse than its two major rivals, and the network lacks a particularly distinctive brand identity.
The new kid on the Canadian TV news block is Sun TV, an unabashedly right-wing network heavily based on America’s FOX News. Debuting in 2011, the station offers 24/7 news coverage like CTV and CBC, but with a much greater emphasis on political commentary. At this early stage, the network is perhaps best known for being the soapbox of Ezra Levant (b. 1972), a blustery conservative commentator prone to all sorts of wacky on-air antics. It remains to be seen if the network will emerge as a viable competitor to the “big three.”
In addition to all the national programming mentioned above, most provinces and big cities have their own local newscasts as well, many of which are offered by subsidiaries of the major networks (for example, CTV Saskatoon or CBC Montreal).
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While there are a vast array of radio options in Canada, due to the size of the country, most broadcasters tend to be exceedingly local in scope, with a range limited to a single city and programming that reflects that. CBC radio is the one notable exception, and broadcasts five different channels nationwide: CBC Radio One, which mainly does news and current events banter; CBC Radio 2, which does classical music; CBC Radio 3, which is an online / satellite channel specializing in indie; CBC Radio-Canada, which does French talk, and Espace Musique which does French music.
Despite the advent of television, the Internet and podcasts, local radio networks remain a popular place for Canadians to get their news, especially during the long drives to and from work every day. When it comes to discussing contentious political issues, so-called “call-in shows,” where listeners are put on the air to vent their opinions — or possibly berate the host for his — have long been a particularly proud staple of the Canadian democratic process.
Beyond typical concerns over things like accuracy and bias, the issue of ownership continues to be one of the biggest controversies surrounding contemporary Canadian media and journalism. Canada has very few independently owned and operated newspapers, magazines, TV networks or radio stations; almost every outlet of note is part of some vast empire owned by a handful of media barons, who are among the country’s richest citizens.
Today, over 80 per cent of Canadian media is owned by a cartel of just five corporations: Shaw Media, Quebecor, Bell Media, Rogers Media and Torstar, each of which own dozens of different publications and networks under various subsidiaries and affiliates. It’s actually quite hard to keep track of who owns what on any given day, in fact, since the “big five” are almost constantly engaged in various schemes to merge, buy out or take over each other and their various properties.
The degree to which this cartel conspires to do various nasty things, such as raise cable rates, drive independent media outlets out of business, foist a certain political agenda, or collaborate with the government are all much-discussed matters in contemporary Canada, and tend to be hot-button issues for both the left and right alike.