All posts tagged Quebecor Inc.

The Postmedia-Quebecor deal: Welcome to newspaper hell, where the lowest common denominator will prevail

An unreconstituted Toronto Sun front page. Newspaper hell? Turns out it’s not quite as bad as we imagined it would be, except for the few unfortunates who still work in what’s left of the industry. Below: Tom Kent, who headed the 1981 Royal Commission on Newspapers, which was ignored when it was written and is still ignored.

If you want proof the Canadian newspaper business is on its last legs, look no further than yesterday’s announcement Postmedia Network Canada Corp. is about to take over Quebecor Media Inc.’s 175 English-language newspapers and a few other assets, including the five wretched Sun dailies, for a paltry $316 million.

Yes, $316 million would be quite enough for most of us working sluggos to enjoy a spectacular retirement, thank you very much, but it nevertheless is a piddling sum in terms of what newspaper “properties” fetched not so long ago.

Indeed, the decline of the industry is writ in the spectacular drop in the value of investments in print illustrated by this fire sale to Postmedia. Say what you will about the inadequacies of the market, it pretty well got this one right.

Consider:

  • Back in 1998, Quebecor bought up the profitable Toronto Sun – “the little newspaper that grew” – and the rest of Sun Media for a not insubstantial $983 million and proceeded to squeeze it till the pips squeaked to service the debt for its venture into cable TV.
  • In 2000, CanWest Global cooked up a deal with Conrad Black’s Hollinger Inc. to buy a similar sounding passel of papers – 13 big city dailies, 136 smaller dailies and weeklies, and 85 trade publications – in a spectacular and complicated $3.5-billion deal. Unsurprisingly, CanWest turned out to have debt troubles too.
  • By 2010, much the same collection of papers was handed on by CanWest to Postmedia for $1.1 billion.

So, really, $316 million compared with the airy heights of three and a half billion free-floating Canadian Dollars starts to sound a lot like Postmedia paid for the value of Sun Media’s real estate and not much else.

If it keeps up like this for a few more years, many of us should be able to buy what’s left of a Canadian newspaper chain with a credit card!

Why would Postmedia bother, even at that price? Presumably so they can stop competing for advertising sales and manage the final decline of the industry from a monopoly position in cities while there are still a few businesses that see value in newspaper advertising.

If anyone – especially Postmedia employees – imagines this is good news for their futures, though, they should think again. The lowest common denominator – that is, Quebecor’s awful way of doing business – will prevail because it always promises to fix the bottom line in time for the next quarterly report.

Postmedia has been engaged in a brutal Sun-like round of job cuts of its own as it tries without success to figure out how to make any money, let alone the kind newspapers used to produce, in a digital publishing world.

That process will likely get much worse, much faster, as Sun Media managers are absorbed into what’s left of the clueless old Southam-Hollinger-CanWest-Postmedia management and take an axe to editorial operations to find more cash for the next quarter.

Readers who might have stuck around out of nostalgia or habit will be driven away as the product continues to decline in a quality – accelerating a trend that has been continuing and growing more severe over the past 30 years as proofreaders, copy editors and literate reporters have been shown the door.

Outsiders to the newspaper industry may not realize how influential Sun editorial managers already are in some Postmedia newspapers – a factor directly related to precipitous declines in quality.

Newspapers are not the only business this has happened to, of course. When Daimler AG bought Chrysler, it was supposed to mean better Chryslers. The result was worse Mercedeses. That marriage ended in divorce, thankfully for everyone. But newspapers in the digital age, it is said here, provide the modern era’s most spectacular example.

Readers continue to want the excellent editorial product of old, but refuse to pay a dime when they’re already paying through the nose for Internet services and seeing richer folks getting the same thing for free. Paywalls to force them to pay simply don’t work – they are as leaky as the proverbial sieve.

Online advertising generates a tenth the revenue print advertising used to – and what’s left of print advertising has been mortally wounded by the realization you can’t tap on the picture and get more information.

The only sensible reason to hang onto a daily newspaper nowadays is to influence people, which is why Postmedia won’t give up the Post and, presumably, why Quebecor won’t give up its French-language papers. Pierre Karl Péladeau may no longer be Quebecor’s CEO, but you can count on it he still has influence there, and keeping French-language media doubtless furthers his dream of being the father of a new nation.

So the only strategy for survival the post-Sun Postmedia is likely to come up with is slashing and slashing and slashing until the fine old Southam newspapers like the Edmonton Journal and the non-Sun Vancouver Sun resemble the Sun Media tabloids their reporters used to sniff at. Expect Sun Media’s loony right ideology to reinforce Postmedia’s inclination to the same thing.

Before long, I expect, we can look for columnist Don Braid and right-wing agitator Ezra Levant to be sharing a cubicle at the Calgary Herald. I’m sure they can find something to talk about.

Back in 1981, when newspapers still made a contribution to democracy and Canadians who paid attention accordingly were worried about concentration of media ownership, Tom Kent and his Royal Commission on Newspapers made a number of recommendations that, ironically, might have kept the industry viable when the Internet came along.

These included legislated tax breaks for local content, tight rules for ownership to ensure papers remained in local hands, and mechanisms to guarantee communities had a stake in the operations of their local media.

Newspaper owners, who imagined the gravy train would never end, wanted none of it.

Today, when one company is on the verge of controlling all the print media in English Canada, it’s hard to find anyone who cares because what Postmedia has bought is on the verge of irrelevance.

So, welcome to newspaper hell. Turns out it’s not actually as bad as we imagined it would be.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Everyone must do their duty for Canada – even Sun News Network ideologues

Admiral Horatio Nelson gives up his life in the service of his country on the deck of HMS Victory on Oct. 21, 1805. Below: Horatio Nelson; his famous signal to his fleet: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Surely, Canada should expect no less!

NEW YORK

“England expects that every man will do his duty,” Admiral Horatio Nelson signalled from HMS Victory to the brave sailors his fleet as the Battle of Trafalgar, the decisive naval fight of the Napoleonic Wars, commenced.

Sometimes there is a moment in a nation’s history when all good people must do their duty, no matter how hard.

Compared to the fate that on Oct. 21, 1805, awaited many British seamen – including Admiral Nelson himself – the sacrifice required of the supposed patriots employed in the Ideology Department of the Sun News Network is not very great.

Still, we recognize it is a sacrifice.

Sun News Network publishes the Sun tabloid newspapers, owns rural and small town weeklies across Canada and broadcasts the odious Sun TV commentary programs, and as such is home to a raft of so-called straight talkers like Ezra Levant, Michael Coren, Brian Lilley and the former Parliamentarian from Medicine Hat Monte Solberg.

Every one of these gentlemen would have us believe he is a loyal Canadian of the most patriotic stock. Indeed, it is part of the Sun chain’s shtick. The TV network, for example, characterizes itself as unapologetically patriotic.”

Now the owner of Sun News Network and the animating spirit behind its relentlessly spun news coverage and tireless far-right propaganda, Pierre Karl Péladeau, has announced that he will be running for the Parti Quebecois in the next Quebec election.

Technically, Mr. Péladeau is the owner of Quebecor Inc., the corporate owner of Sun News Network and other English and French media operations. But the line from Mr. Péladeau  through his corporate head office to the troops in the understaffed newsrooms of the chain throughout the land is direct and unequivocal.

Mr. Péladeau’s ambition, he bluntly admits, is to sever Quebec from Canada and create a new country that his children can be proud of. It has been said here his commentators have not done much to make them proud of Canada – but that was before the threat was obvious.

Now Mr. Péladeau may very well destroy the nation his network claims to unapologetically love.

Moreover, he says he has no intention of giving up his ownership stake in Quebecor – although it would seem he’s prepared to put it for a spell in what the Sun would no doubt call a Venetian-blind trust if it were a Liberal or New Democrat politician we were talking about.

This is something that men like Messrs. Levant, Coren, Lilley, Bell and Solberg, and a host of lesser lights at lesser Quebecor addresses throughout the land, will have to think about as they put their minds to the work that will be required of us all to save our country.

Now, I’m not saying that they owe it to themselves to say and do the right thing, or that they ought to think about it, or eventually get around to it.

I am saying that they have a duty to speak up clearly, unequivocally and loudly for their country. Now.

These are the people who claim to be the Canadian masters of “straight talk,” and there has never been a time in our country’s history when straight talk has been needed more.

If they are threatened by their arm’s length proprietor, they have a duty to ignore him.

And if they are prevented from doing their duty, they have the additional obligation to quit and no longer serve a man and an organization that – regardless of how they are loved for their ideology by the PMO of Stephen Harper – would then be like a dagger pointed at the heart of our country.

If they do not speak up for Canada directly, forthrightly, courageously and immediately, we will know what they are made of, and what they are.

As Admiral Nelson might have said on that bloody day in 1805: “That will do, gentlemen. Make it directly!”

NOTE: Astonishingly, here in New York City where one comes every year to be reinspired by Broadway, there’s nary a word in the local press about the fate of the Alberta Progressive Conservative dynasty, what Dave Hancock is likely to do in his unexpected role of interim premier, or who may try to replace him. This is shocking in a way since it was just a year and a few days ago that the government of then-premier Alison Redford took out a $30,000 ad in the New York Times touting the Keystone XL Pipeline. Do these people remember nothing? Well, we’ll return to all those things soon enough, leastways, if this blogger makes it out of town on Tuesday ahead of what the local press is covering: “The Snow Bomb.” This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

PKP to run for PQ: Why PKP, with SNN and CPC PMO spell SOS for Canada, which could be FUBAR

Impressionable English Canadian youngsters tune in to SNN for sinister ideological conditioning by RWN (right-wing nuts) on the staff of the PMO-favoured network. Below: PKP and his now-ex wife (NXW), grabbed from the Internet; SNN broadcaster Ezra Levant.

Oh, H-E-double-hockey-sticks, PKP wants another D-I-V-O-R-C-E!

This time, having just given his common-law wife of a decade the old heave-ho, it’s from us! 

And I don’t know about you, but this smells a bit like C-O-N-S-P-I-R-A-C-Y.

Let me explain…

PKP for those of you who live in the ROC and are therefore wondering WTF is Pierre Karl Péladeau, who until recently was the CEO of Quebecor Inc. (QBR to the TSE.) Also until recently he was the common law husband of broadcaster Julie Snyder.

QBR was recently described as “one of the worst employers Quebec has ever known,” a statement that it would certainly be fair to extend Canada-wide.

PKP, as he is apparently known in Quebec, remains QBR’s largest shareholder, and working for him is obviously pure H-E-double-L for most of his now-former E-M-P-L-O-Y-E-E-S, fewer and fewer of whom had managed to retain that un-coveted status even before he signalled a career change.

QBR, indeed, is well on its way to being the company that gave the ROC the completely journalism-free newspaper.

More important, though, PKP seems to be the guy who invented the faux patriotic Sun News Network (SNN), the tireless foe of the CRTC and the CBC that is billed by its opponents as Fox News North (FNN, I guess) and calls itself the home of “hard news and straight talk,” which seem to mean “far-right spin and extremely offensive and dishonest commentary.”

Indeed, it was SNN that gave Ezra Levant, who seems to have some troubles of his own just now, a national soapbox from which to insult people who disagreed with him in the basest imaginable terms, a proclivity SNN was willing to spend considerable time and effort to defend.

SNN is also the home of such luminaries of the lunatic right as Michael Coren, Brian Lilley and Lorne Gunter, who when they’re not reprinting Fraser Institute news releases strive with one another to express English Canada’s most offensive opinions and portray our society in the worst possible light.

In other words, SNN and its gaggle of unreconstructed rightists is a powerful symbol of the parochialism and ideological extremism that large numbers of Quebeckers have come to associate with English Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

And BTW, as is well known, SNN, AKA FNN, is a particular favourite of both the CPC and the Harper PMO – which is bound, in the next election campaign, to try to falsely imply that federalists in the NDP have gone MIA.

Now, in addition to being a lousy employer and a tireless far-right propagandist, PKP is a deeply committed separatist. This is news out here in the ROC, although it was long well known in politically alert circles.

Accordingly, PKP announced yesterday he will run as a candidate for the Parti Québécois, and his reason for doing so was informative: “My devotion to the Parti Québécois is a devotion that rises from my most intimate values – that is to say: to make Quebec a country,” he told a PQ rally in the Montreal suburb of St. Jerome to roars of approval.

“I have extremely profound convictions to make Quebec a country,” he emphasized.

Presumably PKP didn’t come by his extremely profound convictions yesterday.

So we have to ask, did he intentionally promote an image of an intolerant and ignorant English Canada through SNN that he knew would make Quebeckers wish the ROC would just FO&DD?

Perhaps having contributed so much through QBR and SNN to making many Quebeckers ashamed of Canada, PKP was advancing his dream of giving his three children “a country they can be proud of.”

SNN, of course, tried to soft-pedal the obvious yesterday, trotting out the ghost of MBM (Martin Brian Mulroney) in its “news” columns to insist there’s no connection between PKP and QBR, and advising the ROC in its “opinion” section to pay no heed to the return of the separatist threat to Quebec if the PQ elects a majority.

IMO, we should treat it very seriously indeed before our entire country is FUBAR.

Indeed, it seems to me the best thing we could do for Canada right now would be to stick with Quebec while severing our ties as quickly as possible with SNN, QBR and Stephen “Firewall” Harper.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

CRTC ruling notwithstanding, Sun News and its campaign for subsidies will continue

Sun News Network gets ready to take Phase II of its campaign for subsidies on the road. Actual action plans by the right-wing broadcaster in light of the CRTC’s denial Wednesday of free cash from consumers and a favourable location on the TV tuner may not turn out to be exactly as illustrated. Below: Sun TV VP Kory Teneycke, commentator Ezra Levant.

Canadians troubled by the loony right Sun News Network’s tireless campaign for “mandatory carriage” on cable TV and the forced subsidies from consumers that would have gone with it are entitled to feel some satisfaction at this week’s ruling by the federal broadcast regulator denying Sun TV’s demands.

But opponents of Sun’s style of gutter broadcasting should not assume the ruling Thursday by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is the end of the network’s campaign to bury its snout in the public trough.

Don’t imagine for a moment that without cash from mandatory carriage Sun News Network is going away, as Vice-President Kory Teneycke and other network officials repeatedly promised during their campaign to bully the CRTC into supporting Sun’s bid to dip into cable-subscribers’ pockets, or that their demands for a more favourable ruling are likely to slacken even momentarily.

No sooner had the CRTC’s decision been announced than Sun News unblushingly changed its story, vowing to continue its fight for subsidies and a better position on the tuner for its dogmatic ideological bias, dubious facts and at-times hateful commentary.

In a story in yesterday’s Edmonton Sun headlined “Sun News battles on,” the parliamentary bureau reporter for the self-described “plucky, upstart news channel” and its newspaper arm noted that the CRTC’s decision “lays out a proposal for a new category of licenses for Canadian all-news channels” that may solve SNN’s problem with the flaccid market for market-fundamentalist bromides and hateful on-air rants.

“We intend to participate fully in those proceedings and will continue to operate pending an outcome,” said Mr. Teneycke, who by no coincidence was once Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s communications director.

In this regard, the defiance of the network and its parent, Quebecor Inc., may very well be justified.

Elsewhere in the same edition of the paper, commentator Michael Coren proclaimed, “the Sun shines on” – or, at any rate, it is said here, to adopt the American vernacular, the Sun will continue to shine you on.

Mr. Coren adopted the whining tone typical of thwarted ideologues in such circumstances, claiming the network called “Fox News North” by supporters and opponents alike is a spunky little challenger of the political and economic establishment it in fact represents, and that it speaks for tens of thousands of people it in reality does not, including many Christians.

It would be fair to say Mr. Coren was engaging in habitual behaviour when he used the article to equate the views of all Christians with his particular take on Christianity. His appears to be a branch of the religion that has devalued to base metal the Golden Rule prescribed by Jesus when he said, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

But then, this is a rhetorical technique not so different from that of all Sun News commentators when they claim their angry and tiresome screeds are somehow equivalent to the efforts of the CBC!

Still, Mr. Coren was right when he stated that Sun News and its incessant demands for favourable rulings from the Government of Canada are not going to go away.

With all thus brouhaha, it’s important to note ample funding has been available and likely remains available for the network – from the same sources that finance Canada’s vast network of market-fundamentalist think tanks, Astro-Turf groups and institutionalized laundries for corporate political donations.

Indeed, it seems likely that at the main goal of Sun News Network’s campaign was not so much the paltry $17 million the network claims to be losing and that mandatory carriage would have replenished, as the favourable and accessible place on the TV tuner it would have given the network’s offerings.

So it is said here this fight was as much about encouraging larger numbers of Canadians to stumble upon Sun’s broadcasts – and, perchance, to believe them – as it was about cash.

So, for a little longer, Sun News commentators like Ezra Levant will have to work a harder to reach and retain their audience.

Speaking of Mr. Levant, it is interesting to speculate on how much his unsavoury and occasionally sinister rants, like his racist diatribe against the Roma people in September 2012 or his obscenity-laden attacks on a corporate executive who failed to toe his line on bitumen exports, may have hurt his employer’s application.

Mr. Teneycke has publicly defended Mr. Levant’s notorious rant about the Roma, barricading himself inside Sun’s “message box” while doing his best to sound contrite about it. In an interview last March, he refused to acknowledge the patently racist intentions of Mr. Levant’s remarks while suggesting they were merely meant to be satirical!

As noted here at the time, anyone who heard the original nine-minute episode of Mr. Levant’s program would find this explanation hard to square with what was actually said. Unfortunately, readers will be hard pressed to confirm that now, since Sun News long ago washed all copies of Mr. Levant’s screed down the corporate Memory Hole and a recording placed on Youtube.com by a third party was removed “due to a copyright claim by Sun News Network.”

It is probably impossible to know how much, or even if, Mr. Levant’s exertions hurt the Sun News Network application. It seems self-evident, however, that they can’t have helped it very much.

Regardless, as we have seen, the network’s efforts to win a better platform for his on-air propaganda are not likely to abate, and citizens who accept such Canadian values as fairness, tolerance and decency will have little choice but to remain on guard.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

With no market for hate and right-wing drivel, Sun News comes cap in hand for public subsidy

More gruel, sir? The face of Sun News Network that Sun News Network would like you to see as they beg for public subsidies. Below: The real face of Sun News Network.

Sun News Network, that fearless foe of state subsidies for the CBC, wants you, Dear Television Viewer, to directly subsidize it to the tune of $18 million a year.

Have no doubt, that’s just the beginning, but it would nicely cover losses the company says now amount to a modest $17 million a year – hardly a corporate killer, one would think, but apparently enough to get Sun News queuing up at the public trough.

It turns out, as others have discovered before them (Ted Byfield, c’mon down!) that there’s not much of a market in Canada for the kind of market fundamentalist pap Sun News peddles – at least when consumers have the choice not to pay for it.

There’s even less of a market, by the sound of it, for the filthy language and outright hate-mongering indulged in by some of the network’s so-called commentators.

Given the opportunity to choose to watch Sun TV, viewers run away in droves. And who can blame them with boring drivel like Ezra Levant’s regular venomous rants about the Roma, Idle No More protesters, Hispanic business executives, environmentalists and anyone else who provokes his ill-managed anger to fill the seemingly interminable 24-hour broadcast day?

Now the so-called news channel, which disseminates anything but news, has gone with its grubby cap in hand to one of Mr. Levant’s targets, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, to beg for the right to inject its poison directly into almost every Canadian home because it desperately needs the wholesale revenue that would then automatically flow back into its coffers.

To put this in broadcast-speak, Sun News and its separatist bosses at Quebecor Inc. want the CRTC to grant it “mandatory carriage,” which means you can’t keep it off your TV dial because it would be included in basic cable coverage everywhere in Canada. That way, I guess, it’ll be easier for them to campaign against opposition parties led by committed federalists from Quebec, of which there will soon be two.

In the normal course of events, a broadcast regulatory agency like the CRTC is the sort of group that would provoke one of Mr. Levant’s trademark jeremiads, complete with accusations it is staffed by civil servants itching to help out “union bosses” by “censoring” his harangues.

But for the moment, Mr. Levant and the chorus of right-wing hysterics employed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s semi-official and ideologically approved state broadcaster are silent on the topic of the CRTC while they direct their supplications to it for a flow of public subsidies to be directed their way.

You see, Sun News Network is going deeper into the hole every day, with erstwhile Harper Government spokesthingy Kory Teneycke, now a vice-president of his former boss’s favourite network, pleading that opening the money tap “is live or die for us.”

For its part, the company claims it has market research that shows viewers would watch its programs if only they knew where to find them. But this is highly suspect, since cable companies push packages that include the network and viewers aren’t biting.

The fact is, if you wish, you can get a well-run focus group to endorse a ham sandwich for prime minister – which, come to think of it, is pretty much what Sun News Network spends its days doing right now to the minuscule audience of angry white gun-owning males and zitty-faced Internet trolls it has managed to attract so far.

The subsidy Sun News Network is seeking now would add up to about $4 a year from all cable subscribers to directly subsidize hate and propaganda, but you can count on it that, in the manner of all their ilk, the corporation will soon be back at the well for more.

So tell me, with Sun News imploring a federal agency for a quick infusion of cash from hard-pressed taxpayers, granted in the form of a bogus “user fee,” where’s the always noisy Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation? They’re like the proverbial cop, I guess, never around when you actually need them.

Regardless, according to the Globe and Mail, Sun News faces “stiff odds” in this effort, seeing as there are lots of other more credible and creditable broadcasters vying for the 10 channels that must be carried by all cable companies.

But Harper cronies and sympathizers are now deeply embedded in key positions at the CRTC and it has a proven track record of backing down and running away from confrontation with Sun News, as when the broadcast regulator hastily dropped its investigation of Mr. Levant’s on-air obscenities last fall after the network issued a vague and insincere apology.

Given all that, I don’t think we can count on the CRTC not to agree to put the Tory back into regulatory.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.