Fire / Feu



Monopoles des médias

Dru Jay rapporte les propos du docteur Erin Steuter de l'University Mount Allison, auteur de Les Irvings se camouflent, un livre dans lequel les représentants des médias intéressés par la grève de la raffinerie Irving exposent la domination des entreprises sur les médias au Nouveau-Brunswick.

Selon le docteur Steuter, les Irving, qui sont propriétaires de tous les quotidiens au Nouveau-
Brunswick, sont capables d'imposer leur contrôle des médias à un point tel que les journalistes autocensurent eux-mêmes leurs reportages.

Et c'est ainsi que les nouvelles de la province se retrouvent à l'intérieur d'un étroit corridor idéologique, destiné à ne pas déplaire aux propriétaires, les Irving Cette influence s'étend même au-delà des employés d'Irving.

En effet, les politiciens qui doivent compter sur les médias, n'osent plus se prononcer contre les pratiques des entreprises Irving et ainsi limitent ou même passent sous silence toutes critiques négatives.

Media Monopolies

Dru Oja Jay
August 2002


n an interview by Dru Jay, Dr. Erin Steuter of Mount Allison University , author of  “The Irvings Cover Themselves: Media Representations of the Irving Oil Refinery Strike”, speaks about corporate ownership of media in New Brunswick .

According to Dr. Steuter, the Irvings, who own every daily newspaper in NB, are able to implement their control of the media at a significant distance, to the point that journalists are imposing a self censorship on their reporting. What results is provincial news within a very narrow ideological spectrum, crafted so as not to offend the Irving owners. This influence extends beyond the scope of Irving employees. Because of their reliance on the media, politicians also are wary of speaking out against Irving practices in NB, with the consequence of reduced or negative coverage.  

The following is from the interview...

In your analysis, you mentioned a few instances when the Irving management had publicly dressed down editors or called in every day to discuss the content of the paper. Are there any examples of that happening recently?

I get the impression that the management isn't as directly hands-on now as it used to be. This is partly because there is a different era in Irving family leadership, which is why you're seeing philanthropy like the dunes project and the nature beach. I think that the climate is such that [the Irving management] doesn't have to [watch their papers closely] anymore. My impression from the journalists and the journalistic community is that reporters know exactly who they work for, and they know what will be accepted and what won't be.

The publishers and editors who are dealing with the journalists everyday are doing a sort of gatekeeping job, and making sure that articles that wouldn't be amenable to the Irving family wouldn't be coming through the pipeline. And there is a lot of self-censorship on the part of the journalists. I think that people learned their lessons when they made mistakes and supported the wrong political candidate or came out on the wrong side of some [issue].

Many people have said that there is a lot of diversity of coverage and editorial positions between the Irving papers...

I wouldn't say so. I would say that there are some ideological differences within a narrow spectrum. They're all very conservative, but some of them, like the Telegraph-Journal, can be called libertarian. But even there, they haven't spent as much time in recent years developing those ideological arguments as they have in the past. So, I'd say the difference has actually declined in recent years. Sometimes if you track one topic, you can see slight differences, but they're very homogeneous.

How does the ideology of the owners get all the way down to the reporters? How does that process work?

It starts with the selection of the journalists; the Irvings have a reputation of hiring away people in the public relations industry who have been sympathetic to them. So you have a situation where you have to show your loyalty to the Irvings and then they hire you on in the corporation--either in their own PR department or in the newspapers. It's very rare to find someone with an actual journalism degree. They don't go through the process of hiring journalism graduates, they pick people who have already shown themselves to be hard-working, going after the stories, but who know who is paying their paycheque.

The journalistic community in Canada is under siege--there have been huge layoffs in the last ten years with monopoly ownership, and there are now much, much higher expectations of productivity. Before, journalists would only post several stories a week, but now they're being asked to post several stories per day, which means that their stories are coming right off the newswires, with possibly an interview or an attempt to clarify or confirm something, but with none of the investigative journalism you would have seen before.

So, many journalists are out of work and the journalists who have jobs in the Irving group know how lucky they are to be working. The editors are the ones who tell them what stories they should be working on, and as you get more seniority, you get to pick your stories, but when you pick stories that are critical of your employer, or your employer's generalized values--even if it's not something specific about your employer--you're going to be told that you can't work on that. After a while, you stop bringing those stories forward.

I don't see the journalists trying in any way to bring forward critical stories. Sometimes, a story will present itself that they have no choice to cover, and they may show initiative in showing a broad range of sources. Sometimes you'll see them bringing in people who are interested in "social harmony"--someone like a minister or a peace activist or a teacher--someone who generally says "I wish everybody could get along" or "I wish there wasn't this conflict", and that's about as critical a voice as they would be allowed to bring in. But some reporters do consistently do that, and that is an implied criticism of whoever is causing the problems, either in terms of the environment, legal battle, or labour struggle.

Journalists are often waiting for an opportunity to bring in something critical in the context in which they work, and sometimes that's the most that they can do.

Is Irving really different from other papers of a similar ownership in their hiring and business practices?

I don't think that the Irvings make a distinction between the bread and butter journalist and the highbrow columnist--I think they're all under pretty tight reign. The [Irving papers'] difference from other papers shows the most locally, when something is directly within the Irvings' sphere of influence. If you compare the Chronicle Herald, which is an independent paper in Halifax--and it's not a very good paper, because it's poor, and doesn't have many journalists working for it--it is a much, much more critical paper than any of the papers in New Brunswick. Even just at the level of language use, they call things much more directly, and in much more critical terms.

Do you think that the monopoly on the coverage of elections keeps people away from the issue of media reform?

Yeah, I think the politicians in power, and those who think they have access to power, don't want to mess with the Irvings on any front, and the media front is probably at the bottom of the list. They might be prepared to say that they need to put in more scrubbers [in Irving factories] because they're polluting our air, and they might say that [the government] shouldn't be lending them as much money, and giving away our crown lands to them, but that's as radical a critique as they're prepared to make. There's way too strong a sense that the Irvings employ so many New Brunswickers, and they always threaten that they'll just pack up and leave--which realistically they are not going to do--but they have a very positive climate towards them, and many New Brunswickers are supportive of that. Even if they have personal horror stories around the Irvings, they also know that they're not going to bite the hand that feeds them.

So, it's very hard to find people who will come forward, and the people who have come forward have been so horrendously blasted, that they're basically seen as examples. Like someone you see hanging from the gates of the castle--it says "this will happen to you too."

What are some examples of that?

That pretty much happened with the labour leadership in the strike at the oil refinery. The entire union executive lost their jobs, and were made into complete pariahs in the community for having had the temerity to challenge the Irvings in that way. Their names were published in the paper, and there was this overwhelming process of humiliation. The people who wanted to get their jobs back had to go through this whole humiliating brainwashing exercise in order to have access to those jobs, which sent a signal through the entire Irving empire

So, you don't think that this is anything that could conceivably change in the future?

I think that people are doing an end run around the Irving papers for real information. In general, the mainstream media is being tarred as being the voice of the corporate world, and the people who want more information know how to get it, and those are the kind of people who would be critical of the narrow media coverage. It's the people who don't know that they need other sources of information who are in trouble, because they don't really realize that there's a whole other perspective out there. But that's not their priority, they're not even necessarily aware of the hegemony in the media.