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Professor Takes On Prominent Family In 'Asper Nation'

Marc Edge
Edge's latest book, "Asper Nation," has been so popular with Canadians that it has sold out at and Chapters, a large book chain in Canada.

Marc Edge’s newest book, “Asper Nation,” which tells the story of “Canada’s Most Dangerous Media Company,” could be considered a cautionary tale for Americans.

Edge is an associate professor of journalism at SHSU.

The book, which was published in October, discusses the history of the media mogul Asper family, the influences the media has on politics and why the two are a “dangerous” combination.

A “hot topic” in Canada, there have been two federal inquiries regarding broadcasting policy and news media there over the past five years.

The story unfolds over an approximate 10-year period, beginning when newspaper magnate Conrad Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in order to accept an appointment to the British House of Lords and sold his Canadian media holdings to CanWest Global Communications, a television network owned by the Asper family.

This sale included 13 major Canadian newspapers, 126 community newspapers, Internet properties and the National Post, representing most of the media in western Canada. Its dominant TV station in Vancouver accounts for 70 percent of the audience share for the evening news, according to Edge.

“It’s probably the tightest media ownership of any major metropolitan market in the free world,” he said.

After the CanWest Global takeover, the conservative Asper family, which also has personal ties to the Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, essentially ordered its newspapers to “lay off the prime minister” in reference to a financial scandal involving Chrétien.

“At the end of 2001, the Asper family, CanWest Global Communications, ordered all of its newspapers across the country to carry national editorials,” Edge said. “Eventually this resulted in senate inquiry into the news media in Canada, and the senate made some mild recommendations, but by that time, the conservative government had taken over and were cozy with the new generation of Aspers.

“This is what’s got a lot of people concerned, myself in particular,” he said.

This “classic example” of the “new phenomenon of convergence” is what Edge finds “dangerous” to democracy.

“One company owns so much of the news media that they’re able to set the political agenda and suppress news,” he said. “It’s really quite scary.”

While the media doesn’t tell people what to think, they can have great influence in what people think about, he said.

“It’s been proven over and over that media content can set the agenda for public discussion, particularly election issues,” he said.

The media can also influence policy through the “cultivation theory,” which deals with violence in the media. Research has found that violence in the media doesn’t make people more violent, as once thought, but instead makes people more fearful of violence.

“This has great, profound political implications because it has been found that people who watch more television tend to see the world the way it’s portrayed on TV. It’s called a ‘mean world syndrome,’” Edge said. “People who watch more violent TV content are more likely to accept repressive political measures designed to protect them from criminals and terrorists, and they tend to be more willing to abrogate civil liberties.”

Not simply theory, the “culture of fear” has been proven in what Edge calls the “Fox Effect,” in which reports such as those on the Fox News Network continually focus on terror and “slanting the news a certain way.”

After Sept. 11, 2001, Fox covered the war on terror in a very jingoistic, patriotic manner, and it proved very popular with Americans, Edge said.

“CNN was available in many more millions of households than Fox News, and Fox beat them in the ratings,” he said. “So in order to compete with Fox, the other networks had to start doing the same sort of patriotic coverage with a right wing slant.

“It was a very interesting study. Because Fox wasn’t available in all cities, they were able to compare changes in voting patterns in places where Fox was available and places it wasn’t,” Edge said. “They found that in places that it was available, the Republicans gained 3 to 8 percent of the vote.”

When the media is concentrated, as it is in Vancouver, the influence can be enormous when both the television and newspaper mediums are simultaneously pushing an agenda.

“Television is by far the most powerful medium, the most pervasive medium, but newspapers are still the most influential medium politically, so it helps to have both,” Edge said. “You can control the images—and that’s what politics is about—and the ideas are mostly discussed on editorial and opinion pages.”

There is a lesson Americans should take from this and the growing media reform movement in Canada, Edge said.

On Dec. 18, the Federal Communications Commission will vote for a second time to lift the 1975 prohibition on cross-ownership in America.

“There was a big fight a few years ago, in 2004 I guess it was, when they lifted that prohibition briefly,” he said. “There was such a storm of protest, Congress stepped in and overturned the change.”

The Dec. 18 proposal includes lifting the prohibition in only the 20th largest markets. Chicago, Dallas and New York are among about a dozen cities in the U.S. where cross-ownerships are currently allowed because they were established before the 1975 prohibition.

“If they allow cross-ownership here, you’re going to have the same thing happen as we’ve had in Canada,” Edge said. “It’s been a bit of a disaster politically.”

While “you rarely see instances of ownership being as politically active as we’ve seen with the Asper family in Canada,” there are a myriad of influences that go into news content, oftentimes in subtle ways, Edge said.

“I always tell my American friends if you want to see the future of media, just look north because we now have major news media convergence, which is what a lot of people would like to see in this country. They’re trying to get the FCC to remove the cross-ownership ban so that they can have newspapers and television stations merge in cities across the country,” he said. “My research has shown that’s a bad idea because of the political power that this gives media owners who have both newspapers and television stations.”

“Asper Nation,” published by New Star Books, is Edge’s third book. His other books include “Pacific Press: The Unauthorized Story of Vancouver’s Newspaper Monopoly” and “Red Line, Blue Line, Bottom Line,” which discusses the economics of hockey.

Edge also continually writes updates about Conrad Black, Black’s latest legal troubles relating to fraud charges in Chicago and other media-related items on his blog




SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Dec. 4, 2007
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