On Monday morning, October 31st, I woke up with a desire to do something entirely out of character for me. By noon, I was standing in front of the Times & Transcript building on Moncton’s Main Street with a sign in my hand–denouncing a lie. Just a day before, I had read the Moncton Times & Transcript by happenstance, and a clear example of mendacity catalyzed me into action. Rod Allen’s column, which purports to be lighthearted and comical in nature, was anything but funny. Allen took issue with a promotion by L’Acadie-Nouvelle, which allows on-line subscribers to pay a higher monthly fee for 36 months and receive an Ipad 2. Allen called this “a giveaway” and “the biggest, bestest treat of all.” At best, this was a serious journalistic lapse of misinforming the public or possibly a deliberate act.
The underlying message of the article was that since L’Acadie-Nouvelle is doing a “giveaway” (a lie), it is therefore a poor manager of its money and deserves to go bankrupt. He then congratulated the newspaper “wishing them the best of luck with their plea to the provincial government for an injection of taxpayer money to shore them up in these hard times.” Nice hatchet job, Rod; you might take a look at an ethics code.
When a journalist writes a story and especially when it is about a competitor, they should explore all of the facts that are pertinent. For example, the Irving media group has a weekly paper, L’Étoile, that is given away for free. He doesn’t mention that one of the typical Irving tactics in destroying other newspapers has been to dramatically reduce advertising rates and lower the price of their newspaper. Given the depths of Irving’s pocket, most of the competitors of Irving are long gone. Ken Langdon, who had the temerity to start a competitor to Irving in Woodstock called the Carleton Free Press, lasted about a year.
When Allen mentions getting subsidies, he forgets to mention the Irving propensity to be at the front of the trough for gifts or loans: $14 million to the NB Southern Railway, $500,000 to Kent Homes, $4.5 million per year tax cut to Irving LNG, $15 million to Cavendish Farms, $17 million to Master Packaging, abnormally low forestry stumpage rates and other related subsidies, $60 million to shut down the Saint John shipyard, $20 million to Irving Halifax Shipyard and recent subsidies announced for biomass electrical power to name a few.
The Irving philosophy of free enterprise exists only on the editorial page when lecturing others about the virtue of government getting out of the way of business. The Irving Empire, worth over $10 billion dollars, is ironically the largest recipient of corporate welfare in New Brunswick. Some might argue that Atcon – having received a $50 million loan guarantee from the province in 2010 – came close one year.
How does Irving benefit from the domination of the New Brunswick print media over recent decades? Irving owns three English language daily newspapers and 21 weeklies in New Brunswick. Shaping the limits of public debate brings political control, with the ability to avoid appropriate coverage of issues facing the environment or workers. Laws and regulations that aid the Empire’s business interest are passed, and subsidies are protected. Unfortunately, many citizens with differing viewpoints are portrayed as emotional and lacking an acceptable intelligence to debate.
The search for lower power rates for Irving industry was no doubt at the heart of the NB Power sale proposed in 2010. The permanent 30% rate decrease would have meant a roughly $50 million decrease in the Empire’s power bill at the expense of residential and smaller commercial rate classes. The entire chain of newspapers became cheerleaders for the deal.
And now that Irving has a $25 billion contract to build military ships, can one imagine the newspapers publishing articles critical of the Harper government?
The federal government and the Competition Bureau have been remarkably silent on the subject of media concentration in New Brunswick. Despite a number of reports and commissions making recommendations over the years, there has been no substantial action to curb what some analysts have called the worst example of media concentration in the world.
During my protest interlude, one of the pleasant surprises was the number of people who told me that the Irving newspapers are letting us down. If L’Acadie-Nouvelle is crushed by the Irvings, then both Anglophone and Francophone citizens in New Brunswick will feel the democracy deficit even more than they do today. It’s no surprise that in the current media climate, those in the Occupy movement who have decried the corporate control of government are ridiculed by the corporate media. It remains to be seen whether our governments will actually do their job and separate the media-industrial complex that preys on the citizens of New Brunswick.
Roy MacMullin is a Moncton-based writer on energy and politics. He is a retired employee at NB Power.