Struggling to Escape from Uncle Sam: Changes in Canadian Media Dependence on the United States

Joseph Scanlon (School of Journalism, Carleton University)

... the significant fact about foreign news in Canada is its origins in sources which are beyond the control of Canadian newspapers. Its defects are to a large extent inherent in these sources, that is, the agency method of gathering news.... It bears the impress of personalities and points of view which are not Canadian. (McNaught, 1949, p. 258)

When Carlton McNaught wrote that in 1940, he was, of course, describing a world before radio had fully developed and a world before TV. Now, radio is a diverse and mobile medium which can use satellite-based phone links to deliver reports live anytime from anywhere. Television satellites beam not just sound but also pictures around the world in seconds.

Yet today, half a century later, his statement is still largely true. International news still reaches Canadians mainly through foreign sources. The decisions about what is news are made in Atlanta, New York, London and, sometimes, Paris. An examination of how foreign news reaches Canadians is a study of cultural imperialism. Changing technology, if anything, has extended the situation pictured by McNaught. News was once filtered through national centres in places such as Toronto. Now, in TV, with satellites, both networks and individual stations can pluck signals out of the air and insert them directly into local news programs.

There are, however, five things which are having some affect on the way Canadians learn about foreign affairs, and, equally intriguing, to some extent the way others, including Americans, learn about Canada, and the Canadian view of the world. These developments mean that there is, at present, at least the makings of a struggle by some Canadian media to escape from the domination of John Bull and, especially, Uncle Sam.

The first change is a shift, even though modest, in the way international affairs and defence are covered in Ottawa. Until very recently it was unlikely a Canadian view of international affairs would arise from frequent contacts between Canadian reporters in Ottawa and the Department of External Affairs. Tony Westell wrote in 1976:

The U.S. State Department is covered by newsman specializing in foreign affairs. The Foreign Office in London had its diplomatic correspondents. But in Ottawa, there are only one or two reporters who try to cover the External Affairs Department on a continuing basis....Information pours into the department from more than 100 countries with which Canada maintains relations and almost nobody tries to tap it for public consumption. (Westell, 1976, p. 58)

The most active reporter of foreign news from Ottawa is still the one from Canadian Press, Paul Mooney. But now specific reporters from the Globe and Mail, Radio Canada TV, CBC-TV's The Journal, Le Soleil and Le Devoir make regular contact with that department.

The same sort of thing has happened with defence. Where there was once one regular (again Mooney from CP) there are now about a dozen reasonably well-informed defence reporters, like Jocelyn Coulon of Le Devoir, Wendy Mesley of CBC, Jim Bagnell of the Financial Post, Don Leger of the Ottawa Citizen, Ron Lowman of the Toronto Star. And there are two Canadians--Sharon Hobson who writes regularly for Jane's in London and Richard Inwood of Radio Canada International--who send Canadian material overseas.

Second, and more important, the number of Canadian reporters overseas has--in the past few years--expanded dramatically. The major English- Canadian print media--the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and Southam News (which serves 16 papers)--have doubled or tripled their foreign staff and started putting correspondents in new locations: Costa Rica, Zimbabwe and Cyprus. The Canadian share of foreign news flow into English-language daily papers is increasing.

Third, there has been a dramatic Canadian reaction to the developments in eastern Europe. The Toronto Star and Southam News have open bureaus in this area. The Globe and Mail appears ready to do the same. And agencies like CBC radio, despite reduced budgets, have been hiring Canadian freelancers stationed in Europe and posting them briefly at key locations in East bloc countires.

Fourth, though it's only a minor trend, some American news services are making increasing use of Canadian material. The Cable News Network, always struggling to for material on weekends, tends, at times, to gobble up CBC news features. Group W, the Westinghouse system, takes advantage of its tie with Global to use Canadian material. Through Telstar 103, Global has fed 70 U.S. stations news about everything from the Edmonton tornado to the story of the Olympic flame.

But the most important development, it appears, is the arrival of The Journal, the CBC public affairs program which, with The National, fills up the 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. slot on CBC English network TV. The Journal has not only increased CBC's share of the audience at that time, it has pulled to TV persons not previously watching and done that with content which, with very few exceptions it has produced itself. It has also pedalled its Canadian programming to other outlets, including the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour in the United States. Further, it has not only increased Canadian coverage of foreign news through its own activity, it is probably the reason other media have done so.

Canadian Press

The situation is always, to some extent, in flux. In the past decade United Press Canada has died. CBC-TV has dropped its link with CBS and made a working agreement with NBC. CITV Edmonton has hooked into CNN, the Cable News Network. UPITN, the newsfilm agency owned by UPI and ITN, the private British television system, is now owned largely by ITN. CBC's 24-hour program Newsworld, has been established. Even as this is being revised (February, 1990), the Globe and Mail is about to announce three more foreign bureaus. It is difficult to be completely up to date.

Yet these changes, even the ones yet to come, have not altered and will not alter the basic pattern, the pattern that sees Canadian foreign news flowing through London, New York and Paris, Canadian news decisions being made by foreigners working in these cities. It also hasn't altered the fact the key news service is still the co-operatively owned Canadian Press and its subsidiary, Broadcast News.

The CP service constitutes the main infrastructure of the news communication system in Canada.... In most cases, the CP/BN wire provides either the main supply or the only supply of non-local news. Anyone in Canada who reads newspapers or listens to radio or television exposes himself probably dozens of times each day to messages that either originated in CP or were processed by it. (Cumming, 1976, p. 86)

Where does CP/BN news come from?

The Canadian news carried by CP comes mainly from member papers, occasionally from broadcasting affiliates. Its foreign news occasionally comes from CP staff in Washington (John Valorzi and Scott White), New York (Cal Woodward), London (Jim Sheppard) and Moscow (Warren Caragata). More like it comes from other agencies, from Associated Press (American), Reuters (British) or Agence France-Presse (French).

There are no regular CP staffers in the Middle East, Africa, the Far East or Latin America. Even where there are such staffers, CP still gets its main copy flow from these foreign agencies. And the overall perspective its editors have is shaped not by the half dozen CP staffers posted abroad but by the way the foreign news agencies define the news agenda. The news situation is no different for CP's subsidary, BN, Broadcast News. BN gets most of its news from CP.

As Carman Cumming found, except for style, there is little to choose between the two: "...Broadcast closely interlocked with CP that the two can almost be regarded as one system..." (Cumming, 1976, p. 89).

That's a little unfair in relation to domestic news. The BN wire tends to depend on CP and its sources--mainly daily newspapers--Monday through Friday. CP tends to lean on BN and its sources--usually radio--on the weekends. But for international news, week days or weekend, BN and CP depend on AP, AFP and Reuters.


In a newspaper, there are hundreds of stories about dozens of topics. Readers may pick and choose which they wish to read. On radio, just one story can be heard at one time. This means radio tends, for the most part, to carry short items about topics which will interest a wide audience. Because radio items are so short and because they can be obtained quickly and easily by telephone, it also means radio has the potential to be flexible about its sources for news.

That flexibility may exist in theory. In commercial radio, it does not work out in practice. The Canadian Press subsidiary, BN, gets its foreign news reports from AP and ABC. Its major competitors, Standard and News Radio, are tied to NBC and CBS and--in both cases--to UPI. In other words, all the main Canadian news services--BN, Standard and News Radio--are tied to American news sources.

Recently, many radio stations have been cutting news staff, often eliminating staff in the off-peak hours (late evening to early morning.) That means more and more newscasts are either fed directly from BN in Toronto or Montreal or read by staff without news training (so-called disc jockeys), a process known as "rip'n'read." Even during peak periods, wire copy dominates the news: "the hourly newscasts... the news director or the assignment editor takes stories directly from the wire and pastes them onto a large sheet for newscasters to read. This is the extent of the production process" (Clarke, 1981, p. 31).

What this means is that radio, increasingly, is a rewritten version of the CP wire, since it is CP which supplies most of the copy to BN. Canadian radio--when it carried foreign news--is more and more a reflection of AP, Reuters and AFP. BN, the only agency with staff abroad, covers just Washington and London.

There is an exception. CBC has access to BBC, the state system in England, and to NPR, National Public Radio, in the United States, two more foreign systems. But it also gets voice reports from its own correspondents in London (Patrick Brown), Washington (Brian Kelleher), and Moscow (Jeannette Matthey), and from correspondents it shares with French radio and English TV in Paris, Peking and Moscow.

It also taps into freelancers. Sometimes these freelancers provide all their clients (CBC, BBC and ABC Australia) with the same story but, sometimes, because CBC wants a Canadian angle, stories assigned by and developed by the CBC. These stories will provide a Canadian viewpoint on foreign news. During the turmoil in Eastern Europe in the fall of 1989, for example, CBC hired two freelancers, Nancy Durham and Roger Moirier, both Canadians, and put them on a weekly retainer for several months. Durham was sent from London to East Germany, Moirier from Paris to Prague. (The pair joined two CBC staffers--Michael McIvor and Patrick Brown.)

The pattern in French Canada is much the same, except the key foreign news centre is Paris, rather than London or New York. Radio Canada (French CBC) gets AFP, Reuters, AP, UPI, CP, BN, PC and NTR. (PC and NTR are the French equivalents of CP and BN: the initials stand for Presse Canadienne and Nouvelles TeleRadio.) Radio Mutuelle gets AFP and UPI. Tele-media gets the same. NTR, the French voice system, run by CP, depends on CP-BN, AFP and UPI. Radio Mutuelle and Tele-media have no French audio service.

Like CBC English radio, Radio Canada gets some news from freelancers, usually from Radio France and AFP. But it finds it more difficult than the English service to get such telephone coverage. There are more journalists abroad who speak English than speak French.


Television pictures are not sourced. Sometimes, when they are shown with Canadian voices, it sounds and looks as if they are, in fact, Canadian. Often, that's misleading. Both CBC and CTV have contracts with U.S. networks allowing them to take items from news programs, newscasts and news feeds and to use them as they see fit, a system which has shaped the whole pattern of Canadian television news.

First, that system means Canadian network newscasts are at 10 and 11 p.m. so Canadian staff can tape, edit and re-work material from the supper time U.S. news. Second, it means items on Canadian TV may be created by selecting visuals from a number of U.S. sources, editing them together, then covering these visuals with a Canadian voice. The result sounds Canadian but the story selection and the visual content has been decided by foreigners.

In TV, the real difference is not the way the game is played but the names of the players--it's CBS and NBC and ABC, WTN, CNN and Group W instead of AP, AFP and Reuters.

Under current arrangements, CBC gets NBC (its prime connection) and has access to CBS, Visnews and CNN (the Cable News Network). CTV gets CBS, NBC, ABC and WTN (Worldwide Television News).

In TV, there are two major so-called international news film agencies--Visnews and WTN (Worldwide Television News.) Visnews is controlled equally by BBC and Reuters (they own 75% between them) with a smaller share owned by the public broadcasting systems in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It also has a sharing agreement with NBC in the United States and NHK in Japan. Its bias however is British: "One member of the BBC's foreign news staff put the BBC's relationship to Visnews like this: `They ring us and ask what are our priorities. They send us a list and it's decided what to ask for. We're almost cousins and they're partly financed by us' " (Schlesinger, 1979, p. 9).

WTN (which replaced UPITN) is owned mainly by ITN, the private British network. It also has connections with ABC and with the private Australian broadcasting system. There is a third film system owned by CBS. That obviously gives the world newsfilm situation an Anglo-American tilt.

Of course, Canadian TV networks do have foreign staff. CBC has staff in London (Claude Adams and Patrick Brown), Beijing (Tom Kennedy) (he was out, then back as of February 1990) Jerusalem (Jean Francois Lepine), Moscow (Don Brown), Washington (Terry Milowski and Joe Scheslinger). CTV has Jim Munson in Beijing, Phil Winslow and Roger Smith in London, Alan Fryer in Moscow, Martin Himel in Jerusalem and Bob Hurst in Washington.

But it's more complicated than that.

When TV reporters are in the field they share tape with others. Thus a CTV reporter in Lebanon will share with ABC (with whom CTV has a working agreement), with the independent Japanese agency, with WTN and with a German crew. CBC would use its agreement to work with NBC and share with BBC and Visnews. The result is all foreign news reflects a shared viewpoint.

But the key decisions in TV are not made in the field. They are made by editors deciding where news crews will be sent. Those decisions are made on the basis of wire service reports. It's CP, BN and thus AP, Reuters and AFP, which affect the flow of TV news, because that is what editors in Toronto, or anywhere else, are reading before they make news decisions.

Epstein found 70% of domestic stories covered by NBC originated with AP or UPI: "The other networks are equally reliant on the wire services to alert them to news happenings. As one ABC national editor put it, `Without the wire services, we'd be dead' " (Epstein, 1974, pp. 141-142).

Starting in mid-summer 1989, there was one new player in the news, Newsworld, CBC's 24-hour news program. Newsworld does have a five-person bureau, including one reporter (Ted Chernecki), in London. It also has a sharing agreement which allows it to broadcast an English-language version of news from NHK in Japan (and is trying to work out a similar arrangement with the Soviet Union.) On the whole, however, Newsworld depends mainly on the existing CBC television news system. It has little effect on the flow of foreign news into Canada.


There is a limited research on radio and TV. No such problems exists with respect to print. There is McNaught's pioneer study, Scanlon's studies of news flow (Scanlon, 1967) and news content (Scanlon, 1969), Scanlon's review of the overall picture in Canadian Forum (Scanlon, 1974). There are the reports of the Special Senate Committee on the Mass Media (especially Volume 1, The Uncertain Mirror) and the Royal Commission on Newspapers. They all conclude the same thing: "It is the Canadian Press that carries the news load and the newspapers could not live without it...the bulk of its international news comes from its access to the world-wide networks of Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse" (The Uncertain Mirror, 1972, p. 230). The Senate committee was concerned enough about this to recommend that CP: "...reconsider its policy on the kind of reporting it wants from abroad, and that the newspapers which provide it with funds...take another look at the figures" (The Uncertain Mirror, 1972, p. 235). The committee said CP could add six roving foreign correspondents to its staff for a charge of about $100 a month ($1,200) a year for smaller newspapers.

That recommendation was made in 1972. It was ignored. As the Kent Commission (the Royal Commission on Newspapers) commented in 1982, CP, instead of following what the Senate suggested, decided "to reduce its budget proportion for foreign coverage from 2.3 per cent in 1974 to 1.1 per cent in 1979" (Royal Commission on Newspapers, 1981, p. 122).

Kent suggested the federal government subsidize foreign coverage by matching increased expenditures by CP. Again, nothing happened. CP's decision in 1988 to staff Moscow as well as Washington and London marked a slight move toward expanded foreign coverage; but it no longer staffs New York where it once had a bureau and a United Nations correspondent.

For a time, CP was not the only wire service serving Canadian newspapers. The Sun papers in Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary took over United Press Canada (UPC) which got its foreign news from the fourth major wire service, United Press International (Boyd-Barrett, 1980, p. 31). That enterprise has collapsed.

There are a few alternatives to CP. There are the services provided by the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post or Knight-Ridder. As the Royal Commission on Newspapers commented: "...they are worthy services.... As supplementary services they are beyond reproach. The problem is that in terms of depth and quality, they are not supplementary; in the absence of comparable Canadian services, they are all that's available" (Royal Commission on Newspapers, 1981, p. 132).

A few Canadian newspapers, of course, do provide a Canadian view of the world to Canadians. It was Jean Pelletier, La Presse's correspondent in Washington, who first revealed (some U.S. media knew the story) how Canadian diplomats had hidden then smuggled U.S. diplomats out of Iran. (Pelletier, 1981) Southam News spent a fortune on phone calls trying to get an unbiased view of the war over the Falkland Islands. (With British, French and U.S. interests all involved, it was difficult to trust any of the major wire services.) Southam also spent thousands of dollars trying to cover a Canadian assault on Mount Everest.

The Toronto Star now has Richard Gwynn and Mike Hanlon in London, Bob Hepburn in Washington, Steve Handelman in Moscow, Bill Schiller in Johannesburg, Peter Goodspeed in the Far East (in January 1990, he was in Tokyo, but was about to move to Hong Kong), Gordon Barthos in the Middle East and Allan Ferguson in Budapest.

The Toronto Globe and Mail has Martin Mittelstadt (business) and Salem Alaton (entertainment) in New York, Linda Hossie in Rio de Janeiro, Jeff Sallot in Moscow, Edith Terry in Tokyo, John Gray and Ed Greenspon (business) in London, Brian Johnson in New Delhi, Jennifer Lewington and Colin McKenzie in Washington, Jonathan Manthorpe in Zimbabwe, Jan Wong in Beijing. (The Globe was to add three more foreign bureaus in 1990.)

Southam News has Aileen McCabe in Nicosia, about to move to London (a new person will be assigned to Nicosia), Juliette O'Neill in Moscow, Les Whittington in Costa Rica, Peter Calamai and Norma Greenaway in Washington, Ben Tierney in Hong Kong and (as of 1990) Kitty McKinsey in Warsaw.

That roster marks a commitment to foreign coverage not seen 10 even five years ago. Yet--this will have to be tested--it may be less impressive than it sounds. First, the total Canadian input is less than a trickle in the total flow of foreign news. Second, or so the correspondents report, the decisions about what's important are often not based on what the Canadians feed to their editors but what the foreign agencies and high-profile foreigners decide is news.

Writing about his experience as Toronto Telegram reporter in Moscow, Peter Worthington stated:

Even when Canadian news agencies have their own a foreign story, a crisis or whatever, often his copy is checked against the agency copy... If the Canadian reporter's interpretation differs radically from the agency copy, often the editors assume that their man is wrong--and go along with the agency line. (Worthington, 1971, pp. 55-56)

Robert Farquharson noted the same reaction by Canadian editors to copy in the New York Times by the columnist James "Scotty" Reston:

At the NATO meeting in Ottawa...some of the Canadians were closer to the facts than their more distinguished visitors. But almost without exception the Canadian editors played down their own men and played up the bylines that were internationally known.... One reporter found his story on the back page with Scotty Reston on page one. A couple of weeks later Scotty wrote the story from Washington, the Canadian had written from Ottawa.... (Farquharson, 1952, p. 8)

There may be Canadian players but the rules of the game have been set by foreigners.

French Media

In the case of French-language print media the situation is different. First, the French media rely on different foreign sources. Second, unlike the English they have not recently expanded their foreign staff.

Not surprisingly (it's in French), the French-language media rely much more on AFP than on AP or Reuters:

Table 1
Sources of Foreign News in 15 Newspapers
English (9) French (6)
AP 639 38
Reuters 280 11
AFP 0 218
Scanlon, 1967, p. 8.

Second, the French media have a somewhat different interest in the world, a view reflected by the content of the French-language Canadian Press wire. The French-language press are much less concerned with North America--which means the United States--than the English-language press.

Table 2 Percentage of Items by Region
English (9) French (6)
CP Newspapers PC Newspapers
Western Europe 19.5 18.0 30.3 32.7
Eastern Europe 4.0 2.4 7.1 8.0
North American 59.0 58.3 37.5 33.6
Robinson, 1981, p. 202.

All these differences mean is that French-Canadian news of the world comes from a difference foreign source, France, instead of the English source, United States. (The figures would undoubtedly have been different if they had been compiled more recently: all news media has a great deal of coverage of Eastern Europe during autumn 1989.)


Until satellites came along that was largely all there was to it. Now the situation is starting to change both domestically and in relation to foreign news.

In Canada, CITV, a private station in Edmonton, CHCH, a private station in Hamilton, CITY-TV, a private station in Toronto, are all on the CanCom satellite network, a network which provides a service to about 1,000 northern communities. The Atlantic Satellite Network (ATV) is there, too, so ATV, in Atlantic Canada, CITV, CITY-TV and CHCH can swap news. Since two of the three are also tied to CNN (again via satellite) a new news link has been formed.

Because of satellites, there are other new connections, too. The system Global connects to--the Group W Newsfeed Network--gets its news every day from the Westinghouse stations in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. It uses the Telstar 301 satellite. But Group W also pulls in news from other stations throughout the United States when those stations have news it or any one of its stations wants. (Individual stations pay an annual fee and a fee for any special requests.)

This system has seen increased Canadian news flowing into the United States. Each day, the Global news assignment editors in Toronto tell the Group W editors in Philadelphia (the system runs out of KYW in Philadel- phia) what they have available. Fairly often--especially during the winter Olympics--Canadian material is put into the system.

There has also--as was mentioned--been some increase in Canadian content on U.S. cable newscasts, especially on weekends, as a result of CNN's connection with CBC news. But these developments shouldn't be overstated. WTN, for example, considered tying into CTV's daily newsfeed to its Canadian stations. The editors couldn't see the point; they felt there just wasn't that much world interest in Canadian news.

Even if these developments have a modest effect on the American perspective of Canada, they won't mean Canadian will get a different slant on world news. Group W is not interested in generating Canadian angles to its news stories. Neither is CNN.

Although they may lead to some increase in Canadian news content on American television, the real impact of satellites will be to allow Canadian local stations to tie directly to foreign sources. A few years ago it was impossible. Now it's routine for Canadian stations to tap into the overseas feeds destined for New York. (Stations getting Visnews already tap in off the 16.40 (Eastern Standard Time) satellite feed from London instead of waiting for the re-feed from New York.) This means news coming into Canada will no longer be "Canadianized" by editors in Toronto and Montreal.

Although the impact was limited, the movement of copy through major Canadian news centres did inject some Canadian flavor into the foreign product. During a study in 1969, Scanlon reported the following changes: a reference to "enemy" was changed to North Vietnamese-Viet Cong; a reference to the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen's husband, was change to Prince Philip; the Soviet fighter plane MIG was labelled MiG--its designers are Mikoyan and Gorovich; President--in a reference to the United States--was made lower case; a reference to the Pentagon was altered to the U.S. defence department; Centerville was changed to Centreville; "the nations's" was made "in the U.S." (Scanlon, 1974, p. 235).

The Journal

There is now, however, one element in this system that is different, one that may be affecting not only Canadian news content on TV about Canada and elsewhere but also Canadian reporting on the rest of the world.

That development is the success of CBC English TV's Journal, the public affairs program that runs between the end of the CBC English network news and 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Journal gets its material almost entirely with its own Canadian staff. It, therefore, focuses on issues from a Canadian viewpoint. It has started to draw a huge audience--1.5 to 1.6 million each week night, three million total for the week--an audience both pulled away from U.S. programming and pulled to Canadian TV.

It seems reasonable to suggest this audience will demand similar Canadian-based coverage of foreign affairs in other media and that the news decision makers, who are well aware of what's on TV, will respond to that demand. (Certainly the Journal audience is older, wealthier and better educated than the general population, exactly the sort of persons who are more likely to read newspapers.)

It could be it's the fascination created and held by The Journal which has forced the major print media--the Star, the Globe, Southam's--into their expanded coverage of foreign affairs. It is certainly true that outward looking development is not taking place in French TV where the comparable program, Le Point, has not a similar focus on foreign affairs.


Does it matter whether foreign news coming into Canada is produced by foreigners? Does it matter if this situation is, in fact, changing?

Vernone Sparkes and Gertrude Robinson have argued the amount of Canadian coverage of the United States is not out of line considering the importance of the U.S. to Canada, considering the relative size of the two countries, considering Canada and the U.S. are far and away the world's largest trading partners (Robinson, 1981). Robinson has also argued that, ideologically, CP is in harmony with AP (Robinson, 1981, p. 194). Surely it is possible that harmony is a function of the long-standing arrangements and the lack of alternatives. Those who edit the CP wire are just as inundated as everyone else with other American influences, especially United States tele- vision. Perhaps, an alternative view of the World may never cross their minds.

There are many examples of ethnocentric handling of news. For instance, the New York Times held back on the Bay of Pigs invasion, a decision President Kennedy said later he regretted. CBS didn't report U.S. plans to intercept the plane with the men on board who had hijacked the Achille Loro. Robert Woodward has revealed that the Washington Post regularly held back news it did not consider to be in the U.S. interest to publish (Woodward, 1987). Similarly British reporters, however reluctantly, accepted censorship during the British attack on the Falkland Islands. The BBC has often adapted its news processes to suit the views of the government in power (Schlesinger, 1979).

And many news reports are what's left over from censorship. In Britain, for example, there is an elaborate system of D notices which informs journalists what they can and can not write about. In the Soviet Union, even with glasnost, there are even now barriers to access. In Israel there is constant censorship. (It has been reported that the New York Times declined to label stories from Moscow as "passed by censor" because it did not want to do the same for stories from Israel. The result was its Soviet staff was seen to have a left-wing bias.) In South Africa, cameras are not permitted to record much of the racial strife and journalists are sometimes beaten when they try to do so.

And it's not just a question of what is reported and what isn't; the way it's reported is important as well. After the U.S. charter jet crashed in Gander, Newfoundland, in December, 1985, there was a debate whether autopsies should be performed in Canada or the United States. The issue went to cabinet level in Ottawa. (Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Gander had argued it was a matter of Canadian sovereignty.) The media ignored the story because crash coverage was dominated by U.S. reporters. They thought it natural the bodies should be taken to the United States.

And Canadian interests don't always coincide with U.S. interests or, for that matter, British or French interests. Whether it's U.S. media concealing a planned U.S. attack on Libya or British journalists submitting, however grudgingly, to censorship during the Falkland islands war, the media often report or don't report in line with what they see as their own country's interests.

This is not to suggest Canadian media are bias-free. During the October crisis of 1970--when a provincial cabinet minister was kidnapped and murdered--the CBC issued orders to its news staff to curtail certain types of coverage: "We were not to use man-on-the-street interviews or shoot film of any public demonstration. We were to air no panel discussions on the October Crisis and were to avoid reporting speculation, particularly speculation about what the government was doing" (Trueman, 1980, p. 37).

The policy was later modified but Peter Trueman, executive producer of CBC TV-News at that time, states, "It affected the CBC'c coverage until the crisis was over" (Trueman, 1980, p. 38).

The point is not that British or United States media act differently than Canadian but that, for foreign news events, the decision about what's important is not made by Canadians. Canadians read about, see and hear about the world--or don't--depending on the judgment of a foreigner. That's about as true now as it was in 1940. It's as if news decisions for England were made by France, news decisions for the United States by Mexico.

Even studies which suggest Canadians prefer Canadian news on television miss the point. When it comes to foreign news, it may not matter. Either viewers watch U.S. TV directly or they watch Canadian TV (with its U.S.-influenced content) (McCombs, 1977). That doesn't mean Canadian television in total is the same as American TV. There are some Canadian content rules and there are some Canadian programs and apparently some overall reassuring differences. Benjamin Singer found that U.S. television network newscasts carry far more violence, protest and war than comparable Canadian ones (Singer, 1983, p. 192).

But, though he wasn't speaking directly about news, John Meisel, former chairman of the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission warned the system now developing: "...provides threatening avenues for the complete annihilation of a distinct Canadian culture, of its regional and other unique components, and, in the final analysis, of an independent Canadian state" (Hall and Siegel, 1983, p. 66).

The developments outlined suggest there is today a slightly decreased Canadian dependence on foreign sources but today, as in 1940, the overall picture is the same.

Of course, the Canadian situation is not unique. As a Finnish scholar, Tapio Varis reported:

The headquarters of the big newsfilm agencies are either in London (Visnews and UPITN) or in New York (CBS News-film).... All of the television services in Europe including those in the socialist countries and nearly all TV stations in the world subscribe to the newsfilm distribution and regularly pay...for this service. (Varis, 1973, p. 229)

And the big agencies have never doubted they controlled the situation. As Farquharson pointed out: "Canadian relations with AP started without Canadian papers even being consulted. In 1893, Reuters and AP marked out spheres of influence and Reuters agreed Canada came within the AP orbit" (Farquharson, 1952, p. 8).

One year later Canada signed its first contract with AP.


The original version of this paper was developed by Al Farrell and Joseph Scanlon for a conference at the University of Windsor. A substantially revised version was presented by Caroline Dow at the meetings of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications at Portland, Oregon, in 1988.


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