Media Canada: An Introductory Analysis

Walter I. Romanow

Walter C. Soderlund

This book joins the growing list of introductory mass communication texts. Comprised of 14 chapters, and complete with both name and subject indexes, it is designed to meet with the rigours of a lecture schedule as well as act as a quick reference source for neophyte communication scholars. The chapters all open with a subject overview and they are neatly partitioned into both sections and subsections, clearly identifying key subjects and ideas. Numerous charts, tables, and photographs complement the narrative.

The book's contents are also well organized. Divided into three parts, the first part delineates the field of study and sets the historical and theoretical context of the analysis. The second part focuses on Canada's mass media institutions examining, in turn, the print, broadcasting, film, and "persuasion" industries in terms of their histories, organizational character, and the regulatory interventions that have influenced their growth. Part three attenuates the discussion, illustrating the media's relationships to larger societal processes. Here, regulation, access to information, ownership, and the mass media's role in politics are all given attention. Unfortunately though, this careful consideration of form does not compensate for the weak theoretical insight that informs the content. From the outset, the authors display a decided predisposition for the functional and empiricist conceptions of the media that dominated American communication studies during the 1950s and 1960s. Attempting to establish a "comparative framework" for examining mass communication systems in Chapter Two, they build upon Siebert, Peterson, & Schramm's Four Theories of the Press (1956) to illustrate "that there is a congruent relationship between a political system and the mass media system that serves it" (p. 25). However, this "significantly refined" typology offers little relief from the self-serving functionalism of the original thesis. Empirical models dominate their review of communication theory in Chapter Three. Framed around Laswell's dictum "who says what, in which channel, to whom, with what effect," effects theory, the two-step flow, gatekeeping, agenda setting, and uses and gratifications theory form the bulwarks of this discussion. While the authors acknowledge that critical theory has "had a major influence" on Canadian communication studies, it is assessed in a small subsection where they ultimately confuse the epistemological assumptions informing this tradition with those of their own. Noticeably absent are discussions of either representation, signification, or semiotics. This theoretical framework forms the backdrop for subsequent analyses.

In pursuit of "objectivity," the shallow empirical tradition followed by the authors leads them to sidestep practically all questions of power and ideology. Consequently, while they offer good descriptions of the organizations and institutions that characterize mass communication in Canada, they are unable to come to terms with the political-economic imperatives that shape either the production and consumption of Canadian media products or transnational information flows. Similarly, their theoretical perspective elides the ways that the institutions and practices of mass communication are implicated in issues of gender, race, and ethnicity. Instead their analysis is framed implicitly to illustrate how the market, political institutions, and individual financiers act as types of intervening variables in the free flow of information.

Much of Canadian communication scholarship has sought to explain the domination of particular interests over others or, in Innis's terms, the centre over the margin. Yet producing such explanations has often been complicated by the fact that the theoretical and methodological tools employed were forged in the centre and represented the perspective of the dominant, thereby affording little space for reflecting upon the ways that dominance was maintained. Today, there is a broad tradition of critical Canadian communication studies that focuses upon how mass communication is implicated in relations of power. When introducing students to the field, we ignore that tradition at our own peril.



  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

SSHRC LOGO