Most people think that Canwest Global Communications Corp. is Canada's largest newspaper publisher. And why not? It owns daily papers in many large cities, including Vancouver (2), Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, and Montreal.
In addition to owning the Vancouver Sun and Province, Canwest owns the Vancouver Courier, the North Shore News, the Richmond News, the Now chain of papers, and other publications in this region as well as Global TV.
But Quebecor Media actually claims to be Canada's largest newspaper publisher. It owns the Sun chain, the Osprey papers, commuter papers in different cities under the 24 hours brand, and the Journal de Montreal.
Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau is a media titan in Canada and a close friend of former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
In 2005, Peladeau announced a partnership with billionaire Jimmy Pattison to launch 24 hours in Vancouver.
With Peladeau's deep pockets and the strength of the B.C. economy at the time, it probably had reasonable prospects for success.
But there was a problem. The B.C. government and its Crown corporations wouldn't place very many ads in Peladeau's new Vancouver publication. Pattison dumped his interest in 24 hours back to Peladeau's company quite some time ago.
The B.C. government also didn't place any ads, as far as I know, in local independent publications like Shared Vision and Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine, which both recently ceased publishing after changing their names.
Instead, much of the B.C. government's advertising in the past four years went into Canwest papers and Canwest broadcasting outlets.
Some government ads also went into community papers owned by Victoria-based newspaper tycoon David Black, who chaired the premier's B.C. Progress Board for a while.
Recently, 24 hours dumped its publisher and laid off some staff, including highly regarded legislature reporter Sean Holman. The reason: a shortage of revenue.
B.C.'s gross domestic product was $195.2 billion in 2007, according to Statistics Canada. The B.C. government's operating budget includes expenditures of $39.3 billion this year--which is about 20 percent of the GDP figure.
Throw in the Crown corporations like B.C. Hydro, ICBC, and others, and the provincial government might account for a quarter of the B.C. economy.
Peladeau's Vancouver venture has basically been cut out of a huge chunk of the B.C. economy--the provincial public sector--and now, his former ace legislature reporter is unemployed.
How convenient for the Campbell Liberals, who must have freaked out over Holman's articles on their former campaign manager, Patrick Kinsella. I somehow doubt Peladeau considered he would be cut out of provincial lucre when he launched the paper with Pattison at a news conference in 2005.
Now, I wonder if 24 hours might soon have to dump columnist Bill Tieleman because of the revenue shortfall, which is caused in part by the B.C. Liberal government bypassing the publication.
The Campbell Liberals' public affairs bureau has bypassed the Straight as well with major advertising campaigns. I've written about that before.
I added this post today because I wanted to make it clear that the impact of these government decisions extend much further than our independent publication.
I also wonder if the Campbell Liberal government is spending more money on print and television ads and less on radio ads these days, which would have undermined revenue for Corus Entertainment, the owner of CKNW and other stations. Corus is linked to the Shaw family empire.
If so, could a revenue shortfall--driven in part by declining government advertising on its stations--have been a factor in the firing of popular talk-show host Rafe Mair several years ago?
I don't know the answers to these questions. Part of the reason is when I filed a freedom-of-information request a while ago to determine how much advertising money was flowing to Canwest, Black Press and others, I was told it would cost $6,000. That was an estimate. The final figure could have ended up being higher.
Does the Globe and Mail have the courage to bite the hand that feeds it -- the B.C. public affairs bureau -- and start poking into this area? Probably not. The grey old Globe is part of the CTV empire, and the stakes are very high for a large media conglomerate that will be the host broadcaster for the 2010 Games.
I think the best bet to get to the bottom of this is the NDP. If it wins the next election, It could launch a "review" of government advertising. That could result in recommendations for more transparency into the reporting of how the government spends its advertising dollars with various media companies. Don't report how much goes to advertising agencies. Instead, the government should reveal how much flows through to the media organizations.
If NDP Leader Carole James is smart, she won't announce such a review until after the election. Otherwise, she risks getting hammered by the beneficiaries of the status quo.
If an NDP government did this, the ethnic media, the independent papers, and even Pierre Karl Peladeau and Jim Shaw would know where they stand in relation to Canwest and Black Press when it comes to government advertising decisions.
With transparency, the government might be more inclined to spread the advertising around, which might generate a little more revenue for media outlets not owned by Canwest. For non-Canwest media outlets, this could provide the wherewithal to hire some more staff, including Mair and Holman--who are probably among the last two people that the Campbell Liberals want to see working in the provincial news media.
The upside for the government is it would be spreading its message to a broader audience rather than confining it to those who only take in news from certain outlets. It wouldn't be preaching to the choir.
This broad-based approach has worked for the most successful brands on the planet, including Nike, McDonald's, and Coca-Cola. The narrowcasting favoured by the B.C. Liberal government's public affairs bureau could just bite the premier in the ass on election day. If so, he would have no one to blame but himself.