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Mediamorphis

Slim and skewed: C.D. Howe report on media ownership misses big picture Add to ...

Politically and culturally, however, there is a problem, not with Cancon and traditionalist conceptions of culture, but network culture. Netcos and search engines are now closely allied with state security, military strategy and defence contractors. It's probably best to keep some clear blue water between these domains. The authors give no hint that they have even thought of this.

Netcos, ISPs, search engines, etc. are also constantly being badgered by lobbyists as well as politicians in Canada and the U.S. to play a greater role on behalf of media and entertainment industries (for most recent and strong opposition to this from within just the mainstream', see here). The approaches have differed, with the last government in Canada wisely turning down lobbyists' push to have ISPs play the role of "copyright cop," disconnecting people who repeatedly are identified as copyright bandits.

The International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) launched it's efforts to lean hard on ISPs and search engines, and less on Digital Rights Management (DRM), in 2008. It has been picking off wins for this agenda around the world, but not so much yet in Canada.

On June 23, CNet journalist Greg Sandoval reported that AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon "are closer than ever to striking a deal with media and entertainment companies that would call for them to establish new and tougher punishments for customers who refuse to stop using their networks to pirate films, music and other intellectual property." That turn-of-heart, in turn, he reports, was eased by coaxing from the Obama Administration and the National Cable TV Association.

The pressure is already strong in Canada, but has been resisted by refusing to make ISPs the deputies of the media and entertainment industries or to regulate the Internet as a broadcast distribution medium. On law and order, however, the push is for a stronger state and more compliant Netcos and Searchcos.

While there's lots of dots to connect between all of these latter points, the key idea is that integration at the network and market levels is going to increase pressure to harmonize tougher matters that impinge greatly on network media, and thus network culture. That the blokes from C.D. Howe have nary a word about this - and don't dare let the phrases "network neutrality" and "open media" cross their lips - is a problem of the first order. Those concerns, as sure as night follows day, are at the heart of the emergent network media culture. How can foreign ownership be reconciled with these concerns should be the question, rather than if it is good or bad altogether.

In sum, until we can start speaking one another's language and stop passing off economic and policy platitudes backed by those with big stakes in the game, the nominal ideas presented in this report should be shelved and other big questions - vertical integration, for example - put on hold.

Ultimately, Pork, Petroleum and Pharma are not the same as telecoms and media. We need some new thinking for new media.

Until we recognize this, we're not going to get very far, at least in a way that takes into account the full range of issues at hand, rather than the economists' narrow measuring rod of value.

Dwayne Winseck is a communications professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University in Ottawa. Prof. Winseck been researching and writing about media, telecoms and the Internet in one way or another for nearly 20 years. You can read more comment on his blog, Mediamorphis . His column will appear every second Tuesday.

In the original version of this column, Prof. Jeffrey Church was misidentified as a University of Alberta professor. He is a professor at University of Calgary. Mr. Church was also described as having advised pork producers, which was incorrect. He has advised the Alberta Beef Producers. A reference to authors of the C.D. Howe report mistakenly included Prof. Michael J. Trebilcock of the University of Toronto, who did not contribute to the report. The Globe and Mail regrets these errors.

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