Irvings’ media monopoly in NB takes a sad step (UPDATED)

UPDATE (June 8): The Telegraph-Journal responds. See below.

The media concentration outrage of the week (Hitler comparisons and all) concerns Matt McCann, an intern at the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal who wrote an article about teachers’ reaction to the University of New Brunswick giving an honorary degree to premier Shawn Graham.

You’d think such a thing would be a conflict of interest, an academic institution presenting an honour to the man responsible for the government that funds them, but apparently UNB does this as a matter of routine.

The story made the front page. It included quotes from professors and students (none of which were anonymous) who were upset at the move. It quoted a university spokesperson who explained the policy and made counter-arguments, as well as a note saying that Graham’s office did not wish to comment. In all, a fairly standard newspaper political conflict story, and a pretty good one for an intern.

After the story was published, the newspaper fired him.

According to McCann, he was told his story was “seriously unbalanced and severely underplayed the university’s side of the story” and that “the newspaper has worked hard to establish a good relationship with UNB and that I had damaged that relationship”. The newspaper refused to give its side to the CBC, so we have only McCann’s word on this.

On Saturday, the Telegraph-Journal, which had refused to comment because it was a “personnel issue” (a policy many companies have to avoid lawsuits and such), decided that policy has a scandal-annoyance exception clause to it, and published an unsigned Page 3 story with an inflammatory headline that falsely accuses the CBC. (Thanks Josh) In it, the paper said McCann was fired because he misspelled a name, got a title wrong (his “university secretary” was actually a “university secretary” … wait, what?), and didn’t correctly list the premier’s degrees. It also repeats that that McCann didn’t “adequately portray” both sides of the story and “did not seem to fully grasp the seriousness” of his errors.

Bullshit.

Are we to believe that the Telegraph-Journal has such absolute integrity that minor factual errors lead to immediate dismissal? If it was, why haven’t the errors been corrected on the original story online? Is balance in stories so important that a 149-word rebuttal to a 368-word argument is so outrageously biased it constitutes an error in judgment? (And just what part of the university’s argument did McCann leave out of his story?) Shall we go through Telegraph-Journal stories with minor factual errors and where the word counts of both sides of an argument don’t exactly match and demand those journalists be fired too?

This isn’t just wrong, it’s cartoonishly-evil wrong. The kind of stuff you see on TV and scream “that wouldn’t actually happen in real life.” It’s so bad, in fact, that Premier Graham took pity on the kid and asked for his CV. Even Graham, who the newspaper considered the victim of McCann’s “reckless” reporting, thought the punishment was too severe.

This is an abhorrent act and needs to be condemned in the strongest terms. Other than the minor factual errors, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that story.

A little context is necessary here: The Telegraph-Journal is owned by the Irving family, a very powerful family that owns almost all news media in New Brunswick (the exceptions are a Transcon-owned community paper, L’Acadie Nouvelle and sister francophone media, bureaus of Global Halifax and CTV Halifax, CBC/RadCan stations, private radio music stations and small community publications). Of note is the fact that outside of CBC New Brunswick, there hasn’t been any original reporting of this story. Not only is this kind of monopoly unique in Canada, but unlike Canwest or CTVglobemedia, the Irvings also have non-media corporate interests, including big-money forestry and oil businesses. Their media holdings have been repeatedly accused of being soft on the Irving empire.

And now a young reporter has been dismissed because he made the premier look bad.

New Brunswick needs a media revolution. The Irvings’ control over the province needs to be pried off with a crowbar.

8 thoughts on “Irvings’ media monopoly in NB takes a sad step (UPDATED)

  1. princess iveylocks

    The Irvings don’t own L’Acadie Nouvelle – maybe add that to your list of exceptions.

    Reply
  2. Connery61

    This is nothing new. I used to work in radio on New Brunswick. We did a comedy schtick once about the Irvings, and had our knuckles rapped pretty good. We were told in no uncertain terms that the Irving Empire was off limits of criticism, parody or even unflattering observations. It’s always been thus and won’t change. Irving owns the mediascape there and need only raise an eyebrow to get their way.
    Add to that the general nature of New Brunswickers. Empire Loyalists and fanatical bible-thumpers. It’s like they actually compete with each other to see who can be the biggest toadying suck-up. Awe of authority is drilled into them from the start. They are the absolute last people in the free world who would ever rebel against anything.

    Reply
  3. Josh

    Mr. McCann is a friend of the missus. Check out this here story that the T-J ran in response to the pieces on CBC: http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com/rss/article/691248

    Note that it runs as a news story (it ran on page A3 – always a news page) without a byline and the headline is “CBC runs baseless story with no regard for facts or truth”. Pravda much? Also note this graf: “The story, written by a summer intern named Matt McCann, contained a number of factual errors – the misspelling of university secretary Stephen Strople’s name, his title and the full slate of degrees held by Premier Shawn Graham. In addition, the story did not adequately portray both sides of the story.”

    So, a name was misspelled, and they didn’t get the Premier’s degrees right. And there was something else wrong with it too that apparently you readers need not concern yourselves with too much. Just know that there’s another side of the story. That the T-J is not going to tell you about here.

    Reply
  4. Chris

    A crowbar would do nothing. Even a nuclear bomb would hardly make a dent in the Irving’s grasp on the province. Their influence runs so deep it would take an entire book to explain the extent of the vertical and horizontal integration of businesses and services they own (and it would be impossible for said book to ever be complete considering the notorious secrecy of the Irvings).

    A few years ago, a few employees of either the TJ or the Evening Times Globe (Saint John) quit to start an independent alt weekly for Saint John called [here]. Its main purpose was to take on the media empire long held by the Irvings and finally allow another voice. It was incredibly successful and Saint John became the smallest city in North America with an independent alt weekly. The paper certainly took on the Irving empire but, for safety sake, were fairly soft on it. A few years after its initial launch, [here] expanded and set up a sister paper under the same name in Moncton. Immediately after, the Irvings set up their own weekly which ran at a loss, severely undercutting [here] in advertising costs. Moncton not only became the smallest city in North America with an alt weekly, but actually had two! Obviously, [here] couldn’t compete and in a very controversial move, the editor and founder (his name escapes me, I think his first name was Mark) sold the paper to the Irvings with an incredibly lame explaination. Immediately after the sale, a Fredericton paper was set up and the content was watered down to the point where it was more or less a community bulletin with no real journalism to speak of. I remember when the paper was sold, my friend had a journalism class with Mark (if that’s his name) at St. Thomas and that week he had to endure a barrage of hellfire from his students for the entire class. That’s how things work in New Brunswick and Connery61’s comment couldn’t be more on the mark!

    Reply
  5. Horonymous

    Makes what CTV “Save Local TV” as news seem harmless.

    Nice by line in the St J TJ.

    If they had printed it in their editorial or opinion section I wouldn’t have an issue with it.

    Reply
  6. Jean Naimard

    After this, is anyone still not convinced of the absolute necessity of having government-owned media???

    Reply

Leave a Reply