Executives from Rogers have said their merger with Shaw will be good for local news as they’ll create localized teams to serve specific communities.
Critics have argued the validity of this statement from the beginning. In their latest outcry, several witnesses told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage local news will face the consequences if various government bodies approve the Rogers and Shaw merger.
Catherine Edwards, executive director of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), said community news has long suffered from similar mergers. Over the past 20 years, 75 percent of the 300 cable TV stations that served local communities have shut down. Cable giants have scaled back on production infrastructure to cities and instead focused on selling tv subscriptions, specialty channels and mobile services.
“We believe community-owned media is the best way to serve communities with local news and to ensure a diversity of voices continue to fill our airwaves,” she said.
Edwards said local news stations are also important to all politicians.
“These stations ensure that you as parliamentarians can reach your constituents to talk about the issues that are important, not sound bites muted out from mega-corporations who are interested in blockbuster U.S series, but community-owned entities committed to supporting local democracies.”
Matthew Hatfield, the campaigns director of Open Media, said the merger would also cut funding towards Global News, previously funded by Shaw.
Rogers will instead be redirecting the funds to City News, forcing Corus to seek financial support from the independent local news fund (ILNF).
The fund supports smaller local news productions, and Hatfield said Corus could absorb between 60 and 80 percent of the funds, taking away from smaller outlets.
“To afford the purchase, Rogers is taking on immense levels of debt — debt that needs to be paid off by cutting costs or raising prices,” Hatfield said. “Given that local news is already barely economically viable, that’s not going to come in increasing news prices. It will come from slashing programming and jobs.”
Witnesses from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will appear on another day. Rogers was also invited to speak before the committee but declined.
The CRTC held the only public hearing to discuss broadcast aspects of the deal in November. Private hearings are also taking place with the Competition Bureau and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. No decisions have been shared at this time.