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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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IT is with some diffidence that we venture to include the newspaper and periodical press of Canada in this survey of the arts, letters and sciences. Officially we have no concern with newspapers or magazines; their publication in Canada is a complex, varied and specialized business on which the layman may comment only at the risk of banality or of serious error; and we shall be making no formal recommendations on these matters, although elsewhere we have noted certain disabilities affecting Canadian newspaper and periodical publishers. Nonetheless, it would seem to us incongruous in a survey of this nature to leave unmentioned the newspaper and periodical press of Canada which provides most of the reading matter of most Canadians, and which is still probably the chief source of knowledge to Canadians of their country and of one another. Our daily newspapers have an aggregate daily circulation of about three and a half millions; we have five weekend papers with a total circulation of close on two millions each week; there are about one thousand local weekly newpapers with circulations ranging from five hundred to ten thousand or more; we are informed that there are thirty-two Canadian farm papers with a total circulation of almost two millions; finally, our eighteen leading magazines have a combined circulation of nearly three millions, forty others add a further third of a million to this figure, and trade and technical journals would add a million more.1 Such statistics, it is realized, are not in themselves very helpful; but from them it seems at least apparent that there is in Canada a vigorous press, and further, that the opinions, attitudes, tastes, beliefs and prejudices of Canadian citizens must be enormously affected, whether for good or ill, by this vast quantity of reading matter which so readily comes their way.

2. We have also been interested to learn that the circulation of Canadian newspapers has grown very rapidly over the last ten years, a growth that must be reassuring to those who feared some years ago that such new methods of communication as radio and documentary films would seriously threaten the traditional power of the press. In this connection we observe


that the Royal Commission on the Press in Great Britain, which presented its report in June of 1949, has no misgivings:

"The democratic form of society demands of its members an active and intelligent participation in the affairs of their community, whether local or national. It assumes that they are sufficiently well informed about the issues of the day to be able to form the broad judgments required by an election, and to maintain between elections the vigilance necessary in those whose governers are their servants and not their masters. More and more it demands also an alert and informed participation not only in purely political processes but also in the efforts of the community to adjust its social and economic life to increasingly complex circumstances. Democratic society, therefore, needs a clear and truthful account of events, of their background and their causes; a forum for discussion and informed criticism; and a means whereby individuals and groups can express a point of view or advocate a cause.

"The responsibility for fulfilling these needs unavoidably rests in large measure upon the Press, that is on the newspapers and the periodicals, which are the main source from which information, discussion, and advocacy reach the public. In recent years this function has been shared with the radio; but the impermanence of broadcasting, together with the limitations on the quantity and character of controversial material which can be diffused over the air, still leaves the Press in a central position." 2

3. To what extent the press of Canada responds to these grave responsibilities, this is not the place, and we are not the body, to determine. An inquiry to this end, involving an investigation of such matters as the finances, the control, the handicaps, the freedom and the sense of responsibility of the press of Canada, lies far beyond our competence. We do not venture even to speculate on the importance of the newspaper press of Canada as an agency contributing to our national unity and our common understanding. This in itself would be a formidable inquiry. It is no doubt the duty of the newspapers of this country to report the news as precisely as they can; it is their privilege to give such emphasis to the news as, in their judgement, will make the paper more attractive, popular and successful. And it is still the fact that in Canada "news" is largely local or regional in character. A citizen of Vancouver, sojourning in Toronto, would find little news of his home town in the local press, failing an earthquake, a serious strike, a spectacular murder, a flood or an unseasonable and destructive blizzard. A citizen of Toronto, enjoying the hospitality of Vancouver, would normally find in the newspapers nothing to remind him that Toronto and Ontario were still there. In any small town in Canada the destruction of the bakery or a municipal scandal would sweep from the front page of the local paper the results of an election in a different province or the first performance of a Canadian symphony in London. This interest in and preoccupation with what is near and familiar


is not a symptom of a regrettable parochialism; it is part of the price we pay for inhabiting half a continent. Even if the physical difficulties of distribution could be overcome, by facsimile for example, a newspaper attempting to cover the national field adequately would probably have little appeal in any one locality; and a Canadian newspaper, to be truly national, would obviously have to be issued in French and English simultaneously, a venture which no Canadian newspaper however wide its circulation has yet undertaken. The only publication known to us as "national" in this sense is the Reader's Digest from the United States which enjoys a large circulation in Canada in both languages.

4. In commenting thus on the national press of Canada, we do not forget the remarkable role which the Canadian Press plays in gathering and distributing news in Canada. This co-operative enterprise which is maintained by some ninety-one daily newspapers in Canada and which also supplies news services to more than 100 Canadian radio stations was created with great difficulty and at great expense, but it has established an independent news service in Canada, designed to conquer Canadian geographical problems. 3 We are not aware that the Canadian Press has been seriously criticized for any lack of thoroughness or objectivity. The Canadian Press, however, reflects both the virtues and the defects of good newspapermen throughout North America, and no doubt throughout the world. The news which it selects, the emphasis and the priority which it gives, its sense of news values are those which prevail in any competent daily newspaper in North America. The limited prominence which it gives to matters of educational, scientific, and cultural matters is no doubt a reflection of the attitudes of the reading public of Canada.

5. Apart from the distinguished work of a few Canadian journalists voyaging or stationed abroad and of the Canadian Press bureaux mentioned below, our news of international events comes to us largely through the news agencies and foreign news services of papers in the United States. Through the British United Press, which in Canada supplements the work of the Canadian Press, many of our newspapers are associated with the United Press and many more have available to them through the Canadian Press the world-wide services of the Associated Press. Many of our newspapers also subscribe to the International News Service, Reuters, the Agence France-Presse, the foreign news services of the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, or the Chicago Daily News. Although the Canadian Press, through its bureaux in New York, Washington and London, gives special attention to Canadian interests in these areas, we in Canada are largely dependent on foreign news services designed primarily to serve the United States. For this there appears to be no remedy, unless the newspapers supporting the Canadian Press judge that they can and should enlarge their independent news gathering services abroad;


probably few Canadians are aware that the news of the world which comes to them is largely gathered and written by Americans for Americans, and that if our newspapers did not subscribe to these extensive and highly organized news services of the United States we should often have very inadequate information on many important events.

6. To what extent the newspaper press of Canada contributes effectively to the development of Canadian arts and letters is a matter of opinion. Although many of our leading newspapers over the years have devoted generous space to book reviews and to commentaries on music and the arts, and although we have in Canada many editors who write thoughtfully and with distinction, we should hesitate to assess these influences upon our cultural life. If our critical literature is slight in volume, this may be a natural consequence of our tenuous creative abilities in the arts. We are informed that many editors would gladly engage competent writers in musical, dramatic or literary criticism or in the sciences, but that we do not seem to produce enough people interested in writing for the press with the qualifications essential to able criticism. Things are much better, apparently, with the press in French Canada where the old world traditions of criticism have been more carefully preserved and cherished.

7. The vigorous brief of the Canadian Daily Newspapers Association was devoted entirely to a discussion of the consequences to the present newspaper business if the new device of facsimile broadcasting should become, as seems possible, an effective and popular rival to newspapers as we know them. We can claim only an imperfect knowledge of this new medium of communication. In brief, as we understand it, this process can deliver directly into the home a printed newspaper as readily and by essentially the same means as radio and television are now received. No printing machinery or delivery services are needed, and any radio station could go into the newspaper business for a small fraction of the investment required to establish a normal newspaper. The Canadian Daily Newspapers Association states that this development will attract newcomers to the newspaper field, and that the facsimile reader will be able in his home to dial any one of several newspapers just as now he tunes his receiving set to radio programmes.

8. We are sympathetic to the anxiety which newspaper publishers feel toward the possibilities of this new medium. We can also readily understand the apprehension of newspaper men at the thought that this new means of newspaper publication should be subject to the legislation and to the regulations now governing radio broadcasting which, we agree, might not be reconcilable with our traditional views on the freedom of the press. To this important and difficult problem we shall return in Part II of this Report where we shall be presenting our recommendations on radio broadcasting.

9. In an early chapter of this Report which discussed the consequences


to our national life of Canadian geography, we referred to a comment of one of the representatives of the Periodical Press Association: "Canada . . . is the only country of any size in the world whose people read more foreign periodicals than they do periodicals published in their own land, local newspapers excluded".4 This statement, it seems to us, summarizes and illustrates most of the problems which we have had under review. To explain in detail the causes of this situation or to discuss adequately its implications would be a task of great importance which cannot be undertaken in the course of these general observations. We should like, however, in passing, to record our pleasant recollection of the session which we enjoyed in Toronto with the representatives of the Periodical Press Association who presented their problems to us with skill and good humour.

10. The periodical press of Canada, if it is possible to generalize on publications which include university quarterlies and much more popular weekly magazines frankly modelled on successful American publications, does undoubtedly make a conscious, and it seems to us, a successful appeal to the country as a whole; and in our periodical press we have our closest approximation to a national literature. It has given encouragement to Canadians writing about Canada, and not infrequently has the dubious pleasure of nurturing Canadian writers to the point where they can sell their wares to more affluent American periodicals. We are informed that the important Canadian magazines have a Canadian content of seventy or eighty per cent, that they do attempt to interpret Canada as a whole to all Canadians, that they comment vigorously upon national issues in a non-partisan spirit, and that they manage to survive and even to flourish although American periodicals outsell them by more than two to one in their own Canadian market. Canadian magazines, unlike Canadian textiles or Canadian potatoes, are sheltered by no protective tariff, although the growing extent of the Canadian market has attracted the interest of American advertisers and magazines so that competition from the south has become increasingly vigorous. We were impressed by the fact that the Canadian periodicals neither desired nor requested any protective measures apart from an adjustment of tariff rates on paper imported from the United States for publishing purposes. At present, they must compete with masses of American magazines printed on paper which pays no duty or sales tax to the Canadian Government; and they have suggested that a ninety-nine per cent drawback of the duties now paid on magazine paper imported from the United States would provide a helpful stimulus to their business.

11. We repeat that the problems of the Periodical Press Association seem to us to symbolize many of the problems of Canada as a nation and of Canadians as a people. We have in Canada no equivalent of the Atlantic, Harper's or the New Yorker. We do have, nonetheless, a


periodical press which, in spite of all temptations and in spite of occasional defections, insists on remaining resolutely Canadian.

12. A final word should be said about the non-profit periodical, the little magazine which, published by a small and confident group of talented people, not infrequently has given encouragement to a few genuinely creative writers, to poets in particular. Its literary and other criticisms are severe but usually well-informed, written brilliantly and without restraint. These small and generally short-lived magazines which attract few readers and as a consequence no advertisers, play a most important part in the cultural life of our country; their precarious life, their premature extinction and their courageous reappearance are no doubt all essential to our slow growth as a cultivated community.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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