The media constitute the fourth estate, and act as democracy watchdogs. Their pluralism and independence are indicators of the democratic health of a society. According to the Democracy Index 2019 produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, civil liberties are the bedrock of democracy. Among these freedoms, it is freedom of expression and the presence of an independent printed and electronic press that have suffered the most in the last decades. Canada is no exception. In Quebec, for example, the level of concentration and convergence of the media is among the highest in the Western world and the highest in Canada.
The oligopolistic structure of the media in Canada poses significant democratic risks. This situation is amplified by an increasingly unfavorable economic context for the emergence and survival of independent media. GAFAMs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) capture a growing share of advertising revenue, traditional media consumption habits are changing, and major media empires are optimizing their operations (via convergence strategies) to achieve profitability.
In addition to the important role of democratic checks and balances, the media play a role in civic education and can help improve political literacy. In this regard, a comparative study of the media systems of 12 Western countries, including Canada, details the media-related factors having an influence (positive or negative) on the level of the public’s civic literacy. These factors include the level of public funding, of pluralism, the level of concentration, and the type of media consumed.
Freedom of the press, independence and pluralism of information are essential to preserve the right of all citizens to be adequately informed on matters of public interest. In a context of an increasing amount of fake news, of the growing influence of opinion leaders in the public sphere, and of the rise of populism and public cynicism towards public affairs, thinking about these issues is essential to securing the future of the Canadian media.