Political reporter silenced

Political reporter Russ Francis has been sacked.

Monday Magazine, part of the media empire owned by Victoria’s David Black, has suddenly silenced Francis – one of the few independent political reporters in the province.

Many politicians and bureaucrats have felt the sting of his sharp quill. For years Francis has taken on anyone and everyone in the City of Victoria and in the provincial government. At the Legislature, he has been an strong critic of all that is self-serving and secretive in that bastion of democracy.

This morning (Thursday, Feb 25, 2004) Jim Tighe, president of Monday’s parent company Island Publishers Ltd. was asked on CBC radio if this “signals a change in direction for Monday”. Tighe answered “the political coverage will not be as intense as it might have been.”

Tighe suggests the layoff was a result of cost-cutting attributable directly to the loss of cigarette advertising, banned by the federal government, and at one time worth “six figures”.

However, given Francis’ consistent political muckraking of Liberal hypocrisy, and the conservative editorial direction of David Black’s media holdings, it is hard to believe it is not politically motivated.

Francis’ penetrating perspective will be missed. Now only the Georgia Straight remains as a general interest newspaper offering in-depth, continuing coverage critical of various levels of government. All other newspapers in the province are part of media conglomerates, or are otherwise constrained by owners and advertisers.

In addition to Monday, Black’s media empire owns some 80 newspapers, most of which are in British Columbia, including 16 on Vancouver Island.

Bad enough that democracy is suffocated in the Legislature with only three MLAs independent of the Liberal leash. The independent print media in the province is now down to one. This would be a farcical situation, if it weren’t so serious. No significant opposition in government, no significant critics in the media.

Black’s empire, combined with CanWest/Global’s ownership of the National Post, Vancouver Sun, Victoria Times-Colonist, The Province, BCTV, CHTV Vancouver Island, CHBC Kelowna, Alberni Valley Times, Nanaimo Daily News, plus 21 small community papers– means BC has one of the least diverse media markets in the industrial world.

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