Anti-Asper rant misses the obvious

Asper Nation: Canada's Most Dangerous Media Company
By Marc Edge
New Star Books, 344 pages, $21
Reviewed by Bob Cox
Winnipeg Free Press
December 2, 2007

YOU really need to read only the title of Marc Edge's book on Winnipeg's first family of media.
Asper Nation, Canada's Most Dangerous Media Company, is a rant against Winnipeg's CanWest Global Communications, its founder Izzy Asper, his children, and just about anyone else who has been involved in running the company.
Edge's grand theory: The Aspers are out to impose an ultra- conservative, free-market, pro-Israel agenda on the world through media dominance -- and they should be stopped.
Chapters have titles like The Asper Disaster and Dishonest Reporting.
Every embarrassing incident and controversy involving the Aspers is revisited.
The Asper story is certainly a fascinating one, well worth telling.
But that's not what Edge set out to do. As he admits, the former Vancouver journalist and current Texas university professor did next to no original research.
Instead he depended on the work of others, mostly those who are highly critical.
Anyone who watches Canadian media closely knows the facts in this book, from Izzy Asper's building of a global media empire out of a single Winnipeg TV station to CanWest's clumsy attempts to exercise central editorial control after it acquired a string of newspapers, including including The National Post, in 2000.
The CanWest Global papers, purchased from former media mogul Conrad Black's Hollinger Corp., consist of the dominant broadsheets in almost every major Canadian city, except for Toronto and, ironically, Winnipeg.
Edge's conclusions range from the obvious -- The National Post promotes a conservative agenda -- to the bizarre -- he says the Aspers are using their media holdings to force their worldview on others and they are too dangerous to hold such power.
It's not news that the Aspers want to make the company built by their father even bigger and more influential.
Most people see that as normal business ambition. But not Edge. He sees more sinister intentions.
Edge acknowledges that controversies that followed CanWest's newspaper acquisitions have largely died down since 2003. Efforts such as centrally written editorials for all CanWest newspapers have been abandoned.
Most people see this as a sign of more experienced and mature management of the newspaper business, which CanWest entered only in 2000. But not Edge.
He argues the Aspers are just getting sneakier, trying to have influence now by merely signalling their wishes and exercising their power over hiring and promoting journalists.
Leonard Asper, CanWest's CEO, has a plaque behind his desk that reads: "Quiet. World Dominance in Progress."
Most people know it's a joke. But not Edge. He takes it seriously.

Bob Cox is publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press.