The Great Canadian Newspaper Bias Index grew out of a project I started after the May 2011 election. I ask one basic question: what is the editorial bias of the major Canadian English-language newspapers? Conservatives claim that the left controls the media. The left claims that conservatives control the media. Which “side” is right? Or is no side right? Is the media actually well-balanced, enough to tick off everyone it disagrees with?
This study tracks the editorial websites of twenty of the largest newspapers from coast to coast. They range from the Globe & Mail and the National Post to the Vancouver Sun and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. I don’t join the unending debates about whether and so is a leftist or a right-winger or a centrist. Instead, I am interested only in specific, institutional and organizational connections. Whether you feel that the Conservative Party is really only centrist, or the Fraser Institute isn’t really right-wing, is a debate for another day.
The first and most obvious question, of course, is which political parties newspaper editorial boards endorse during election campaigns. Newspaper endorsements are odious and pathetic spectacles from a free press that is supposed to be non-partisan and independent, but nevertheless, there they are. As you can see, the major newspapers clearly have a preference when it comes to who should rule them:
When I started the project back in 2011, I took as my main focus the easiest one to chart: the organizations and backgrounds represented by people given space on newspaper op-ed pages. Again, I don’t deal with subjective questions of “left-wing” or “right-wing” bias. Instead, I just check to see whether each guest contributor to the op-ed section of a newspaper comes from a progressive organization (including environmental and anti-poverty groups, labour unions, etc.), a social or neo-conservative group (such as Cardus or Civitas), a business trade association or free market think tank (like the Fraser Institute), or a political party. Many columnists don’t appear to fall into any of those categories.
Consistently, this study shows, the major newspapers have given privileged space to business groups, conservative politicians, and social conservative groups, as opposed to Liberal and NDP politicians and to progressive groups (labour unions, environmentalists, etc.), at a rate of roughly 2 to 1 overall.
Here’s how space on the op-ed pages has been distributed since April 2012:
In my above study, I specifically avoided looking at in-house columnists because most of them are career journalists who may be extremely ideological, but don’t have any of the objective, institutional connections that we can count with respect to guest op-eds. But my critics have argued that leaving out the in-house columnists makes my list biased and that a list of media columnists would prove that the media is, in fact, left wing. So then.
In this case, the percentages are lower because of the high proportion of professional journalists without any specific partisan or business connections. (Again, mere accusations of bias don’t count: there has to be a specific background to point to here.) For that reason, I’m organizing this part of the study a little bit differently. There are only two categories: Conservative/Business (including all conservative and business groups and political parties) and Progressive/Labour (including the Liberal Party, the NDP, and all labour and leftist groups of various kinds).
Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be much point in studying the media as a whole here. Instead, each paper gets a score based on the ratio of conservative to progressive columnists. The score is the ratio, not the number of columnists: for instance, a “Progressive 2.5″ means that the newspaper has 2.5 progressive columnists for every 1 conservative columnists. The higher the score, the more extreme the newspaper.
I really want user feedback on this part of the study. Anybody who can identify the bias of a particular columnist is invited to do so in the comments section for each paper, and the list (and score) will be updated accordingly.
- National Post — Conservative/Business +8.6 (op-ed page, finance page)
- Toronto Sun — Conservative/Business +7 (opinion page)
- Ottawa Citizen — Conservative/Business +4 (op-ed page)
- Globe & Mail — Conservative/Business +1.2 (op-ed page)
- Halifax Chronicle-Herald – Conservative/Business +1 (op-ed page)
- Toronto Star — Left/Progressive +2 (editorial page)
The following newspapers are also currently included in the study:
- Calgary Herald
- Charlottetown Guardian
- Edmonton Journal
- Hamilton Spectator
- Kitchener Record
- London Free Press
- Montreal Gazette
- Regina Leader-Post
- Saskatoon Star-Phoenix
- St. John’s Telegram
- Vancouver Province
- Vancouver Sun
- Victoria Times-Colonist
- Winnipeg Free Press
Supporting data is available here.
Posts in This Series
- Part 4: April 30, 2012: April 2012 on the Op-Ed Pages
- Part 3: April 2012: Sixth Estate Media Bias Project Relaunched
- Part 2: May 28, 2011: National Post Sells Out, Business Groups Pulling Away
- Part 1: May 11, 2011