KENT: Liberals’ $600 million media bailout lacks depth, fails to solve core problem
Disclosure: Peter Kent worked in media for over four decades and is the current Conservative MP for Thornhill.
A year-end question for Canadian information consumers: Are the Trudeau Liberals really serious about meaningful assistance for Canada’s struggling news organizations?
Or, is the close to $600 million dollars now promised ($50M in 2018 budget, $595M in 2018 Fall Economic Statement), merely a cynical, election-year attempt to buy-off media owners and publishers?
There is stark disagreement between owners/shareholders and those who actually generate news content.
A quick time-out here, for me to establish my journalistic credentials as a late-life politician;
I grew up and prospered in the golden days of 20th Century conventional media. After arriving in Canada from WWII England (I was born in a Canadian Army hospital in Sussex, to Albertans serving in the Army and Army Medical Corps), my father went to work for the Southam newspaper chain (Ottawa Citizen, Medicine Hat News, Calgary Herald, etc). I grew up with the smell of hot lead, clanking linotype machines, and the wonderful roar of presses.
I was fortunate to spend 45 years as a working journalist in radio, television and newspapers. I worked for CTV, Global, CBC, NBC and Monitor Television. I anchored CBC’s The National for a couple of years in the mid-1970’s (before being assigned/exiled abroad for successfully challenging Trudeau government interference in CBC editorial decision-making).
Reaction from the media
Back now, to the stark disagreement over the bail-out between boardroom and newsroom.
News organization CEO’s and publishers who draw million dollar plus salaries and equally outsized bonuses are delighted. Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey exclaims, “Everyone in journalism should be doing a victory lap around their building right now.”
But, I agree, passionately, with respected journalists like Paul Wells, Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hebert, Terry Corcoran and a host of others, who reject the Liberals’ bail-out as an unacceptable intervention that will compromise the independence of their craft.
I share their opposition to the Liberal proposal of a “panel” of “news experts” who would distribute the election-year beneficence by deciding which newsrooms are “credible” and worthy… and which newsrooms aren’t.
The transformation of media
The Canadian news industry isn’t disappearing. It is being transformed from conventional print and broadcast forms to digital platforms. To my mind, struggling conventional organizations will survive only with public policy adjustments that will reset and level the playing field for private sector newsrooms.
Finance Minister Morneau can’t justify his $600M+ bail-out because he has no idea what will happen after his subsidized transition period. That’s unacceptable, because intervention should have a goal of not only short-term survival but long-term sustainability.
Some elements of the Liberal bail-out plan may work in the short-term. The “not-for-profit” La Presse model might work, without direct government funds. But, no one knows the eventual extent of the refundable charitable tax credits. Direct cash subsidies to community newspapers might work temporarily, depending on the dollar amounts and the way individual publishers spend the windfall.
But, a long-term solution demands more fundamental adjustment of the media marketplace.
The CBC problem
I believe Canada needs a national public broadcaster. But Canada – and the independent, private-sector news industry – do not need a “semi-private” public broadcaster. It is time to re-size and de-commercialize the CBC and send the $300 million to half a billion dollars in annual advertising revenues into the private sector marketplace.
At the same time, the CBC should not be misappropriating the $150 to $200 million dollars annually that it is using to build the dominance of its digital platforms. The CBC is now the largest digital newspaper in Canada, by far. And, the CBC digital platforms scoop another few hundred million dollars in ad revenues from the marketplace every year.
The Liberals are proposing $600 million + over five years. But, over those same five years, the CBC might spend about $1 Billion of its Parliamentary appropriation to compete against the same private media. And, the CBC gives its content (much of which re-written or “scalped” content from the private sector) away… free.
Any successful, survivable transformation of conventional mainstream news media will depend on news organizations building profitable digital platforms. If the CBC is to be allowed to continue to dominate digital news gathering and content generation without a pay-wall, then I would suggest that content should be available, without cost, to all private media organizations (as a public service).
A way forward
And, then there are the foreign digital platforms – Facebook, Google, Amazon and the other data-opolies.
There is no reason Canadian digital advertisers should now not be included in Section 19 of the Canadian Income Tax Act which provides that expenses paid to advertise in conventional non-Canadian print or broadcast news publications are non-deductible.
The same regulation should apply to the estimated $500 million dollars annually placed by Canadian advertisers on those foreign digital platforms.
The transformation and survival of robust, independent journalism platforms in Canada will require bold policy adjustments and political leadership.
But, how can news organizations by truly independent if they become dependent on government subsidies, temporary slush-fund tax relief, or direct cash bailouts?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to say that he will intervene in the #ShutDownCanada protests, which have crippled large parts of Canada’s infrastructure.
Speaking to reporters, the Trudeau said that, “I’m encouraging all parties to dialogue and resolve this as quickly as possible.” Trudeau, however, did not condemn the protests or threaten to intervene.
Over the last week, major parts of Canada’s infrastructure have been at a standstill due to blockades erected by activists opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline being built in northern British Columbia.
In Vancouver Island, protesters erected barricades to stop cars from accessing public highways. In Metro Vancouver, 57 demonstrators were arrested after judges granted an injunction to remove a blockade that had stopped workers from entering the Port of Vancouver.
Likewise, in Ontario, protestors decided to occupy the office of the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations in Toronto—chanting slogans like, “Canada is an illegitimate, violent, colonialist state.”
Demonstrators also blocked the train tracks in Belleville, Ontario, bringing all freight and passenger trains between Canada’s two largest cities and the nations capital to a halt.
So far, nearly all of the Conservative leadership candidates have strongly told Trudeau to enforce the injunction and remove the blockades. It is, so far, uncertain as to the extent of the cost to the Canadian economy from these protests.
Liberal Transport Minister Marc Garneau is “very concerned” by the anti-pipeline protestors who have blocked the tracks between Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, according to CBC News.
These protests have crippled Canada’s infrastructure, particularly due to the fact that the protestors are blocking one of the busiest intersections of the countries transport network.
The protestors have blocked the tracks in Bellville, Ontario, which serves as the epicentre for all routes between Canada’s two largest cities and the capital of the nation. All passenger trains and freight trains have been blocked.
CN has chosen to shut down all train travel until the dispute is resolved, despite the fact that the train company received an injunction to remove the protestors from the tracks.
These protests have effectively shut down all passenger travel between these cities, and are having a significant impact on the transport of food and commercial goods. The effect on the economy if this blockade continues will be severe.
These protests have been ongoing since Thursday when demonstrators began to gather at the tracks. Since then, the protests have only gained more traction and attracted more demonstrators to the scene.
The demonstrators say that they are standing in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en chiefs. However, the northern B.C.First Nation officially supports the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
So far, Via Rail has had to cancel 157 trips in the Toronto-to-Montreal corridor: 24,500 passengers have been affected.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be flying to the Caribbean to court support for Canada gaining a seat on the UN Security Council, according to Global News.
Trudeau also plans to speak to the Caribbean leaders about climate change. Although, Canada’s prospective seat will be a more prominent issue during these meetings.
This comes after Trudeau’s trip to Ethiopia, where he attempted to garner support for Canada’s new role in the world with government leaders in the African Union.
During his Africa trip, Trudeau also granted a $10 million package to empower African women. Having said this, the more cynical commentators have seen this as a ploy to improve Canada’s chances of receiving a seat at the Security Council.
Canada is not the only country attempting that is attempting to procure a seat at the table. Both Ireland and Norway are also vying for a seat in the Security Council. The country that receives the most votes will occupy the seat for a two-year period.
Canada has not sat on the UN Security Council since 2000 under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
The Department of Canadian heritage, which is run by the Liberal Member of Parliment Steven Guilbeault, is paying journalists to write stories on climate change, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
When launching the Local Journalism Initiative in 2019, the then Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said that “our government is committed to ensuring Canadians everywhere continue to have access to accurate, diverse and relevant news.”
Despite this, these state-funded subsidies have gone towards writing stories on climate change. The Canadian News Media Association, for example, was paid $14.4 million last year.
As well as this, the Yukon-based publication The Narwhal received a subsidy after writing, “It seems like British Columbia is always on fire… The Narwhal tracks government commitments to climate change and separates the wheat from the chaff.”
The Narwhal then went on to publish stories like ““Meet The Alberta Climate Activists Who Say They’re Not Scared Of Jason Kenney.”
Another publication that received a subsidy was Nunavut-based Nunatsiaq News, who also received a government grant to pay for a journalist to cover “the effects of climate change on the Arctic.” Likewise, The Winnipeg Free Press was given a grant so that they could hire a reporter who was dedicated to climate change.
the Local Journalism Initiative is a key component of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to revive the ailing industry of journalism in Canada. In 2019, Trudeau committed nearly $600 million in what has become the controversial media bailout.