‘Shattered Mirror’ report’s suggestions to fix Canadian media wonderful for a Black Mirror episode

On Thursday the Public Policy Forum (PPF) released its government-commissioned report, “The Shattered Mirror”,  which depicted today’s world as a “post-truth” dystopian nightmare. According to the report’s ominous introduction, “Established news organizations have been left gasping” and  “native digital alternatives have failed to develop journalistic mass.”

Then the report–GASP!–asks the reader to “imagine a world without news: how atomized and dysfunctional it would be.”

Of course the premise is absurd in the information age, where information is more accessible than ever before, which Toronto Star columnist Paul Wells pointed out so well in his scathing “Politicians guiding journalism? No, thanks.”But this report–given $200,000 from the Liberal government–cites the supposed rise of fake news “outperforming” real news in Facebook engagement as a main reason the government needs to bail out the legacy media.

However, Buzzfeed‘s coverage of fake news–which Shattered Mirror heavily relies on–didn’t account for the fact that the supposed rise in fake news corresponded with the firing of the human curators of the social media giant’s trending news module, which then allowed fake news to break into the Facebook trending list because the algorithm didn’t discriminate fake from real. The report does take this into account, but dismisses the scandal of Facebook’s human curators removing legitimate conservative news as “conservatives complaining” and welcomes wholeheartedly Facebook’s and Google’s renewed efforts to target fake news sites. The report shows no real reservations towards the tech giants’ censorship,  even though Facebook’s partisan censorship scandal was a major revelation last year.

Even more egregious, the report claims a poll from Buzzfeed and Ipsos supposedly “found that large majorities had believed such stories as Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump.” However, as I pointed out in my Loonie Politics piece “Hype over rise in fake news is fake news“, Buzzfeed‘s data shows only an average of 16.8 per cent of respondents had heard of the fake news stories, and 75 percent within that group believed it, or only 12.5 per cent of respondents on average.

Shattered Mirror’s implied conclusion that the vast majority of American’s were duped  is flat out wrong, although to be fair to the creators of the report, a cursory glance at the misleading click-bait article–“Most Americans who see fake news believe it, survey shows” probably duped most readers. The data shows only a small minority of the American population, probably about the same portion of the population that believe The Onion or National Enquirer are real, actually fell for these stories. The report’s omission of the total number of respondents (1,809), insults the intelligence of average Americans–especially smearing Trump supporters as largely gullible and stupid, when in fact largely they hadn’t been duped by fake news. On top of this, Shattered Mirror notes how closed “bubbles” of like-minded users form on Facebook, so it is very likely that only 16.8 percent of Americans had ever heard of the fake news, and 75 percent of that low-information group were susceptible to believing in it, because the fake stories were circulated within bubbles of made up largely of uneducated people.

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Shattered Mirror report misrepresents data on fake news, showing data that suggests large majority of Trump supporters believed fake news, only actually 12.5 percent on average.
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Original Buzzfeed article shows the amount of Trump supporters who had heard of the fake news stories was low. Shattered Mirror report omits this part of the Ipsos poll.

The report uses this fake premise of fake news influencing large majorities of the populace as a major reason why the government should step in to fund the legacy media. The report repeatedly cites Trump’s populist victory, supposedly largely fueled by fake news, as a failure of a weakened and private news industry in America. The report implicitly reasons, if the people don’t listen to the legacy media ordering them to vote for one candidate the media as a whole must be broken, so the Canadian government should come in and prevent this from happening here. Ultimately the report seems to conclude that the government should restore the legacy media’s power over the news narrative: “The 20th-century news media are less and less prominent, except to provide grist for a public conversation they no longer control.” (Civil discourse, yuck.) And then this government-indebted media–according to the report–will be healthy enough again to bite the hand that now feeds them, keeping government institutions’ accountable and politicians’ feet to the fire. Let’s be honest, we all know wild animals become docile when repeatedly fed by humans; the press is no different when fed by the government. To many Canadians, our legacy media have already become far too tame, compromised, and ingratiating with those in power.

Sadly, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly says she is “very proud” that her government is at the forefront of wanting to combat fake news internationally and believes in the reports premise that fake news is a sudden phenomenon that the government needs to play a role in quashing.

The report also tries to downplay the successes of digital-only news startups, highlighting how most have failed thus far to be financially successful and haven’t reached as large an audience as the legacy media. But PPF’s report fails to recognize the elephant in the room. Legacy media are giving away their content for free and already have an unfair financial advantage of government subsidization in the forms of government advertising, government subscriptions, tax breaks to their advertisers, the Canada Periodical Fund (hundreds of millions of dollars), postal discounts (tens of millions), the Canada Media Fund ($371.2 million in 2016-17), the $1.2 billion annual subsidy given to the CBC, etc. The report also notes only 9 percent of Canadians pay for their news (have hunch a large portion of this group are disgruntled conservatives funding Rebel Media because the government-funded media doesn’t speak for them).

But when most of the government-funded legacy media is giving their content away for free, subsidized by taxpayers, why would Canadians fork out more money from their own pockets when they are already taxed to death, and so much news is readily available free of additional charge?

If the legacy media were weened off government welfare and forced to compete in the free market, they would quickly develop a more competitive business model (like locking valuable content behind a paywall), or they would die. A drying up of free access to journalism would prompt more Canadians–ideally with extra money in their pockets from lowered taxes–to pay for the news of their own choosing (the horror!). Also, the increased free market competition would promote more hunger for organizations to get regular scoops. With the inevitable death of some of these redundant legacy media organizations, new media would have more room in the market to flourish.

This “non-partisan and independent think-tank” PPF’s Shattered Mirror–that just coincidentally has PM Justin Trudeau hosting its 30th Annual Testimonial Dinner–came up with 12 recommendations to staunch the “bloodbath” of “journalistic carnage” (and journalists thought Trump’s inaugural address was hyperbolic). I’ll only discuss the most important one here (I’ll save the rest for another piece), the report calls for the government to tax Facebook, Google and other foreign media, and then redistribute funds to domesic outlets which legacy media will undoubtedly get the lionshare. Although the government is supposed to be at double arms-length in redistribution of this $300-400 million fund, the deciding on who gets funding will undoubtedly become politicized, like the current process has.

It’s in the Liberal’s interest to have the major media organizations more dependent  upon them for survival. Pesky new media like Canadaland, The Rebel, Raving CanuckBlacklock’s Reporter, Loonie Politics, National Observer, and The Tyee are leaner and meaner organizations that give the political establishment headaches. Necessity is the mother of all invention. These startups must have interesting and original content to attract enough customers in order to survive. On the other hand, legacy media tend to regurgitate press releases and politicians talking points. The new media punch well above their weights, often beating the lethargic legacy media for scoops.

Like Canadaland‘s Jesse Brown said at a symposium: “leave me alone, so I can continue to bother you independently. When you fund my competitors, you are endangering me. Do not fund Postmedia if they are failing.”

The government isn’t likely to listen to the little guy. The Heritage Committee in the coming weeks will release its own proposals for how to proceed, and one would expect them to echo the call for a government bailout for the legacy media, if Minister Joly’s recent rhetoric is any indicator.

When the Liberals inevitably bailout the terminally-ill legacy media, expect more of this type of journalism from Globe and Mail‘s Simon Houpt:

Sure, this honour is premature: What, after all, has Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly actually achieved? Still, in initiating a wholesale review this year of the federal policies that oversee the country’s $48-billion broadcasting, media and culture sector, the rookie MP is in the promising first moments of what could be a historic performance of political plate-spinning. “Everything is on the table,” she declared in April, simultaneously enthralling and alarming the industry, aspiring creators making videos in their basements, and regular people who think it’s important to be able to watch and read and listen to Canadian stories but also want the government to keep its grubby hands off their Netflix. In a world of peak TV and shrivelling news coverage, does Joly side with those who believe the CRTC, the Broadcasting Act, the CBC, Telefilm, the NFB and other legacy instruments of government cultural policy have outlived their usefulness? Or with those who believe regulations and agencies need to be strengthened to help preserve a space for Canada amid a global flood of content? Stay tuned; it’s going to be a hell of a show. Simon Houpt

If Shattered Mirror and it’s absurd recommendations are enacted, Canada will get more and more fake state propaganda like the drivel above. The Liberal elites of Canada are absolutely petrified by the populist movements of Brexit and Trump. Both movements shattered the idea that the mainstream media has the power to control how the majority of the populace thinks and votes (okay, maybe not quite in Trump’s case, but maybe after the voter fraud investigation). The Liberal government wants to glue the shards back together again, place the mirror back up on the wall, and be told they’re the fairest of them all. Media entrepreneurs must oppose this and reflect the government and its policies for what they truly are–warts and all.

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2017 is the year Canada goes full Pravda

Today a report from a Public Policy Forum study–contracted by the federal government–is going to be released recommending that Canadian media be further subsidized by the government. PPF touts itself as “an independent, non-governmental organization dedicated to improving the quality of government in Canada”, but the first thing one sees on the think tank’s site is a picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who will be hosting the organization’s Annual Testimonial Dinner and Awards in April (with other progressive politician Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also in attendance).

Yesterday, The Globe and Maclean’s both had the inside scoop on PPF’s report–and both have their hands out begging–on how the government-funded PPF report will advise the Liberal government to give the failing legacy media more money. Bombardier move on over, there are plenty of other companies joining the corporate welfare line. According to The Globe piece (“Ottawa facing growing calls to bolster media industry“) the report “is expected to provide a road map for government to bolster professional journalism as a key component of the political process.”

Apparently PPF members aren’t aware that state-funded journalism like the CBC produces government propaganda, failing to be an independent fourth estate holding the government to account. One need look no further than CBC’s fawning coverage of Trudeau during last election cycle, and the TV special “Face to Face with PM” to see the favourtism and partiality the broadcaster has for the new PM. Trudeau has repaid the favour by giving the state broadcaster another $150 million more in annual government funding, adding to its $1.1 billion federal subsidy. Now the government broadcaster continues to downplay Trudeau’s gaffes and scandals in its coverage, as it awaits to see if its request for $400 million more in annual funding ($300 million to go ad free, and a bonus $100 million thrown in for the hell of it) will be granted by the PM’s government.  He who pays the piper calls the tune.

The Maclean’s piece (“Canadian news industry at a ‘crunch point’ report argues“) suggests the author of the report, journalist Edward Greenspon, thinks the Canadian news industry “finds itself at a mission-critical crossroads, and needs a helping hand if it is to resume its role as a guardian of democracy.” Apparently the report is going to recommend tax breaks and a potential bailout for the industry, but not annual subsidies. Whatever the suggestions are in the report today, the government propping up major media outlets in any way is a horrendous idea. The industry is already de facto funded by the government with government ad buys and grant money, like aid to publishers of which Roger’s Media receives just under $10 million annually for its failing magazines.

Looking at the proliferation of new media popping up across the Canadian media landscape, there seems to be promise. Canadaland, iPolitics, Loonie Politics, Blacklock’s Reporter, Queen’s Park Today, Vice Canada, BuzzFeed Canada, and The Rebel–along with bloggers–are all new media that are growing. Some of these new media outlets were consulted by PPF for its report. Canadaland responded in an open letter that its business model was successful because it has the most popular podcasts in Canada and has broken many stories, essentially from merit and hard work. Canadaland founder Jesse Brown stressed that his news outlet believes in an even playing field where no one is given government subsidies:

What we do not welcome is government subsidies for our competitors. Too often in Canada, tax breaks, funding and other programs intended to help small startups and innovators like ourselves get hijacked by legacy players. It’s a trivial matter for a newspaper to launch a digital lab or project for the sole purpose of tapping these funds, leveraging their brand and status to take the lion’s share of the subsidies. At this point, with their efforts underwritten by the government, our competitors could conceivably undercut us on advertising rates and push our revenues down to the point where we would no longer be profitable. We run our organization on a budget lower than the annual salary of one top Postmedia or CBC executive. As sustainable as we are, we are also vulnerable to market interference.

On top of the PPF report, the Liberal government’s Heritage Committee was tasked with reviewing the future of Canadian media last year by doing a series of public consultations, and will come out with its conclusions and recommendations in a report to be released in a few weeks time. Although the new subsidies or bailouts for the industry won’t likely be implemented until the 2018 budget, Canadian news media’s fate will likely be foretold in these upcoming reports from PPF and Heritage Committee.

Sadly it appears the Liberals enjoy giving Canadian legacy media money because of the reciprocated fawning coverage paid to them in return. This propping up of failing legacy media by the government won’t just compromise these outlets’ journalistic integrity, but will stunt the growth of new media’s entrepreneurial spirit when the incumbents are given an advantage of millions of dollars in welfare from the government.

Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly continues to signal the Liberals intentions to step in to fund the legacy media, tweeting on Monday:

Reiterating and further hinting at the government’s plans again on Tuesday, Joly explained to Liberal-ally and host of CBC’s Power and Politics Rosie Barton the following:

“Having access to credible and reliable information was important [to Canadians]. Now, the government has always been involved in supporting the media sector in different ways. First of all, by funding CBC, our public broadcaster. Second of all, through supporting weeklies and periodicals, and also through tax policies–industries have been supported and certainly that can be an issue for the media. Ultimately as a government, the most important thing we are asking ourselves is how can we foster a healthier democracy, like we asked in our public consultation process. And ultimately why we needed to make sure that we work on this important pillar is that–in the context of fake news–we need to make sure that we understand the impact of social media, the impact of the filter bubble, the impact of digital literacy–people understanding –digital innovation, while there is so much going on. How they can be able to understand facts and differentiate fiction from reality. So this is an important question. I’m very proud to say that we were ahead of the curve and we’re one of the only governments really talking about this internationally and moving on this subject in 2017.”

So it appears Canadians are too stupid to discern real news from the fake stuff, so we must have our information filtered from more state-funded public relation firms sanctioned by the government. What could go wrong with the government teaming up with Facebook, Google, and legacy media in policing and deeming what is fake news?

Financial Post columnist Kevin Libin soundly mocked Joly and the government on their ridiculous suggestions of intervening to combat fake news in a humorous column entitled “The only fake news the government wants you to see is government fake newsThe only fake news the government wants you to see is government fake news“, which I highly recommend everyone read. Libin, myself and any self-respecting journalist see the government as the antithesis to journalism, and don’t want an already heavily government-dependent industry even more reliant on its adversary.

Instead of letting the legacy media die, allowing for the space and talented people it leaves behind as room and compost for new media to grow, the Canadian government is going to stifle natural growth and prolong the inevitable decline and death, by scrapping completely the competitive free market. The report coming out later today and in a few weeks time will be very telling on just how Pravda-esque Canada will become in 2018. The Heritage Minister’s comments don’t bode well.

 

Full disclosure: I have contributed to Canadaland and am a columnist with Loonie Politics. If you’d like to support me and other independent journalism at Loonie Politics, please go to my about page to find out how.

As a freelancer I also submit opinion pieces to the CBC’s opinion section and have had a couple pieces published thus far with the public broadcaster. Although this may appear as gross hypocrisy on my part, since I write for a publication I criticize so vehemently and believe its journalistic integrity is by-and-large compromised because of its government funding, I justify my contributing to the broadcaster as a freelancer because I am submitting conservative opinions that would otherwise not be published by the CBC. I’m also not an employee of the CBC, so I am in no way beholden to the national broadcaster. Furthermore, as I try to establish myself and eke out a living as a freelancer I have to send pitches to as many publications as possible, and CBC–flush with $1.2 billion of taxpayers’ money–pays well. Kudos to my editors at CBC for publishing me with the full knowledge of my anti-CBC sentiments, I’ll concede the CBC isn’t all bad–and does do some good work by talented people. The plan is to eventually become self-sufficient from my work on this blog and contributions to other new and independent media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian Journalists’ Tactless Reactions to President Trump Egg on Trudeau to be Inadvisably Adversarial

Last week, right-wing journalist Ezra Levant published a book entitled Trumping Trudeau: How Trump will change Canada even if Trudeau doesn’t know it yet. In an excerpt provided and published by Breitbart, Levant explains how Liberal cabinet ministers and PM Trudeau have tacitly and explicitly voiced their disapproval of President Trump. But politicians, especially in Canada, don’t usually do such brash belligerence without the blessing and backing of the press. The mainstream media in Canada is practically goading Trudeau to oppose Trump.

When many Canadian journalists from all the major news outlets express their disdain for Trump in their tweets and articles it sends a signal to the PM that it is acceptable for him too to criticize the mercurial Trump. Of course the visceral hatred for Trump has been frothing from the mouths of the chattering classes in Canada–the Laurentian Elite–ever since Trump announced his run back in June of 2015. But now that the billionaire iconoclast has (for better or worse) become the leader of the free world, the media hasn’t really curtailed its attacks and become more pragmatic in its criticism of our neighbour’s thin-skinned commander-in-chief. They continue unwisely ridiculing the US president because of the inherent groupthink that pervades the Canadian elite, suffering from garrison mentality. There is one correct way of thinking, and in the case of Trump, it is complete and utter revulsion. Anything outside of this correct view is reprehensible.

The Canadian press continue to prod the Trudeau government into opposing Trump, despite the risk of severe consequences. As Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland was in Washington trying to develop relations with the new administration during the inaugural festivities, Freeland had staff and volunteers participating in the protest marches back home. Trudeau switched between subtly and bluntly admonishing Trump’s rhetoric throughout the U.S. election cycle. Now after helping stoke animosity within Canada, Trudeau has suggested Trump and himself meet in America because protests would likely erupt if Trump were to come visit Canada. And now as Trudeau and the PMO try to ingratiate themselves with the Trump administration, Trudeau waffles with tweets like this:

Canadian journalists praised this ambivalent behaviour as “Trudeau” walking tightrope” and “Liberals walking fine line on Trump”. If Trudeau continues this equivocation, Trump will likely blast Trudeau for being two-faced and our nation could face severe ramifications from his politicking.

Of course Trump deserves plenty of criticism, but it isn’t the job of the Canadian press or our PM to take on that role of challenging him. Canada needs to continue to cooperate and collaborate with our closest ally, and striking frosty relations, like during the Bush-Chretien and Obama-Harper eras, is ill-advised when dealing with Trump, someone who doesn’t hold any punches back against adversaries.

Below is a sample of the screeching from Canadian journalists in the past few days of Trump’s nascent presidency. The point of this exercise is to highlight how the Canadian press are applying immense pressure on Trudeau to foster an adversarial relationship with the American President, which could lead to a backlash from Trump, hurting our national interests. (Today, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was supposed to visit Trudeau and his cabinet at their retreat in Calgary, but the meeting appears to have been cancelled. Late last year it was reported counselor Kellyanne Conway was going to visit the Alberta oil sands business community, but that meeting was also cancelled.)

Maclean’s: 

CBC:

National Post:

Toronto Star:

Globe and Mail:

 I was going to do CTV, Global and Ottawa Citizen as well, but you get the point. 

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