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.