The Trudeau government must take action

The Honourable William Francis Morneau, Minister of Finance
The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage
The Honourable Navdeep Singh Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Print media are currently going through the biggest crisis of their history. What’s at stake is simple: if nothing is done, many paper and online newspapers might have to go out of business in the near future. In this situation, we are calling on the federal government to take urgent steps to ensure the future of quality news and journalism in Canada. It’s a matter of the health of our democracy.

Web giants like Google and Facebook use content produced at great expense by newspapers while draining off vital advertising revenue. For the web giants, it’s a win-win situation: for newspapers, it’s lose-lose. This reality is untenable, and we no longer have the luxury of time.

Already, this crisis in the media has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs in Canada over the last decade. In Québec, 43% of jobs in the sector were lost between 2009 and 2015. This hemorrhage continues and is liable to get worse unless our governments take immediate action. We are at a point of no return, and we have to weigh the consequence of this disturbing laissez-faire attitude that persists despite the alarm sounded long ago by media researchers and observers, as well as numerous representatives of the sector (both management and unions).

In recent weeks, the Trudeau government has made very controversial decisions in favour of certain web and entertainment multinationals, but it has shown no interest at all in protecting our print media. Yet at the very start of its mandate, it showed the importance it attached news and journalism, notably by restoring funding for CBC/Radio-Canada to pre-Harper levels. Parliament has also improved protection for journalists’ sources.

We understand that the federal government is interested in the players in the “new economy”, but we don’t understand why it is ignoring the opinions of experts that it itself commissioned, and why it refuses to provide support for the print media. After all, this is one of the only cultural sectors to never have been subsidized by public funding, despite the need for such support being obvious. Is Canada ready to let this pillar of democracy perish?

In this era of fake news and propaganda, the best rampart against both is rigorous new-gathering and real investigative journalism. These can shake up power structures, shed light on corruption and abuses and participate in necessary social changes. Just take the Paradise Papers scandal, for instance, or sexual violence, or the climate change crisis. Our print media are the leading edge of news all across Canada, and crucial tools for raising public awareness. They provide the content for news and radio and TV programs and spark many debates, be they at the National Assembly or in society as a whole. In the regions, they are sometimes the only source of information for the general public and become the main intermediary between governments, citizens and communities’ collective life.

Some worry that government assistance for the media would limit freedom of the press and the necessary independence of newsrooms. Yet the example of CBC/Radio-Canada clearly shows that public funding is possible without trampling on these fundamental liberties. Others worry that it would indirectly enrich billionaire companies, but that’s not the issue here. The steady erosion of advertising revenue for almost ten years now jeopardizes the on-going activities of our dailies and weeklies, regardless of whether they are independent or linked to big companies. This reality harms their capacity to pursue their mission of informing the population. The disappearance of these media would be a great cultural, social, political and economic loss for all our communities.

Doing nothing amounts to putting the keys to our democracy in the hands of U.S. giants, which don’t seem to be in the least concerned about the quality of information produced in Canada or making a fair fiscal contribution. We therefore call on Prime Minister Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly to implement emergency support measures like payroll tax credits for print media - such as our governments have been doing for years to attract artificial intelligence and high tech companies - to give us time to come up with sustainable solutions in the digital universe.

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