Mis­taken so­lu­tions

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Editorial -

The vast ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans be­lieve that jour­nal­ism plays a vi­tal demo­cratic role for the coun­try. An An­gus Reid sur­vey last month found that 94 per cent of re­spon­dents say the me­dia per­forms an im­por­tant func­tion in our democ­racy. It sends a clear sig­nal to elected of­fi­cials that jour­nal­ism is a cru­cial part of Canada’s demo­cratic fab­ric.

But in the past 10 years, 238 lo­cal news out­lets have closed their doors, ac­cord­ing to a Ry­er­son Uni­ver­sity me­dia watch­dog. Of those, 212 were news­pa­pers that were ei­ther closed en­tirely or closed due to merg­ers. The re­main­ing 26 clo­sures were TV, ra­dio and dig­i­tal out­lets. More than 16,500 jobs in the me­dia sec­tor have been elim­i­nated since 2008, ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian Me­dia Guild - nearly half of those are in print me­dia.

It’s not a healthy pic­ture for pre­serv­ing our democ­racy. The rea­sons are ob­vi­ous – a de­cline in ad rev­enue, a shift to dig­i­tal, and the pow­er­ful on­line pres­ence of Face­book and Google. Me­dia groups, es­pe­cially news­pa­pers, have rushed to adapt to the dig­i­tal age but the tur­moil has seen news­rooms close and jour­nal­ists laid off.

What are me­dia out­lets to do? For starters, they have adapted and di­ver­si­fied to pub­lish their ma­te­rial in var­i­ous plat­forms such as print, mo­bile, dig­i­tal and video. And fol­low­ing con­sul­ta­tions with news or­ga­ni­za­tions, the House of Com­mons Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Cana­dian Her­itage pro­duced a pos­i­tive re­port last year with rec­om­men­da­tions for fed­eral ac­tion to sup­port me­dia in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. News or­ga­ni­za­tions had of­fered prac­ti­cal, low-cost so­lu­tions for Ot­tawa to con­sider, such as amend­ing the Cana­dian Pe­ri­od­i­cal Fund (CPF) to in­clude daily news­pa­pers, copy­right pro­tec­tion, clos­ing loop­holes, tax changes and re­vers­ing the dig­i­tal-first strat­egy for gov­ern­ment ad­ver­tis­ing. One such loop­hole al­lows bil­lions of dol­lars in ads to flow to foreign in­ter­net sites, which hire no Cana­dian jour­nal­ists, at the ex­pense of Cana­dian me­dia out­lets.

News Me­dia Canada, which rep­re­sents com­mu­nity and daily news­pa­pers, pro­posed re­mak­ing the CPF into the Cana­dian Jour­nal­ism Fund and giv­ing it a new man­date to sup­port lo­cal jour­nal­ism, along with $350 mil­lion in fund­ing. But the fed­eral bud­get brought down Tuesday was far be­low what news in­dus­try lead­ers had sought or ex­pected. It of­fered $50 mil­lion over five years to in­de­pen­dent, non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions to sup­port lo­cal jour­nal­ism in un­der-ser­viced com­mu­ni­ties. There is no in­di­ca­tion of who those or­ga­ni­za­tions will be.

On a pos­i­tive note, gov­ern­ment will ex­plore al­low­ing char­i­ta­ble sup­port for jour­nal­ism and lo­cal news, thus avoid­ing di­rect fund­ing to news or­ga­ni­za­tions that are fiercely pro­tec­tive of their in­de­pen­dence from gov­ern­ment.

Gov­ern­ment likes to tout its sup­port for jour­nal­ism by point­ing to in­creased fund­ing for the CBC. But most com­mu­nity re­port­ing is be­ing done by news­pa­pers, which won’t be found any­where else. The mis­taken fo­cus of gov­ern­ment is on com­mu­ni­ties that have al­ready lost news­pa­pers, rather than sup­port­ing ex­ist­ing news­pa­pers and their jour­nal­ists to al­low them to con­tinue to pro­vide lo­cal news in their com­mu­ni­ties.

The in­dus­try wants to boost jour­nal­ism, which sup­ports democ­racy; yet the gov­ern­ment seems con­tent to let mar­ket forces run their course.

It’s a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion. And not just for those be­hind pens and com­put­ers.

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