Feds plan $30M ads buy to help me­dia

COVID-19 FALL­OUT

National Post (National Edition) - - PANDEMIC - LEE BERTHIAUME

OT­TAWA an­nounced Wed­nes­day it is plan­ning a $30-mil­lion COVID-19 aware­ness ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign and mov­ing closer to im­ple­ment­ing long-promised tax cred­its for news­pa­pers as it seeks to sup­port Canada’s strug­gling me­dia in­dus­try dur­ing the pan­demic.

Yet the mea­sures were deemed by some as in­suf­fi­cient to deal with the pinch news­pa­pers, broad­cast­ers and other me­dia, many strug­gling even be­fore COVID-19, are now fac­ing as ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enues evap­o­rate.

Sev­eral me­dia firms have blamed that col­lapse in rev­enue for their de­ci­sion this week to lay off hun­dreds of jour­nal­ists and sup­port work­ers and shift op­er­a­tions by clos­ing or com­bin­ing pub­li­ca­tions and end­ing print edi­tions dur­ing the week.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau pre­viewed the com­ing sup­port dur­ing his daily ap­pear­ance out­side his Ot­tawa res­i­dence, where he em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of Cana­di­ans hav­ing ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion while thank­ing jour­nal­ists for do­ing their jobs.

“Right now, it is more im­por­tant than ever that Cana­di­ans have ac­cess to the lat­est news and in­for­ma­tion,” Trudeau said. “To en­sure that jour­nal­ists can con­tinue to do this vi­tal (work), our govern­ment is an­nounc­ing new mea­sures to sup­port them.”

Her­itage Min­is­ter Steven Guil­beault later an­nounced the govern­ment plans to spend $30 mil­lion on an ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign to raise aware­ness about COVID-19 — money that he promised would go pri­mar­ily to Cana­dian me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Those in­clude news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, TV sta­tions and online pub­li­ca­tions, Guil­beault said, “so the rev­enues gen­er­ated by this cam­paign can breathe new life into our me­dia.”

The fed­eral govern­ment has spent on aver­age about $39 mil­lion per year on ad­ver­tis­ing since the Lib­er­als came to power in 2016, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures. That rep­re­sented just more than half what it spent each year be­tween 2010 and 2015 when the Con­ser­va­tives were in govern­ment.

Those in­creas­ingly scarce ad­ver­tis­ing dol­lars have also shifted more and more away from news­pa­pers, ra­dio and TV to­ward online plat­forms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which are not Cana­dian-owned.

“It is es­sen­tial that Cana­di­ans can ob­tain au­thor­i­ta­tive, well-sourced and fac­tual in­for­ma­tion re­lated to COVID-19,” Guil­beault said.

Yet the mea­sures were widely crit­i­cized as too lit­tle to make a real dif­fer­ence, in­clud­ing by the head of one large news­pa­per chain in At­lantic Canada that laid off 240 em­ploy­ees — or about 40 per cent of its work­force — on Tuesday and shut­tered sev­eral of its pub­li­ca­tions.

“This is not go­ing to help us,” said SaltWire Net­work pres­i­dent Mark Lever. “Our busi­ness, we see two-thirds of our rev­enue at risk here. I mean it went away overnight with can­cel­la­tions and busi­nesses shut­tered.”

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