Aid for news­pa­pers com­ing in next fed­eral bud­get

The Prince George Citizen - - News - My­lene CRETE, Jor­dan PRESS

We’ve had an in­di­ca­tion from the prime min­is­ter’s mouth and from the min­is­ter’s mouth that there will be help for news­pa­pers, so both of those are very en­cour­ag­ing.

— Bob Cox, Me­dia Canada

OT­TAWA — The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is sig­nalling that the coun­try’s news­pa­per in­dus­try is set to get fi­nan­cial help, with the min­is­ter in charge of the file vow­ing of mea­sures in this year’s bud­get and of­fi­cials ready to meet with pub­lish­ers to talk de­tails.

The ex­act value and de­tails of the fi­nanc­ing will be laid out in the bud­get that has been de­liv­ered in late March each of the past two years.

Ex­pec­ta­tions are high that the Lib­er­als will al­lo­cate more money and change the rules around the Canada Pe­ri­od­i­cal Fund to pro­vide funding be­yond print mag­a­zines, non-daily news­pa­pers and dig­i­tal pe­ri­od­i­cals as the in­dus­try looks for a vi­able busi­ness model in the dig­i­tal age.

Her­itage Min­is­ter Me­lanie Joly dis­cussed the mat­ter dur­ing a meet­ing Thurs­day with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Fed­er­a­tion na­tionale des com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a Que­bec union that rep­re­sents 6,000 peo­ple who work in cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Union pres­i­dent Pas­cale St-Onge said Joly told the gath­er­ing “there would be a sup­port mea­sure in the next bud­get” with­out spec­i­fy­ing the funding for­mula.

Last week, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau told the news­pa­per Le Soleil that he was pre­oc­cu­pied with the fi­nan­cial cri­sis fac­ing me­dia in Canada and that a de­ci­sion on fed­eral funding would come in the next bud­get.

“We’ve had an in­di­ca­tion from the prime min­is­ter’s mouth and from the min­is­ter’s mouth that there will be help for news­pa­pers, so both of those are very en­cour­ag­ing,” said Bob Cox, chair­man of News Me­dia Canada, a trade as­so­ci­a­tion rep­re­sent­ing al­most 1,000 news­pa­pers.

The gov­ern­ment said an an­nounce­ment will be made in the com­ing weeks or months con­cern­ing the $75-mil­lion pe­ri­od­i­cal fund to help.

“Jour­nal­ism is crit­i­cal to a healthy democ­racy. We have al­ways sup­ported lo­cal jour­nal­ism and will con­tinue to do so. We have been clear: we will not bail out mod­els that are no longer vi­able,” Joly’s of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count tweeted on Fri­day.

“We are cur­rently re­view­ing the Canada Pe­ri­od­i­cal Fund to make sure it can sup­port mag­a­zines and lo­cal papers to in­no­vate, adapt and tran­si­tion to dig­i­tal.”

The gov­ern­ment has been bom­barded with ideas on how to help the in­dus­try that has watched mount­ing lay­offs in news­rooms as com­pa­nies look to cut costs and shut­ter pub­li­ca­tions.

A 100-page re­port from the Public Pol­icy Fo­rum last year called for a sales tax on for­eign com­pa­nies sell­ing dig­i­tal sub­scrip­tions in Canada, a “Fu­ture of Jour­nal­ism and Democ­racy” fund to help fi­nance re­li­able news and in­for­ma­tion with $100 mil­lion in fed­eral seed money, a new “lo­cal” man­date for news agency The Cana­dian Press and changes to the CBC’s on­line ad­ver­tis­ing.

The Que­bec union and News Me­dia Canada have called for changes to the pe­ri­od­i­cal fund.

“When we looked at this, the pe­ri­od­i­cal fund seemed to be the best vehicle for in­tro­duc­ing an emer­gency mea­sure in the next bud­get that would be able to ad­min­is­ter funds for the daily and weekly news me­dia,” St-Onge said.

Joly, she said, “seemed to agree that the pe­ri­od­i­cal fund is cer­tainly the eas­i­est way to sup­port print me­dia.”

Changes to the pe­ri­od­i­cal fund were of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to Joly’s of­fi­cials when the min­is­ter met with Cox and other pub­lish­ers in mid-Septem­ber. A brief­ing note pre­pared for the meet­ing noted that News Me­dia Canada’s pro­posal to morph the pe­ri­od­i­cal fund into a $350-mil­lion jour­nal­ism fund to, among other things, pro­vide re­bates on news­room salaries and ex­penses, would re­quire about $275 mil­lion in new fed­eral spend­ing.

Of­fi­cials told Joly to ask Cox and other pub­lish­ers what they be­lieved “would con­sti­tute the min­i­mum level of fi­nan­cial sup­port that would make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence for the in­dus­try.”

The Cana­dian Press ob­tained the doc­u­ments un­der the ac­cess-to-in­for­ma­tion law.

Cox said that any funding would be help­ful to pre­serve jobs and pos­si­bly bol­ster the num­ber of news­room staff as the in­dus­try looks for a vi­able busi­ness model.

“The goal is to main­tain the jour­nal­ism through tran­si­tion,” said Cox. “We know how much ca­pac­ity has been taken out of re­port­ing in com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try and we want to main­tain that ca­pac­ity while news or­ga­ni­za­tions strug­gle with what their fu­tures will be.”

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