We all need the me­dia to do its job

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - OPINION - Lana Payne Lana Payne is the At­lantic di­rec­tor for Uni­for. She can be reached by email at lana­pay­[email protected] Twit­ter: @lanam­payne Her col­umn re­turns in two weeks.

“The job of a news­pa­per is to com­fort the af­flicted and af­flict the com­fort­able.” – Fin­ley Peter Dunne, Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist, au­thor, hu­mourist.

Dear politi­cians, you are among the com­fort­able.

The me­dia and jour­nal­ism is in cri­sis and has now be­come the lat­est favourite whip­ping boy for Con­ser­va­tive politi­cians, par­tic­u­larly.

There is noth­ing new about me­dia bash­ing, but it has taken on a new and more dan­ger­ous tone.

Con­sider the at­tacks on the me­dia by Doug Ford, An­drew Scheer and of course U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Make no mis­take, they are cal­cu­lated and de­signed to cater to their po­lit­i­cal base as they re­in­force the para­noia, fear and anger they wish to ex­ploit among their sup­port­ers.

Trump has re­ferred to the me­dia “as the en­emy of the peo­ple.” Ford and Scheer have re­peat­edly tried to dis­credit and dis­par­age the me­dia, lash­ing out at them for ask­ing ques­tions. In other words, do­ing their jobs.

In Oc­to­ber Scheer an­nounced in a let­ter to the Toronto Sun: “Never have tax­pay­ers and ev­ery­day Cana­di­ans more needed some­one who will stand up to this gov­ern­ment, the me­dia and the priv­i­leged elite on their be­half.”

At the same time, the me­dia and jour­nal­ism are fac­ing a se­ri­ous and wor­ri­some cri­sis.

There are lo­cal news deserts across Canada as news­pa­per af­ter news­pa­per closes. Tele­vi­sion, ra­dio and news­pa­per news­rooms have been gut­ted.

Rev­enues for the me­dia sec­tor are plum­met­ing. For ex­am­ple, revenue for con­ven­tional tele­vi­sion in Canada de­clined by 25 per cent since 2011. As for news­pa­pers, the story is far worse.

Be­tween 2006 and 2015, over­all revenue in the news­pa­per in­dus­try dropped by a whop­ping 48 per cent, re­sult­ing in sig­nif­i­cant lay­offs, news­room con­sol­i­da­tions, down­siz­ing and clo­sures.

These lost rev­enues are be­ing soaked up by com­pa­nies like Face­book and Google who pro­vide no news con­tent and em­ploy vir­tu­ally no one in Canada. Google and Face­book, to­gether now ac­count for nearly 75 per cent of to­tal Cana­dian in­ter­net advertising mar­ket share — which is up from about 67 per cent in 2016; and 64 per cent in 2015.

A re­port last year by the Pub­lic Pol­icy Fo­rum, an Ot­tawabased think tank, en­ti­tled “The Shat­tered Mirror,” noted that “Canada’s news me­dia is in the midst of an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis. So there­fore is our democ­racy.” It re­ported that a full one-third of jour­nal­ism jobs have been lost in just six years. The num­bers have con­tin­ued to plunge.

In ad­di­tion, pub­lic opin­ion re­search con­ducted by the Fo­rum noted that Cana­di­ans “feel a deep rev­er­ence for the role jour­nal­ism plays in democ­racy. In fact, they con­sider this so im­por­tant that they are fear­ful fix­ing the prob­lem could make jour­nal­ists re­liant on gov­ern­ment.”

This is why the rec­om­men­da­tions from the re­port looked to main­tain in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism.

Hav­ing said that, there is, as the re­port notes, noth­ing new or novel about Canada look­ing to pub­lic pol­icy to en­sure “there is jour­nal­ism by Cana­di­ans for Cana­di­ans.”

The re­port made 12 rec­om­men­da­tions “to ad­dress a mirror so shat­tered as to di­min­ish the news me­dia’s ca­pac­ity to re­flect Cana­di­ans back to them­selves. The rec­om­men­da­tions aim to en­sure our democ­racy is well served by a strong, di­verse, in­de­pen­dent and trust­wor­thy news me­dia firmly planted in the dig­i­tal age.”

Some of those rec­om­men­da­tions and ideas have been im­ple­mented by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing in its re­cent fall eco­nomic up­date which in­cluded about $600 mil­lion to sup­port jour­nal­ism.

There is still work to do in­clud­ing tax­ing en­ti­ties like Face­book and Google which was not in­cluded in the mea­sures, but needs to hap­pen. A sim­ple change to the in­come tax act ex­tend­ing tax rules to dig­i­tal advertising would help.

The fund­ing was not with­out con­tro­versy, in­clud­ing within the me­dia sec­tor.

But if we want real and in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism we have to be will­ing to fight for it and sup­port it and en­sure its in­de­pen­dence.

Leav­ing it up to mar­ket forces and poor busi­ness mod­els sim­ply is not an op­tion, not if we value jour­nal­ism and what it brings to the demo­cratic fab­ric of the coun­try, keep­ing the pow­er­ful ac­count­able, telling the sto­ries of Cana­di­ans, ex­pos­ing abuse and cor­rup­tion. In some cases their work re­sults in changed laws and fixed wrongs. We all need the me­dia to do its job.

What’s sim­ply un­ac­cept­able is the de­ci­sion by mostly Con­ser­va­tive politi­cians to at­tack jour­nal­ists as bi­ased and eas­ily bought-off. Let’s have a me­dia watch­dog, let’s have a con­ver­sa­tion about me­dia bias, but do it in a way that is con­struc­tive rather than un­der­min­ing the role of the me­dia in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety.

At­tack­ing the me­dia is an­other way of de­flect­ing from their own flawed poli­cies and trou­bling ac­tions. Let’s be clear if you are go­ing to en­gage in dog-whis­tle pol­i­tics and crony­ism you should ex­pect that this gets called out.

Me­dia bash­ing is not a new thing. But the hy­per-at­tacks and this new and dan­ger­ous tone are sim­ply not good for the demo­cratic fab­ric of the coun­try.

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