By Peter Menzies
November 15, 2022
Canada is on the verge of making most of its journalists permanently dependent on the federal government. This is moving directly through tax relief funds and grants and indirectly through offshore technology companies constrained by legislation. While this may allow some of the legacy news outlets to continue to survive financially, this new connection to politicians is eroding public trust in government and news outlets.
This article examines the main issues that have led to this current state of affairs. In doing so, it illustrates why a long-term national news media policy is now not only necessary, but vital and urgent.
The Internet and the newspaper industry’s inability to adapt to it are almost entirely responsible for the collapse of what for more than two centuries was the heart of Canada’s news industry. . Having survived the threats posed by the introduction of competition from radio in the 1920s and television in the 1950s, it was generally assumed that newspapers would also survive the threat posed by the Internet. But they didn’t.
The Internet has created a world of limitless choice and has been a gift to consumers and innovators. But suppliers to the news industry in Canada have suffered losses in audience engagement and advertising revenue.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has ensured that certain levels of Canadian content (heavily subsidized due to weak domestic market demand) is carried by licensed broadcasters. The CRTC applies restrictions on foreign ownership to currently regulated media – radio and television – through its licensing process. To obtain a license from the CRTC, a broadcaster must be more than 50% Canadian-owned and its board of directors must be composed of a majority of Canadians. This has resulted in a vertical integration of companies.
The Canadian information industry has been unable to adapt to technological change. In the case of print, the collapse of ownership concentration has led to even greater concentration of ownership, which has resulted in more than $200 million in annual government subsidies and credits. tax. Some of them were initially designed as temporary measures to help businesses trying to transition into the digital age. But since companies don’t, these grants and credits become permanent.
What is evident is that while technology has profoundly disrupted 20th century information delivery systems, all current measures are reactionary or based on assumptions that are no longer valid. Worse still, everyone seems to be oblivious to the impact they have on others. The CRTC, for example, creates an artificial oversupply of news products by forcing many broadcasters to employ journalists and devote airtime to news, as if their local radio station were the only possible vehicle through which people can get the information they are looking for.
To further complicate the situation, a particular problem in Canada: language. While most of the issues that dominate discussions in the news media have been preoccupied by the English-language media, the French-language media serves a large, significant, and influential portion of the population; a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to succeed. American news channels, for example, are not accessible to unilingual Francophones, who make up approximately 50% of the French-language market.
Public confidence in its news media, according to Edelman’s most recent survey, is at an all-time high. The subsidized media continue to insist that independence is not under threat. But conflicts of interest are not for those involved in problematic associations – they are decided by those who observe them.
The government should develop and implement a national media strategy – a strategy that aims to ensure citizens have access to accurate information about current events. The strategy should recognize that public trust in government and the news media can only be maintained and flourished if the journalism industry is independent of government funding or legal content approval. Most importantly, it should inspire and support the innovation and entrepreneurship needed for the industry to enter a new era of digital information delivery.