OTTAWA, ON (November 15, 2022): Canada’s news industry has suffered declining audience engagement and advertising revenue. Many established news providers failing to compete against the world of unlimited choice offered by the Internet. The federal government has sought to solve this challenge with Bill C-18, the Online News Act. Yet this bill promises to only perpetuate existing dysfunction.
In this new paper, titled Fixing the media’s trust deficit: Why a long-term national news media policy is vital and urgent, Senior Fellow Peter Menzies examines major issues that have led to the sorry state of affairs in Canadian news media. Menzies explores why a long-term national news media policy is not just necessary, but urgent, and why Bill C-18 falls short.
“So long as government appears prepared to sustain legacy news operations through subsidy and dependence on offshore tech company revenue, there will be less room in the market for the revitalization it needs,” argues Menzies. “This is not good public policy.”
Bill C-18 will make most Canadian journalists permanently dependent on the federal government – directly through tax relief and subsidy funds and indirectly by forcing companies like Facebook and Google to subsidize designated Canadian news providers. As Menzies writes, the legislation “seeks to redirect revenue earned from offshore online companies that have been successful at attracting eyeballs and revenue to those news organizations in Canada that have struggled to do the same.”
Some legacy news organizations may continue to survive financially from this arrangement. But this new connection to politicians is eroding public trust in both government and news organizations.
“Given the perilous financial state of most traditional news organizations, further declines in trust can only lead to the need for more subsidy and, with that, less trust, and so on,” says Menzies. “A long-term national news media policy that encourages innovation and the growth of the more than 200 news media platforms launched in recent years is now not just necessary, but vital and urgent.”
According to Menzies, the federal government must develop and implement a national media strategy focused on:
- Ensuring that citizens have access to accurate information on current events and assisting them with the organization of their lives;
- Emphasizing the need for pluralism of ownership;
- Sustaining journalism that provides information to the public in a manner that improves public trust;
- Recognizing that public trust can only be sustained and flourish if the journalism industry is independent from government funding or approval;
- Accepting that some organizations incapable of transitioning to the digital age will fail;
- Fostering a market-based news industry that meets the needs and expectations of citizens, and finally;
- Supporting the innovation and entrepreneurship required for the industry to move into a new era of digital news delivery.
Menzies argues that a successful national media strategy should “recognize that public trust in both government and news media can only be sustained and flourish if the journalism industry is independent from government funding or approval of legal content.
“And critically, it should inspire and support the innovation and entrepreneurship required for the industry to move into a new era of digital news delivery.”
To learn more, read the full paper here:
Peter Menzies is a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, where he specializes in communications policy. He spent almost 10 years as a member of the CRTC, first as a part-time member, then as Alberta and Northwest Territories commissioner, and then as vice chair of Telecommunications.
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