Thursday, November 22, 2018

Canadian government proposes much greater subsidies to help the country's struggling newspapers

In Canada, where newspapers seem to be in more trouble than in the U.S., the federal government this week proposed half a billion dollars in subsidies to news outlets. They would include "measures to facilitate fundraising by non-profit news organizations and tax breaks to fund the production of original content," and "a temporary 15 percent tax credit for Canadians on online subscriptions to some media outlets," Daniel LeBlanc reports from Ottawa for the Toronto Globe and Mail.

A tax credit would be granted for donations to non-profit news operations that "release content for free under a creative commons license, which the government hopes will have a knock-on effect for local news organizations that can post the stories or incorporate them into their own journalism," Stuart Thomson reports for the National Post.

"An independent panel comprised of members of the news and journalism industry will flesh out the application of the moves," LeBlanc reports. "The group will decide which journalism jobs and which news organizations are eligible for the new funding." However, "The issue of federal funding for news organizations has divided Canada’s media community and sparked heated political debate."

Terence Corcoran, a columnist for the Financial Post, disputed Morneau's assertion that the measures would be “arm’s-length and independent of the government.” He wrote, "They are not, and they represent a step backward for Canadian journalism. . . . There is no way Ottawa’s journalism-bailout scheme can pass any press-freedom test." Noting that the plan says "Benefits are expected to be shared by the diverse groups of men and women, including their families, working in this sector," Corcoran writes, "The supposedly independent panel of journalists and others from the 'news community' already has its first government directive. . . . The mere act of appointing a panel with objectives and instructions is a form of state interference. Which members of the news community will be selected?"

The government says Canada’s news industry needs help adapting to "new media-consumption habits and the migration of advertisers toward foreign digital platforms," LeBlanc reports. Finance Minister Bill Morneau told the House of Commons that the goal is to “protect the vital role that independent news media play in our democracy and in our communities.” The five-year proposal would cost $595 million in Canadian dollars; at the current exchange rate, that would be $452 million in U.S. dollars. That is about 10 times the amount of media subsidy in the current budget, Thomson reports.

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