Is Independence of the Canadian Media Dead? Funding Sources Says “Yes”

A large majority of funding for traditional media comes from the Canadian government now. That raises independence issues.

Throughout the Online News Act debate, a major theme among critics is the fact that the system being set up means that a majority of the funding comes from government programs and subsidies. As a result, a mainstream journalists paycheck is almost entirely dependent on the Canadian government. As the saying goes, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

What is especially striking about the situation the Canadian mainstream media finds itself in is the fact that it is those same media outlets that were so ferociously fighting to be in such a situation. Critics have long raised the issue of the traditional media outlets losing any semblance of independence thanks to the government essentially footing all the costs to run such an operation. Those critics were shouted down by media lobbyists who screamed until they were blue in the face that the media was “dying” and that it was incumbent on the government to “save” it.

So, not only was the media finding itself in a situation where they have lost any credibility of being an independent news organization, but they enthusiastically pushed to sacrifice this independence in the process under the guise of “saving” journalism.

With the passage of the Online News Act and the government caving to Google just to stop the media from being wiped from Google search results, the Canadian media, well, sort of, got what it wanted. Now, with a vast majority of the funding coming from the government, the idea of mainstream media holding government to account in an independent capacity seems to be in the rear view mirror.

To punctuate the point, University law professor, Michael Geist, posted where all the media’s money comes from now. This while noting that killing the independence of the press was done under the guise of saving it:

When most Canadian print media depend on government regs or tax credit support for majority – and sometimes all – of its journalism costs, the media lobby and legislative cheerleaders may have killed independence of the press under the guise of saving it.

Further to that comment was a simple accounting of where the funding of the media actually comes from:

Salary of written journalists in Quebec now almost entirely paid for by government tax credits or regulations:
1️⃣ 35% provincial payroll tax credit
2️⃣ 35% federal labour tax credit
3️⃣ Bill C-18 Google money
on the risks to innovation and trust.

How does the mainstream media hold government to account when their funding depends so much on the government in the first place? Honestly, I really don’t have an answer to that and I’m leaning towards the answer of, “they don’t”.

Referenced in the tweets is an article on Le Devoir. The article itself is in French, but a rough translation we got suggests that it spoke about the situation we are seeing today.

One point that was raised was that, 10 years ago, the media was always very cautious about asking for government subsidies. That has since changed an Quebec media is the most heavily government funded media outlets in North America. The author doesn’t seem to really think this idea of state sponsored media, suggesting that sectors like the media would not survive without government intervention. Again, that’s a lot of warning flags that the author doesn’t seem to think is that big of a deal.

The article also notes that 35% of the media’s funding comes from a provincial payroll tax credit. Then, there is the federal level which also pays for 35% of the media’s cost. This over top of the $100 million coming from Google which is a government mandated fund model. Astonishingly, the author questions whether or not this is enough to save journalism.

The author suggests that this raises a number of problems. This apparently includes the idea that any further government aid to the media would be counterproductive to their objectives. Among the issues is the question of whether or not the media will ever undergo a digital transformation and be less reliant on traditional outlets such as television, radio, and print.

From there, the author blames the fall in trust in the media on the internet even though the media itself shares some of that responsibility when the quality of their work declined so much in the last several years. This over top of their reliance on government funding.

Among the solutions, however, as envisioned by the author, is to rebuild a relationship with its readers. There is also the suggestion of limiting dependence on the platforms. At least, with the latter, that’s actually quite easy because the media can diversify their presence on multiple platforms.

Overall, though, the situation about trust in the media has grown significantly worse. Far right extremists love to beat the “liberal bias” drum, but the issues are much more fundamental then that. With the trading of fact-based journalism in exchange with pushing messaging if it suits their business interests, dependence on goverment funding, and ownership issues among other things, Canadian journalism has become increasingly unreliable.

Lucky for you, there are small outlets out there like us that try to keep a level head with everything and report things accurately. For us on Freezenet, we’re just focused on fact-based articles. What’s more, we don’t receive a single penny from the government as well. Moving forward, we will do everything in our power to be as independently run as possible. In this day and age, in this country, that is something of a rarity as it turns out.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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