Prime Minister, Other Lawmakers Furious At Bell’s Predictable Decision to Lay Off Journalists

The rift between government and the media widened further after Bell decided to lay off 4,800 employees. Trudeau said he was “pissed off”.

When the Online News Act was still Bill C-18, one of the calls I made was to tie any funding to journalism with a requirement that requires the outlet to spend that money on actual journalism. A dedicated article of this was published in May of last year. You want $1,000, show that you spent it on the production of journalism. It was an extremely obvious thing to call for because you can’t trust major corporations to not misappropriate the funding. What’s more, such an idea would’ve, at minimum, added some credibility that this legislation was, in fact, about “saving” journalism instead of handing a blank cheque to these large corporations, allowing them to put it towards the “feed the poor starving CEO” fund.

Naturally, lawmakers generally opted to ignore calls like this. Some probably thought it was an unnecessary dumb idea. Others probably simply cast this off as just another nonsense idea by yet another “Big Tech shill”. So, despite me calling it a very logical protection from abuse, it was this call that was among a host of common sense calls that were blatantly ignored. For me, the outcome was obvious: the news outlets crying foul would take the money and run. Those jobs that they were saying were imperilled by “Bit Tech” were already as good as gone and was little more than a means to bend the ears of politicians to get what they wanted.

Now, the obvious has already happened. The CBC slashed 10% of its workforce and Bell slashed 9% of its workforce. The outcomes was a repeat of what happened in Australia when NewsCorp Australia slashed 1,250 jobs after becoming the biggest beneficiary of the Australian version of the link tax.

While lawmakers didn’t necessarily bat an eye at the CBC job cuts, it seems that they aren’t necessarily letting the Bell layoffs slide. Heritage Minister, Pascale St-Onge lashed out at Bell, saying that the company isn’t going bankrupt. From CityNews:

OTTAWA — As Bell Media blamed regulators and policymakers for its decision to announce a fresh round of layoffs Thursday, federal and provincial politicians accused the company of unnecessarily killing off local journalism.

Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge decried the company for breaking its promise to invest in news after it was granted more than $40 million in annual regulatory relief.

That’s the same amount the company said its news division, which includes CTV News and BNN Bloomberg, is losing annually.

“They are not going bankrupt. They’re still making billions of dollars. They’re still a very profitable company,” St-Onge said Thursday on Parliament Hill.

“And they still have the capacity and the means to hold their end of the bargain, which is to deliver news reports.”

St-Onge said the government has worked to help the news industry, and at some point companies have to chip in, too.

The Liberals’ update to broadcasting law, the Online Streaming Act, came into effect last April. It abolished certain licensing fees, which St-Onge said will save the company some $40 million a year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also furious at Bell for doing what us critics were predicting what was going to happen. He called it a “garbage decision”. From CP24:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trash-talking BCE Inc.’s widespread layoffs, calling the cuts a “garbage decision.”

Trudeau says he’s furious over Bell Media’s decision to end multiple television newscasts and that the corporation should know better.

The outlet made program cuts Thursday after its parent company announced job reductions and the sale of 45 of its 103 regional radio stations.

Trudeau says large corporations have bought up radio stations, small community newspapers and local outlets, only to lay off journalists and change the quality of their offerings.

He says when readership and viewership then decline, corporations sell off outlets and say they’re not profitable, eroding local journalism and Canada’s democracy.

A video of his comments was also posted. He apparently also said that he was “pissed off” about the decision

The situation is extremely ironic. The media companies sold the government on the lies that the platforms are stealing from the publishers and causing them to go bankrupt. When the government held hearings, they brought in several experts who explained to them how the internet works in the real world and why the Online News Act and the Online Streaming Act are both terrible pieces of legislation. The media companies used their silver tongues to convince lawmakers that the experts were just “Big Tech shills” and must be ignored. What’s more, the media companies convinced the government to give them huge truckloads of cash with no strings attached. This under the threat of mass layoffs in the sector.

In the end, the government simply chose to believe absolutely everything the lying media companies had to say. Now that the regulatory check cleared, they did their layoffs anyway, as was planned all along. The signs were there all along with Bell’s efforts to defund local journalism, but that, too, got overlooked by the government. Now, the government is finally (hopefully) starting to realize that they bought into a web of lies hook line and sinker.

The government rightfully look like fools in this situation. They were so incredibly belligerent to anyone and anything warning them that they were heading towards a cliff – much to the delight of big media executives who knew all along that the lies were working. Now the governments series of bad decisions are coming back to bite them in the rear. They put themselves in this position, so it’s not as though I’m feeling sorry for them at this stage. If the government wants to impress me, they would immediately start working on reforming the Online News Act and implement my original suggestion of tying funding received to actual media spending. This while implementing additional protections that would actually protect Canadian journalism, not hedge fund billionaire profits.

The irony in all of this is that it’s the media that got away with lies, making the government look like fools. Normally, the media should be protecting the public from the government misusing their power. Yet, here we are with the roles reversed where the media is misusing their power and the government is the one caught flat footed, needing to find a way to hold the media accountable for their actions. It’s really quite the sight to behold, here.

One hopes that the government learned their lesson here. While it remains to be seen if the government will actually take corrective measures or not, one thing is clear: the rift between the government and the major media companies is widening.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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