Newspapers across the country have delivered a proposal to the federal government for how it can help the ailing industry.
Both the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Democracy Watch believe the proposal could affect the independence of newspapers.
News Media Canada, which represents more than 800 print and digital media companies, has asked Heritage Minister Melanie Joly to expand the Canada Periodical Fund — which helps magazines and some paid subscription community newspapers — to $350 million from $75 million annually to support both daily and free community newspapers.
The fund would be used to provide a rebate of 35 per cent, and up to almost $30,000, for journalists’ salaries, as well as give a rebate on innovation investments into the future of journalism and support the production of Canadian civic news.
The fund would not be used to pay for executive compensation, newspaper production costs, dividends and debt payments, or outsourced services.
Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press and News Media Canada’s chairman, said newspapers are asking for federal help, just like broadcast companies and magazine publishers have asked in the past and present. He noted the CRTC has approved $90 million in new support, to begin Sept. 1, to support local television, while the federal government is giving an extra $135 million per year to the CBC.
"The problem is everybody else is subsidized," Cox said on Friday.
"I think people in government really recognize what is at stake here. They realize newsrooms are shrinking. They realize this could have a big impact on Canadian society. They want to do something.
"The hard part is what to do."
The proposal comes at a time when media reports say that Postmedia — owner of the National Post as well as 14 major daily newspapers including the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, and the Sun newspapers — is teetering toward bankruptcy. The Free Press is not owned by Postmedia.
The heritage committee has been studying problems in the media for the past year and this week released a report with 20 recommendations. One of the committee’s recommendations, to create a five per cent tax on broadband Internet services, was immediately shot down by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Cox said Canadians might not realize how newspaper newsrooms across the country have shrunk when so far they are still able to read their daily newspaper.
"People don’t realize what’s not there," he said. "If we miss a political story, people don’t know it isn’t there."
Not everybody agrees.
Todd McKay, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, called the proposal "the kind of help that really doesn’t help.
"One of the main things many journalists have is credibility. But if this was put in place, there would always be a cloud whether they are holding back a (federal government) story because of where their funding is coming from," McKay said.
"We think this is a dangerous way to go."
It’s similar to what Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, believes.
"It’s a bad situation for media to be asking government for money at any time," Conacher said.
"I don’t want print media to be in the same situation as the CBC is in. You have to be really careful about these things."
In a statement, Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, which represents 12,000 journalists and media workers across the country, said "Canadian journalism needs this fund to help bear the costs of reporting the news, costs that are increasingly not supported by advertising sales because of Google and Facebook."