Winnipeg city council’s most powerful committee has backed a symbolic motion to support the media.
In a six-to-one vote, the executive policy committee voted Wednesday in favour of having council back future measures to "rejuvenate" news outlets and urge the federal government to pass legislation that supports "a healthy news media."
The motion doesn’t commit council to any financial contribution toward that goal but stresses a professional and independent news media strengthens democracy.
"It’s meant to indicate support for the importance of local journalism across the country… in a period where it’s been a challenge, I think, to keep some of our print outlets going and to just have an independent third-party voice out there. We don’t always agree with them, of course, but it’s important to have that estate as part of our local democracy," said Coun. Brian Mayes, who raised the motion.
The pledge still requires council approval.
Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press said he commended the mayor's cabinet for publicly supporting journalism and backing government action to help "ensure strong, independent local news media."
"This is important recognition of the crucial role that news media play in keeping Winnipeg informed about what is really going on. It’s also important recognition of the current threats to fact-based, independent reporting," he said.
"There were ten newspaper closures in Manitoba last year alone. The traditional ad revenues that supported journalism have dropped dramatically, leaving fewer and fewer resources to scrutinize the work of public institutions like city hall and the provincial government. I’ve argued for years that public interest journalism needs to be sustained with government support. It’s great to see the city also support this idea."
Coun. Scott Gillingham voted against the motion over concerns it could commit council to support future legislation with unknown details. Mayor Brian Bowman joined councillors Mayes, Matt Allard, Jeff Browaty, Cindy Gilroy and Sherri Rollins to support it.
The acknowledgement matches similar motions raised in other Canadian cities, Mayes said. The motion notes media outlets face an uncertain future since about 3,000 Canadian media workers have experienced a temporary or permanent layoff since the COVID-19 pandemic began, despite playing an important communications role during the public health crisis.
"The news media in the Winnipeg area has been instrumental during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring local citizens have accurate local information," the motion states.
Rollins and Bowman both argued the role of a professional news media is more critical now as Winnipeggers need reliable access to facts about the pandemic.
"We have, overall, I’d say, a very responsible media in Winnipeg and they do assist elected officials and public servants to communicate messages, especially during times of crisis, to the public," said Bowman.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.