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This article was published 28/9/2017 (841 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Newspaper publishers are decrying the lack of government funding for newsgathering as Ottawa unveiled its plans for a stronger CBC and partnerships with Netflix and Facebook.
"Our approach will not be to bail out industry models that are no longer viable," Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly said Thursday in a speech outlining the Liberals’ plan for cultural industries, including journalism.
"We start from the premise that this is a shared responsibility between government at all levels, the private sector and civil society," Joly said, but she didn’t pledge federal money for the industry.
Instead, she said the government will expand the scope of the Canada Periodical Fund, which subsidizes Canadian magazines and community newspapers. But she wouldn’t say when, how, or whether it would add funding.
That fund’s director said last June the idea was under consideration. Bob Cox, publisher of the Free Press, said he was frustrated by the lack of new information.
"She did acknowledge the problem and talk about possible approaches, without any concrete promises that would give us much immediate hope," Cox said.
"She didn’t really get to the idea that there’s a role for the federal government to support journalism across the country."
As chairman of News Media Canada (NMC), Cox has spent a decade advocating for print organizations.
This summer, NMC added to a chorus of groups asking to boost the fund and include daily newspapers. That was endorsed in a report by Liberal and NDP MPs who studied the issue of local news. But Cox said Joly didn’t promise new money for the fund.
"If she opens it up to a bunch of new players, all you have is a whole bunch more players fighting over the same amount of money," he said.
Joly pushed back on suggestions she was focused on closing a deal with Netflix, which will fund shows produced in Canada, over dealing with a series of cuts to news reporting.
"We think this is a proactive approach, because we know that we can modernize our programs and we can support this transition."
Joly said the CBC would get an updated mandate, hinting it would include a focus on Indigenous and minority communities. She announced that Facebook would fund a "digital news incubator" at Ryerson University, offering "start-up funding and mentorship" for experimental models in digital journalism.
Cox said that could lead to interesting new projects, but it doesn’t address the crisis facing legacy publications that create the bulk of news content.
April Lindgren, academic director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, said the government was likely trying to skirt two issues. The first "elephant in the room" is that Canada’s largest newspaper owner, Postmedia, is controlled by a foreign hedge fund, which would likely absorb public funding.
The other was a February report on the decline of legacy media, The Shattered Mirror, which found that just 25 per cent of Canadians are comfortable with Ottawa supporting newsrooms.
"There’s no silver bullet to solving the problems facing the news industry," Lindgren said, but she added Joly’s comments about the periodical fund left many unanswered questions. For example, the fund is aimed at ethnic and subscription-based newspapers, so it’s unclear if it would fund websites that don’t have subscriptions.
“The business model is broken and must be repaired. There is a concrete solution to this, but it requires significant investment.” – Pierre-Elliott Levasseur, publisher of La Presse newspaper
She was surprised Ottawa didn’t announce tax breaks for non-profits, of the type that exist in Britain and the United States.
Those have led to programs such as Report For America, through which donors, newsrooms and foundations split the cost of having journalists cover city halls.
Lindgren’s research has looked at "news poverty," which found that a lack of media outlets outside Canada’s major cities was leading to less coverage of elections and vital community issues, an issue tempered by communities with news start-ups.
Though she’s not involved in the new Facebook project at Ryerson, she suspected it was the result of Ottawa threatening to tax the social media site if it didn’t.
Pierre-Elliott Levasseur, the publisher of La Presse newspaper, said he was dismayed at the lack of support for written media.
The Montreal paper will switch entirely to smartphones, tablets and the Internet news next year, but says it needs help to make a smooth transition — and soon.
"The business model is broken and must be repaired. There is a concrete solution to this, but it requires significant investment."
NDP heritage critic Pierre Nantel said Ottawa needs to act faster to stem the flow of advertising revenue to large companies abroad, such as Facebook, because democracy only works with a functioning press.
"We should not turn a blind eye," he said. "Throughout Canada, people are worried."
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"
Updated on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 7:40 AM CDT: Adds photo