November 21, 2019

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Ottawa urged to rush funding for journalism

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>A Winnipeg Free Press newspaper box outside the papers' headquarters on Mountain Avenue.</p>


A Winnipeg Free Press newspaper box outside the papers' headquarters on Mountain Avenue.

OTTAWA — Journalists helping shepherd Ottawa’s $595-million package for the news industry are urging the Liberals to get the cash flowing before this fall’s election.

"We feel there’s an urgent need," said Bob Cox, who chairs the government’s independent panel of experts and is publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press.

"We’ve tried to provide criteria and definitions to the government, so that they can just have the Canada Revenue Agency administer the program — in other words, expedite it."

The panel is also asking Ottawa to broaden the scope of its tax credits, saying they need tinkering in order to support smaller publications at risk of going under.

It also wants Ottawa to find a way to stop media companies from giving big payouts to executives while laying off reporters.

The federal Liberals announced the $595 million in support last fall, and laid out three streams for that funding in this spring’s budget, which Parliament approved.

The three streams will allow journalism organizations to register as non-profits and accept tax-deducted donations, a 25 per cent wage subsidy (capped at $13,750 per journalist) and a 15 per cent tax credit "for subscriptions to Canadian digital news media."

In a Wednesday report, eight journalists representing the news industry and journalist associations laid out criteria for how to define which outlets should qualify for the funding.

Those criteria welcome agencies that cover courts, schools boards and public-policy issues, while ruling out news aggregators, trade publications and opinion blogs.

The panel suggested the CRA make the call on which outlets fit that criteria, and only turn to a proposed advisory board when tax officials aren’t sure whether an applicant should qualify.

"We all felt very strongly that this money should be going into newsrooms, to help strengthen newsrooms, and it should not be going elsewhere," Cox said.

Some journalism upstarts have criticized the funding package for leaving out startups as well as outlets that primarily publish podcasts and other audio/visual content.

Cox said the funding intentionally only applies to outlets that have been publishing for 12 months, so that taxpayer cash only goes to outlets that have started to attract an audience.

"It’s a different kettle of fish if you’re just funding people who haven’t yet actually done anything. That’s not what this program is for," Cox said.

He also said the government crafted its package to avoid having the funding go to broadcast media, as original news content is primarily produced in written form.

The panel has urged Ottawa to allow news outlets to apply for funding by Sept. 1. Cox welcomed Ottawa’s new requirements to publish which publications have applied for the cash and how much they receive.


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