Report to offer ‘ideas’ for stemming crisis in Canada’s media sector: author

Major media-industry study coming Thursday

OTTAWA — Canada’s news industry finds itself at a mission-critical crossroads, and needs a helping hand if it is to resume its role as a guardian of democracy, says the author of a major study coming Thursday that is expected to offer a road map of sorts.

The Public Policy Forum study, funded in part by the federal Heritage Department, explores the dramatic decline in the newspaper industry over the past two decades, and how massive layoffs and revenue declines in the professional news business are affecting democracy.

The report comes on the heels of what was just the latest in a series of layoffs by Postmedia, the country’s largest chain of daily-circulation newspapers.

The company issued layoff notices Tuesday to employees at the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette and Windsor Star after the company failed to reach a 20 per cent salary reduction target it set for itself last fall.

Other news giants, including the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail, have also cut staffing levels as they struggle with declining print advertising revenue.

Nor are television and radio newsrooms immune: Canada’s national broadcast regulator warned last year that nearly half of the country’s local TV stations could be off the air by 2020 without a revenue boost to pay for local news programming.

The report, authored by veteran Canadian journalist Edward Greenspon, is also expected to delve into the rise of “fake news” and offer suggestions for how government policies, as well as taxes and other laws, can be rewritten in response.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly ordered the study as part of an overall review of Canada’s media landscape, looking in particular at how it’s being affected by a shift to the Internet. A Commons committee has also carried out its own study and is expected to report to Parliament by spring.

The findings indicate the industry is reaching a “crunch point,” if it isn’t already there, Greenspon said in a statement.

“This report is meant to offer insight into the state of news two decades into its existential crisis, as well as ideas for how to respond,” he said.

“We hope it will stimulate a necessary debate and necessary action, while understanding no story is ever at its end.”

The report, entitled “The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age,” relied on a half-dozen roundtables, polling and focus group research in making findings about how Canadians perceive the relationship between the news industry and the country’s democratic institutions.

The Canadian Press participated in the roundtables and research.

In April, Joly launched a public consultation on media and Canadian content in a digital world that included town hall gatherings across the country.

Those forums heard a range of suggestions, including calls for new fees or taxes on foreign-owned digital media players as a means of helping to prop up the domestic news industry.

Others, however, have pre-emptively scolded the government for even considering any kind of taxpayer-funded support for media outlets, arguing that audiences will ultimately turn toward new digital platforms to stay informed.

Internet freedom advocacy group OpenMedia has petitioned against what it calls an Internet tax, but has asked federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau to consider applying sales taxes evenly across foreign online vendors operating in Canada.

Martin O’Hanlon, president of media union CWA Canada, suggested one solution for Postmedia could see government regulations or incentives that allow for local non-profit corporations or foundations to run the newspapers, provided the company was willing to sell its media properties.

In a report on Canada’s entertainment and media sector issued last summer, PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted steady growth in Internet advertising revenues, and an acceleration of the recent downturn in newspaper publishing.

Media firms have complained that, while their focus turns increasingly to online publishing, digital advertising revenues have not come anywhere close to replacing those previously generated from print ads.

Joly’s office has called the shifts in news revenue streams “significant,” and said the government hopes its Canadian content consultations can help it assess how to best support the production of local, credible and reliable news and information.

— Follow @tpedwell on Twitter

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Kelowna Gospel Mission creates more meals with new slicer

The slicer was donated by the Morningside Rotary Club

Jumper cables ignite small car fire

Fire crews quickly put out a car fire in Rutland Wednesday afternoon

Central Okanagan residents urged to chip it, not chuck it

Plans already in place to dispose of Christmas trees after the upcoming holiday

Outbreak affects eight people in Vernon

UPDATE: Gastrointestinal illness reported at Vernon Jubilee Hospital

VIDEO: Average Canadian food bill to rise by $348 in 2018

Atlantic Canada and B.C. will see the most increases for consumers

Rockets fall in Swift Current for third straight loss

The Broncos score the game’s first five goals in Kelowna’s fourth game of six-game eastern trip

Star gazing: Mars – the Red Planet

Mars is part of our culture, currently of extreme scientific interest, and sufficiently like Earth

Kelowna auto dealer revs up KGH building project with big donation

Kelowna Toyota has donated $30,000 to help build JoeAnna’s House on hospital grounds

More than 20,000 pounds of garbage removed from riverside homeless camps

Two camps taken down last week on the banks of the Fraser and Chilliwack rivers

Suspect in Revelstoke standoff killed himself: RCMP

Mohammadali Darabi, suspect in the Calgary homicide of his roommate, was stopped in Revelstoke

Clinton visits Vancouver, applauds Trudeau, celebrates Democrats’ win in Alabama

Clinton told crowd she cheered when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

VIDEO: Salt Spring Islanders ferry piano to their floating home

Everyone enjoys a little music on the water, but not everyone has a piano on their boat

RCMP volunteers step up parking lot patrols for Christmas

Citizen’s On Patrol look to deter criminal opportunists while giving shoppers peace of mind

Most Read