Independent publishers sign declaration opposing taxpayer bailouts of media

‘The broadly unpopular subsidy regime represents a challenge to our democratic process,’ reads the Ottawa Declaration. ‘The subsidy regime also creates an uneven playing field.’

Independent publishers sign declaration opposing taxpayer bailouts of media
The Canadian Press / Ryan Remiorz
Remove Ads

Independent publishers and commentators object to subsidizing the media further, according to a new declaration.

“Our media companies will not accept the per employee subsidies currently on offer from government and industry,” said an Ottawa Declaration signed by nine publishers. Annual subsidies paid to cabinet-approved newsrooms are currently worth up to $29,750 per employee.

Holly Doan of Blacklock’s Reporter, Sam Cooper of The Bureau, Rudyard Griffiths of The Hub, Tara Henley of Lean Out, Candice Malcolm of True North, Substack commentator Paul Wells, Derek Fildebrandt of The Western Standard, Claire Lehmann of Quillette, and Columnist Andrew Coyne signed the petition.

None of the publishers previously solicited federal aid, claimed Blacklock’s Reporter. The publication in an earlier February 19 submission to the Commons heritage committee opposed the ongoing $595 million bailout as wasteful, corrupting and futile.

“We encourage other digital news outlets to sign this Declaration and reject the payroll subsidies,” it said. “In trying to ‘save’ journalism, these subsidies damage the independence of the press, stifle much needed innovation and private investment and fail to rebuild readers, listeners and viewers’ trust in our industry.”

However, Coyne, who has worked as a columnist for years with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, are privy to taxpayer subsidies as government-approved media.

In 2019 hearings of the Commons finance committee, then-Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox, now-chair of News Media Canada, testified the media will have to “save ourselves.”

FP Newspapers Inc., the publisher for the Winnipeg Free Press, Brandon Sun and other Manitoba publications, received $989,000 in payroll rebates last year. They reported $6,258,000 in operating losses last year amid declining advertising and circulation revenues.

“All of us are engaged in transforming our business models so we can continue to fulfill the key role that a free press must play in a healthy democracy,” he said at the time.

The chief advocate of the subsidies on behalf of the mainstream media, successfully campaigned for the subsidies in 2019 on a promise they would be temporary. The bailout money was initially set to expire on March 31, 2024. 

Last November 21, the Trudeau Liberals attempted to bury in their Fall Economic Statement the doubling of newsroom rebates, amid calls for more subsidies. They will now remain in place until 2027.

Cabinet initially extended the $595 million media slush fund into 2025 last September 12. 

“The program itself is envisioned to be for five years and I felt that was an appropriate period of time for the transition,” said Publisher Cox. “There does need to be a deadline.”

“Is the five years proposed appropriate in your opinion?” asked Liberal MP Rachel Bendayan. “In my opinion, yes,” replied Cox.

That contradicts 2023 testimony from News Media Canada CEO Paul Deegan, who claimed that publishers could not survive without federal money. The Trudeau government has yet to detail other payments to the media after invoking cabinet confidentiality. 

The Ottawa Declaration represented the first act by a coalition of independent publishers in opposition to the newspaper lobby, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

The Declaration on Thursday disputed the claim of market failure by the industry advocate.

“The broadly unpopular subsidy regime represents a challenge to our democratic process insofar as it raises questions in the public’s mind about the independence of the press, thereby undermining the perceived veracity of reported news,” it said. “The subsidy regime also creates an uneven playing field whereby some news outlets, primarily legacy media companies, are able to qualify for government support and others are not.”

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre earlier told reporters that media should be driven by readership, viewership and listenership. “That is what allows it to represent the Canadian people rather than taking marching orders from the Prime Minister’s Office,” he said.

“Our Party does not support tax dollars for media outlets.”

Millions in subsidies originally justified in the name of job creation had not saved media jobs, he claimed. A Department of Canadian Heritage memo last year confirmed handouts would not save the ailing sector.

“At least one third of Canadian journalism jobs have disappeared since 2010,” said the memo The Online News Act

A September 7 Privy Council report, Continuous Qualitative Data Collection Of Canadians’ Views, says very few Canadians believe the news industry in general should be a top priority.

“It was generally felt most Canadians had access to a wide range of news sources on a variety of platforms,”  said Canadians’ Views. “There were currently more pressing issues for the federal government to focus on such as housing affordability and the cost of living,” it added.

“Asked to what extent this decline in the number of Canadian news outlets was concerning to them, only a small number indicated being worried about this issue,” wrote researchers. 

“While a few expressed concerns that the decrease in news outlets could lead to less legitimate sources being available to Canadians, most believed this did not represent a problem.”

Remove Ads
Remove Ads

Don't Get Censored

Big Tech is censoring us. Sign up so we can always stay in touch.

Remove Ads