Taxpayer handouts perpetuate 'media failure,' say committee witnesses

Only one third (31%) of Canadians have a 'good or great deal of confidence in the media.' Findings from Canadian Social Survey questionnaires found that Canadians were more likely to trust Parliament (32%) than journalists.

Taxpayer handouts perpetuate 'media failure,' say committee witnesses
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns
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MPs on the Commons heritage committee heard Tuesday that continued taxpayer handouts for news publishers only serves to perpetuate media failure.

“Legacy and new media lobbying for government money and accepting it does little to enhance confidence in their independence or reliability,” testified broadcaster John Gormley, former Conservative MP and 1988 chair of the Commons communications committee. 

“Does government funding pay for better journalism? Does it restore credibility and trust?”

In 2019, Parliament approved a $595 million bailout fund for the media. They also doubled newsroom rebates from a maximum $13,750 per employee to $29,750 at an additional $129 million.

However, millions in subsidies originally justified in the name of job creation has not saved media jobs, claimed Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre. 

A Department of Canadian Heritage memo last year confirmed handouts would not save the ailing sector, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

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

“Between 2008 and February 1, 2023, a total of 470 local news operations closed in 335 communities across Canada. Between the same period 210 new news outlets launched,” it said.

After the fact, Bell Media axed 1,300 media jobs to “significantly adapt” its news delivery methods. They announced 4,800 more layoffs “at all levels of the company” earlier this month.

“I guess that wasn’t the real reason for giving tax dollars to the media,” said Poilievre. “The real reason was to buy support from the media which is what it actually did.”

But Gormley, the now-retired host of John Gormley Live on Radio CKOM Saskatoon and CJME Regina, attributed media failure to the media players themselves — not the government.

“I don’t necessarily accept the supposition that Canadian media is in trouble because it is underfunded by the government,” he testified. “The government has nothing to do with this.”

According to the former Conservative MP, modern journalism has “backfired and lost audiences” and their revenues evaporated with the advancement of technology and social media.

However, Tara Henley, the host of the Lean Out podcast on current affairs, concurred the media lost their integrity by taking handouts from the federal government.

“Any funding from the government that flows to the media at this point would hinder our attempts to rebuild trust,” testified Henley. 

“Without trust we have no audience,” said Henley. “Without an audience we have no revenue. Without revenue we have no path forward.”

Statistics Canada in a report last November 14 said Canadians rated the media as less trustworthy than police or politicians, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

Asked, “Using a scale of one to five where one means ‘no confidence at all’ and five means ‘a great deal of confidence,’ how much confidence do you have in the Canadian media?” one third (31%) of Canadians expressed a “good or great deal of confidence in the media.”

Findings from Canadian Social Survey questionnaires found that Canadians were more likely to trust Parliament (32 percent) than journalists.

“My message is simple,” said Henley. “The government cannot save us. We have to save ourselves.”

Poilievre took the Media Party to task on February 12 after telling legacy media reporters they are "bought and paid" for by the Trudeau Liberals.

“We don’t want to give any tax dollars to the mainstream media,” Poilievre told reporters. He pledged to end all media bailouts if elected Prime Minister.

Federal subsidies have turned journalists into a government-paid press reliant on the Prime Minister’s Office, continued the Opposition leader. "Canadian conservatives do not believe in giving tax dollars to media outlets," he said.

On February 13, the Commons heritage committee today commenced hearings on a Bloc Québécois motion to determine if subsidizing the national news sector remains appropriate. “Urgent action must be taken,” it reads.

“The government supports journalism in several ways but supports alone cannot redress the structural decline of the current business model,” added Online News. Media subsidies did not result in any net job creation, it confirmed.

Poilievre told reporters that the national 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.

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