NOT SO FAST: Does the Canadian Media Community’s Stewardship of ‘Democracy’ Really Deserve Subsidies?

Chart of Canada media: jpress.journalism.rynearson.ca

Awakening News Staff Editorial

The following Canadian Press snippet from a Nov. 21st report is a typical example of mainstream media reporting, concerning in this case how the media is expected to survive financially in this age of 24-hour instant news bytes, provided for free online:

“Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the Liberals’ investments will protect the vital role independent news media have in Canadian democracy . . . . The federal government is stepping in to help the struggling Canadian media industry with new tax credits and incentives valued at nearly $600 million over the next five years.”

But it’s not the Awakening News’ intention to simply present that quote and repeat what’s being reported; therefore, let’s look at the bigger picture.

Just for starters, the idea of the government raking in more tax dollars from the population to keep the media afloat—except for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which already is a government civil-service operation—is going to upset a sizable slice of the population. The readers’ comments accompanying the online Canadian Press article quoted above reflect that strong skepticism. Dozens replied that they disagree with throwing a tax-funded lifeline to the media.

Granted, this public backlash alone may not PROVE that the people doubt that the press is “vital” for “democracy,” but it does strongly indicate that the public—given the options they have for easy-access news on their phones and laptops—feels that daily and weekly ink-and-paper publications are perhaps too cost-intensive and therefore too heavy a load.

Technically speaking, the much cheaper medium of cyberspace for digitally transmitting news could to some extent fill the “vital role” of upholding “democracy” without breaking the public bank. But there are indications that the proposed media subsidy of $600 million over five years is also intended to help online news organizations.

Regardless of whether the subsidies bolster the bottom lines of radio, TV, print or online publications (while remembering that radio, TV and print outlets also utilize the Internet to disseminate news) the questions that automatically arise are:

  • Who will be the winners and who will be the losers when it comes to doling out this media money?
  • And what will the criteria be for choosing recipients for the money in the first place?

In that vein, let’s briefly examine the claim of the “vital role independent news media play in democracy.”

The core problem here is that the conventional media are not and cannot be “independent” in the full and true sense of the word. At a fundamental level, most people are aware that our “politically correct” culture, all by itself, creates a social atmosphere in which assertive, truly independent reporting and commentary is not only frowned upon but sometimes prosecuted through murky “hate speech” laws in Canada.

Various subjects, viewpoints and themes are considered so taboo that—even if touchy issues were raised in the most fair, constructive and neutral way possible—they’d soon be censored and the lack of independence in Canada’s media would become unmistakably clear. The situation in the U.S., where freedom of speech is somewhat better, is similar in kind and only differs in degree.

But there are numerous subjects that fall short of alleged “hate speech” but still rarely make the news. These subjects, which arguably need more exposure, include but are not limited to:

  • Taking a deeper look at the Bank of Canada’s relationship to the government and the bank’s policies, in order to ask why the bank’s former status as a public-spirited engine of growth and progress—providing inexpensive credit to create the nation’s health system and the  trans-Canadian highway system from 1938 to 1974—is now a thing of the past when it could be revived to positively reshape the economy with far less debt.
  • Acknowledging the effect of casino-gambling proceeds being funneled through government entities such as Ontario Lottery & Gaming and flowing to the so-called “cash-strapped” media in the form of advertising dollars. With few exceptions, this gravy train has a chilling effect on media reporting about the inherent social consequences of widespread casino gambling and the vast personal debts, bankruptcies, broken marriages, substance abuse, declining consumer spending for local businesses, and the various crimes that gambling can and does cause in varying degrees—drug trafficking, child abuse, drunk driving, sexual abuse inside casinos themselves, embezzling, robbery, the list goes on and on.
  • Acknowledging that “democracy” has long been on the ropes despite $1.1 billion a year in tax dollars already going to the CBC and the multi-millions in casino ad dollars that has been flowing to non-CBC media, both print and broadcast, for a long time. In this realm, Canada’s “independent” mainstream media clouds several issues, most often through silence.

Regarding the last of those three points, when’s the last time you heard in the news that Canadian legislators at the provincial level in Ontario have passed laws which delegate so much authority to civil service agencies that the democratic process is exiled beyond the public’s reach?

For example, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, upon its creation, was given so much final authority that any complaints regarding Ontario Provincial Police policies or actions often “dead-end” in the OIPRD’s offices where all decisions are final and evidently cannot be remedied, reviewed or reversed by the provincial parliament, nor can the Attorney General do anything except tell complainants to “get a lawyer” or call another agency in a classic “run-around.”  The Awakening News has confirmed the existence of this undemocratic process of “legislating beyond the reach of public control” through direct correspondence with the AG and other relevant government authorities about various matters covered in other articles we’ve posted.

So, when democracy is subtly sent to the “gallows” in this figurative sense, and the media are either ignorant of, or enabling of, such constitutional erosion, the idea that the media are an “independent” bulwark of “democracy” becomes highly strained.

That is also the case in Orillia, Ontario where, in recent years, prior to the most recent municipal election, the media did little or nothing to prevent  or question closed-door City Council meetings in which major decisions were nurtured or made, concerning the sale of the city’s electrical distribution system, the status of the costly and long-delayed Recreation Centre construction on an old foundry site, etc.

Thus, it could be said that democracy ends when doors close and bureaucracies make untouchable decisions. If that’s the case, and it certainly appears to be, then we might want to ask whether to open or close our wallets when the government seeks media support.

Editor’s note & background: We’re told the full details of the media-subsidy program won’t be available until the next federal budget, after the government receives advice from an independent panel from the journalism community. While we wonder how that panel is being chosen, whether the process will be fair, and who will participate on it, the stated goal is for the taxpayers to fund the program but politicians reportedly would have no role in deciding what constitutes a media outlet or who would be eligible. The program will likely cost the federal treasury about $45 million in 2019-20, rising to $165 million in 2023-24. It’s expected that most of the expense will be for a new tax credit for media organizations to support the labour costs of producing original news content, but finance officials said specific amounts won’t be available until eligibility details have been decided.

“That way, the government hopes to avoid the appearance of conflict between a free press and government influence,” The Canadian Press noted.

Furthermore, a “temporary tax credit” is being considered for subscribers to digital news sites. “Plus,” The Canadian Press added, “the government will allow non-profit media organizations to apply for charitable status, enabling them to seek donations for which they could issue tax receipts. Non-profit media with such status would also be eligible to receive funding from other registered charities.”