Show us the money, media urges Ottawa

Journalists, publishers, union demand action on Ottawa’s promised $50M

  • Toronto Star

  • 15 Nov 2018

  • TONDA MACCHARLES

Unifor president Jerry Dias says local newspaper funding needs change.

OTTAWA— Nearly nine months after the federal Liberal government announced it would spend $50 million over five years to boost “local journalism in underserved communities,” not one dollar has gone out the door. Nor has the government outlined how it intends to facilitate charitable support for professional “non-profit journalism and local news.” Nor how it intends to support “the transition to digital media.”

All were promises made in last year’s budget and repeated in the heritage minister’s mandate letter.

Yet despite lots of talk and consultation, there has been little action.

It’s baffling to those in the journalism industry, newspaper publishers and the country’s largest media union, especially with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just last week emphasizing his government’s commitment to supporting a vibrant free press to hold government and their institutions to account.

Jerry Dias, president of Unifor which represents nearly 12,000 workers in the media sector, says the time for talk is past, and it’s time for action.

“You’re not going to all of a sudden change people’s habits to buying print media, I get all that,” Dias said. “But we’ve closed over 200 local newspapers in Canada so there has to be a mechanism in which to fund them. There needs to be some dramatic changes.”

A 2017 report by the Public Policy Forum said from 2008 to 2016, 169 local media outlets closed and another 54 reduced services, a trend that accelerated in 2017, most notably with the sale and purchase of assets by Torstar and Postmedia. A subsequent followup report in September shows the quality of news coverage across the country has also declined.

Yet Dias said what the federal government announced in last February’s budget amounted to “nickels and dimes.”

News Media Canada, which represents 800 daily, weekly and community newspapers, urged Ottawa to provide $350 million for a Canadian Journalism Fund, and was disappointed with last year’s announcement of $10 million a year, for five years.

Simon Ross, spokesperson for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, said Ottawa aims “to quickly implement” the measures promised last winter.