The publishers of newspapers in Quebec and Canada met with Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly several times over the past year to increase awareness of our industry’s struggles. They participated in good faith in the “conversations” that served as a prelude to the drafting of the cultural policy announced Thursday, and in the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage hearings regarding access to local news, the report of which was rejected by the minister upon receipt.
The measures needed to support the news media are the subject of an unprecedented consensus on the part of publishers of daily and weekly newspapers, French- and English-language alike. Joly cannot be unaware of our sense of urgency. Nevertheless, she has chosen to ignore us.
The Coalition for the Sustainability of News Media in Quebec, which includes nearly 180 publishers and reaches 6.5 million readers each week, regards Joly’s revamped cultural policy as sending us back to the starting point of the “conversation.” Clearly, we have not succeeded in convincing her of our importance to the economy, to the health of our democracy and to the diversity of expression in Quebec and Canada, since there is nothing, absolutely nothing, for us in her cultural policy.
The contrast between Joly and her Quebec counterpart, Luc Fortin, is striking. In Quebec’s cultural policy, the Minister of Culture and Communications acknowledges that local, regional and provincial media play a major role in the promotion and awareness of the Quebec cultural sector. The Couillard government has put its words into action by allocating, in its latest budget, $24 million over five years for measures supporting a digital shift for Quebec media plus $12 million to absorb recycling tax costs. Despite the underfunding of the program, Fortin deserves credit for acting.
All is not bleak in the Creative Canada Policy Framework (the official title given by the federal government). The coalition has high hopes for the Copyright Act revision, so long as the reform helps us better protect and monetize our content in the digital world. We must put an end to the pirating of our content without compensation by aggregators abroad.
The policy opens the door to “the exploration of a new approach for the information sector.”
“Our approach will be guided by our conviction that our healthy democracy rests on dependable journalistic content and that all governmental measures must respect the independence principle,” the reference document says.
The Coalition for the Sustainability of News Media in Quebec shares these concerns, and has already put forth its suggestions, supported nationwide by publishers and by unions representing journalists. The list of measures includes:
A payroll tax credit: For there to be journalism, there have to be journalists. And quality journalism comes at a price. A tax credit based on payroll would help sustain news production. The use of quantitative criteria (number of journalists on staff, original content production expenses) would help avoid state interference in journalistic affairs.
A tax credit or a program aimed at supporting a digital shift: The Canada Periodical Fund could be expanded. It is not enough to help magazines, community newspapers and periodicals. Daily and weekly newspapers require access to the fund to progress with their digital shift.
A policy that encourages advertising placement in our own media: Our newspapers and weeklies do not have problems with content or audiences. They have revenue problems. We produce more content than ever and reach more citizens than ever thanks to digital platforms. Two groups, Google and Facebook, pocket two thirds of digital ad revenues, leaving only a fraction for our newspapers and weeklies. Worse still, Ottawa participates in the erosion of our revenues by favouring these two foreign companies in its own advertising placement strategies. Ten years ago, federal ministries and agencies were injecting $20 million in Canadian newspapers, versus a half-million today. While our digital presence is growing, our share of government advertising is shrinking. We want the pendulum to swing back in our direction.
GST exemption for print media: Why should Le Devoir, the Montreal Gazette and the newspapers belonging to Capitales Médias pay GST on the sale of the printed editions when the Netflix of this world dictate the fiscal regulations that will apply to them? The simple fact that we have to ask the question is answer enough. The two-tiered tax system endorsed with the cultural policy is unfair and insulting for Canadian content producers, whether they come from the cultural or media sector.
Joly expressed a concern about subsidizing businesses that have faulty business models. This is not at all the case. This year, at the North American publishers’ annual gala, the three finalists in the best mobile news service category were La Presse +, Le Devoir mobile and J5 (Journal de Montréal). We try by all means possible to keep journalists’ jobs and to invest in the development of digital platforms while resources are shrinking.
The business model is no secret. The largest advertising networks in media history, Google and Facebook, dictate the rules of the game, in a context of deep injustice endorsed by the cultural policy.
We are asking Joly to engage in a serious and constructive dialogue with our industry. Meanwhile, she is asking us to be patient while she rolls out the red carpet for the giants of Silicon Valley.
The Coalition for the Sustainability of News Media in Quebec: Benoit Chartier, president, Hebdos Québec; Lucinda Chodan, editor in chief, Montreal Gazette; Claude Gagnon, president and director general, Groupe Capitales Médias; Donald LeCavalier, senior vice-president, finance, TC Transcontinental; Brian Myles, director, Le Devoir; Richard Tardif, general director, Quebec Community Newspaper Association.