Trudeau government aims to silence independent media, looks at forcing news outlets to get government licences

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault suggested that news outlets in Canada should be licenced and regulated.

“If you’re a distributor of content in Canada and obviously if you’re a very small media organization the requirement probably wouldn’t be the same if you’re Facebook, or Google. There would have to be some proportionality embedded into this,” Guilbeault told Evan Solomon in an interview on CTV’s Question Period.

“We would ask that they have a licence, yes,” Guilbeault added.

Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne responded, saying, “No, a free democracy does not require the press to obtain a government licence.” 

Last week a panel of broadcast experts tabled 97 proposal in a report called the “Canada’s Communications Future: Time To Act” for the Trudeau government. They recommended that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) or another regulatory body control licensing of all companies creating “audio, audiovisual, and alphanumeric news content.”

Trudeau government aims to silence independent media, looks at forcing news outlets to get government licences. @albertapress Click To Tweet

In December the Liberal government announced it’s starting its $600 million taxpayer bailout of Canadain media.

In the 2019 budget, the government introduced three tax measures to payout Canadian journalism organizations that produce original news content.

The Conservative government have long accused the Liberals of trying to co-opt the media and setting a dangerous precedent. Ethically, they said the appearance of corruption and favoritism should be avoided because the appearance of a conflict of interest crumbles the public’s trust in the media.

The Harper Conservatives, when in power, wanted to cut CBC’s funding to $1 billion a year.

There have also been fears of the Trudeau bailout affecting media coverage and news outlets tailoring their coverage to suit the panel set up to decide which media outlets qualify for the taxpayer-funded bailout. 

Calgary-based freelance journalist Jen Gerson, wrote in the Washington Post in November 2018 that the bailout raises a serious existential concern: Who decides which media organizations qualify?

“In a country with a population the size of California, there simply aren’t that many professional full-time journalists,” said Gerson.”Most of us know each other within one or two degrees; we are every bit as petty, insular and desperate as such a class can possibly be. Any ‘independent’ panel will still be staffed by a collection of unimpeachable, high-minded idealists who will also be a collection of neuroses, personal grudges and professional ideologies. For how much longer will I be able to take the risk of offending my colleagues with my work?”

Gerson, who is is a contributing editor at Maclean’s, the journalist-in-residence at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law and co-host of the Canadian politics podcast OPPO, went on to say that the Canadian media is a dwindling industry dominated by a few concentrated media corporations that are always on the verge of bankruptcy. 

“How this system is expected to strengthen press freedom, I have no idea,” added Gerson.

“From what I can see, it will only lead to a national professional standard or credential that will inevitably centralize control over the media in a country where the media is already profoundly consolidated.”

She added, “There is no free market when what counts as journalism is dictated by a professional standards committee responsible for doling out cash.”

An opportunity for stakeholder engagement with the CRA is planned in the coming weeks so journalism organizations and the taxpayers may ask questions or comment. To sign up, email CONSULTG@cra-arc.gc.ca.

The three tax measures for Canadian media outlets are: 

1) Canadian journalism labour tax credit, a 25 per cent refundable tax credit on salaries or wages payable in respect of an eligible newsroom employee for periods beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2019; 

2) Digital news subscription tax credit, a 15 per cent non-refundable personal income tax credit for digital news subscription costs paid by an individual to a qualified Canadian journalism organization, which applies to qualifying amounts paid after 2019 and before 2025; and 

3) A new type of qualified donee called a registered journalism organization for not-for-profit journalism organizations, which is in effect as of Jan. 1, 2020.

The Liberal Government proposed tax measures to support journalism in Budget 2019 and the legislation received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019.

George Brownwell / Alberta Press

george@albertapressleader.ca

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