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At what point should the government be subsidizing journalism? I would say at no point but that ship left the harbour a long time ago. It started innocently enough, at the beginning of the last century, when broadcasting first came on the scene. The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) was set up, regulated and controlled by the government. At that time, it was the only game in town so the government paid for it.
Well times have changed, but subsidizing the CBC has not. This year they will receive $675 million of taxpayer’s money, an increase of $150 million. Now I know the CBC is a sacred cow to many people and there is certainly a case to be made for Canada’s cultural and artistic interests to be protected and promoted. CBC Radio is particularly good at this. However, the CBC is no longer a monopoly and over the years the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, have required applicants, as a condition of licensing, to provide a “Promise of Performance” to include a commitment to promoting Canadian culture through programming, music and supporting Canadian talent. They do this on their own dime.
While I understand a limited amount of public subsidy for CBC Radio, I do not feel the same way about CBC television and I certainly believe that any news or public affairs functions of the CBC should NOT be financially supported by government. If nothing else, it is a conflict of interest. Almost blasphemy. I know, but that is how I see it.
I still remember Peter Mansbridge, the anchor of CBC National News, practically salivating over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he obtained the first exclusive interview after Trudeau’s election. Even the P.M. appeared embarrassed. And it confirmed to me what many people have known all along: that as a news outlet, the CBC is left of centre. A Conservative scandal in the Senate is likely to be of much more interest to them than Liberal corruption in the same place, even though there is much evidence of that. The CBC is soft on a Liberal government. Historically, it has gotten more from them than from a Tory government. Simply put, one party feeds them well, the other less so. They will not bite the hand that feeds them.
The problem is not that the CBC leans left. Many media outlets have their politics. The problem is that the CBC is subsidized by the government. They should not be. It is a conflict of interest for both parties. The CBC should call the shots as they see them, with prejudice, or otherwise. But they should do it on their own dime, without subsidy, just like everyone else in the business.
Now, of course, there are others wanting on the bandwagon. Recently, there was a debate, part of a series, ‘Great Canadian Debates’, sponsored by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. The topic of this particular debate was, ‘Should Government act to save journalism?’ Believe it or not, the federal government is studying how to support the news business!
One of the participants in this debate was John Honderich, Chairman of Torstar, which owns The Toronto Star, a number of other daily newspapers, Metroland (which owns the Huntsville Forester and dozens of other community newspapers) and, at least until recently, Harlequin Romances! And guess what? He was asking the government for a hand out! He made the case that “newspapers are vital for a democratic society, arguing that because of the industry’s badly broken business model, government action is necessary to prevent their disappearance.” What arrogance. Would the government bail out any other private entity because they had a badly broken business model? Besides which, journalism is not disappearing it is simply moving to the internet where the people are. Print media just did not see it coming.
At the Macdonald-Laurier debate, Honderich also stated that traditional media (read print journalism) “remains best positioned to hold governments to account, pursue deep investigations in the public interest and give voice to the less powerful.” And yet he is asking the same government(s) to give them a handout? Doesn’t that become a bit of a conflict? There goes impartiality down the toilet, if, of course, it was ever there in the first place.
According to an article in the Toronto Star in February, the Public Policy Forum released a report that outlined a decline in advertising revenue among Canadian media organizations. (This is particularly true for print media.) It recommended a series of tax changes and the creation of a $400 million fund by the government to support the industry. And the government is studying this! It’s scary stuff folks!
It is true that print journalism is in trouble. They have not moved with the times. But it is arrogant to suggest that they alone are the backbone of effective journalism. They have been, but they are not now and that is the simple truth.
Journalism is not dead; far from it. New Media will not be ‘new’ for long. It is becoming the status quo where information is gathered, investigated, disseminated and debated in fast time. The opportunities for creative journalism are endless. ‘Traditional Media’, as Mr. Honderich calls it, needs to go with the flow. And they need to do it without taxpayer bailouts, just as everyone else has, except of course the CBC!
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