Government and big tech funding newsrooms in Canada raises concerns

Government and big tech funding newsrooms in Canada raises concerns

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We have a news ecosystem in Canada in which most of the journalists could soon have at least half of their pay depend on the government, Google and any other offshore money that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) might come up with, deplored journalist and former CRTC regulator Peter Menzies during a Canadian Heritage committee session yesterday.

“Given that the two most powerful entities in our society are governments and large data-vacuuming tech companies,” he said, “this is not where we want to be.”

The outcome, he continued, would be that the public’s faith and trust in journalism will continue to wither as news coverage will inevitably be influenced and compromised.

Last week, Google announced that it has finally struck a deal with the government which will see the goliath contribute C$100 million in financial support annually for a wide range of news businesses across the country.

The government said that Google will allocate the C$100 million contribution based on the number of full-time journalists that each news office employs. This means, one committee member noted, public broadcaster CBC, which employs 1/3 of all the journalists in the country, would stand to gain C$33 million.

CBC was “very pleased”, and welcomed the agreement between the Government of Canada and Google.

The public broadcaster already receives C$1.4 billion in taxpayer money, and has access to another $400 million through advertising revenue, Menzies said.

“That money is intended to allow the CBC to achieve its public mandate. And no doubt much of it does,” said Menzies. “But it also allows the CBC to out-resource companies like the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Postmedia, Le Devoir, and dozens of smaller outlets.”

Plus, newsrooms are shrinking, said Julie Kotsis, media representative, national executive board of private sector trade union Unifor. 

In 2009, Unifor memberships at the Toronto Star totaled 610. It was down to 178 in 2022, she noted.

Torstar, which publishes the Toronto Star, referred to the government’s deal with Google as a “disappointment.”

Torstar owner and publisher Jordan Bitove said, “For three years, we have been engaged in a public process to ensure that C-18 would level the financial playing field between American tech giants and Canadian publishers. Yesterday’s announcement from the federal government about their proposed Google deal is disappointing.”

The Heritage Committee also questioned whether it is reasonable for the government to heavily subsidize Meta through things like advertisements at a time when the company has been accused of fostering online hate, and has refused to comply with Canadian law.

Courtney Radsch, director at the Center for Journalism and Liberty, Open Markets Institute, said that she is shocked that the government subsidizes Meta, a company, she said, “that has proven to be so detrimental to our public health, to the health of our democracies, to mental health, to adolescents’ health, and which has accumulated so much power through its vertical and horizontal monopolies that it can bypass democratic oversight.”

The Open Markets Institute also recently released a paper, Radsch said, that revealed that Unifor media workers get harassed, primarily through messages on Facebook and X/Twitter, by members of the public who are told repeatedly that legislation will kill the free and open internet.

Mark Hollin, national representative, Unifor, stressed that media workers who are victims of harassment should be given support, but preventing the harassment from happening in the first place is critical.

“Falling back on the principle of platform accountability is the number one way to make sure that the tech giants aren’t able just to sit back and say, ‘hey, it’s not us. We’re just this friendly, passive entity. We’re just a friendly neighborhood bulletin board.’ We just know that that’s not true. It’s just factually untrue.”

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