Journalists question Liberal government's $600M media bailout plan

The federal government's plan to support Canadian journalism is being questioned by some Canadian journalists.

'You have people who are dead set against the government giving any kind of money to media'

Unifor National President Jerry Dias has described himself as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's worst nightmare. Some question whether his union should sit on the government's expert panel advising the federal government on which media outlets should be eligible for federal government assistance. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

The federal government's plan to support Canadian journalism is being questioned by some Canadian journalists.

The Liberals have set aside nearly $600 million over the next five years for tax credits and other incentives aimed at propping up struggling news outlets.

Ottawa this week announced an independent panel that will recommend the news operations that will be eligible for assistance under the plan.

As head of the Canadian Association of Journalists, Karyn Pugliese has heard all sorts of opinions about whether news outlets should accept a government handout.

"You have people who are dead set against the government giving any kind of money to media. We've got some people who feel that something is necessary because it's important to keep news going," Pugliese said.

The CAJ is one of eight groups invited by Ottawa to name representatives to an expert panel tasked with recommending media organizations eligible for federal assistance.

The other seven associations are: News Media Canada, the Association de la presse francophone, the Quebec Community Newspaper Association, the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, Unifor and the Fédération nationale des communications.

Pugliese says the CAJ isn't sure how to respond to Ottawa's invitation.

"We've got a lot of questions that we want to put back to government. But we're taking it as an invitation, right now, not as a done deal that we're going to participate. We want to get some answers to some questions first and find out what we're getting involved with," she said.

Questioning Unifor's involvement

Unifor represents journalists, along with workers in other sectors like auto manufacturing, forestry and mining. The union has made no secret of its politics.

Unifor's national executive has even described itself on Twitter as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's "worst nightmare." That's raising questions about its ability to remain objective in its role on the government's expert panel on media funding.

Unifor spokesperson Howard Law said the union still has every right to take part in the process.

"Unifor has represented journalists for decades and we have, you know, a great deal to offer," he said.

But some journalists are still uneasy. Russell Wangersky, a top columnist at the St. John's Telegram, has an article coming out this week criticizing the media bailout plan.

In his fall fiscal update, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced some details of the $600 million program to help Canada's news media organizations — many of which have been struggling with diminishing revenue and falling readership numbers.

Under the program, news media organizations are eligible for refundable tax credits, a non-refundable tax credit for subscriptions to Canadian digital news and access to charitable tax incentives for not-for-profit journalism.

The government may want to help Canadian media with the plan, Wangersky said, but it may end up hurting it. 

"I just don't think it's the right solution. I think it carries the potential to do more harm to news agencies' credibility than it does to actually do anything more than protect existing systems in the short term," he told CBC.

The government says there's nothing political about its plan — that it only wants to ensure Canadians have access to accurate, relevant news.

Federal Conservatives have long criticized the government's plan, saying the Liberals are trying to co-opt Canada's news media.


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