Statement from Edward Greenspon
President and CEO, Public Policy Forum
January 26, 2017
Public Policy Forum
130 Albert Street, Suite 1400
Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1P 5G4
Good morning. I’m Edward Greenspon, President of the Public Policy Forum.
Today, we are releasing The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age.
It shows a news industry in deep crisis and our democracy at a crossroads when it comes to the vital civic function of news. We are experiencing:
- The economic degradation of traditional media, which still produces most of the news, is deepening;
- The development of digital-only news providers, who might be called on to fill the gap, is slow and uncertain;
- Audience and attention fragmenting to the point of harming the shared base of knowledge and understanding on which a nation depends for its commonweal;
- Digital news revenues going disproportionately to distributors over producers, particularly to a pair of global giants that employ no reporters and shun the responsibilities of publishers;
- The streams of news that informs citizens becoming polluted by fake news laced with lies, hate and even possible manipulations by foreign powers
I’m joined today by a group of individuals who contributed facts and insights throughout the process of our inquiries.
- Allan Gregg, Principal at Earnscliffe Group
- Chris Dornan, Associate Professor of Journalism & Communications at Carleton University
- Colette Brin, Professeure Titulaire at Universite Laval
- Taylor Owen, Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at University of British Columbia
- Elizabeth Dubois, Assistant Professor of Communications at University of Ottawa
I want to thank them and the approximately 300 other people who contributed to our process.
Make no mistake: the situation for journalism and therefore democracy is getting worse. Double-digit declines in ad revenues have spread from daily newspapers to community newspapers to local and conventional television news. Digital ad revenues for newspapers are stuck at the same levels as 10 years ago and fewer than 10 percent of Canadians say they are willing to pay for digital news.
In a recent three-month sampling, 82.4% of digital advertising in Canada was served up by just two companies, Facebook and Google.
The Public Policy Forum estimates that about one third of journalism jobs have been lost in the past six years. Newspaper closures in that period have touched the ridings of more than 200 Members of Parliament.
We are crossing into uncharted territory of public institutions and elected officials going inadequately reported; courthouses with no journalists to see that justice is being done; communities losing the social glue of local news.
There is, of course, a bright side to the technological revolution sweeping the news media. The Internet enables more people than ever before to communicate their knowledge and ideas, including those with marginalized voices. We see blogs, social media postings, podcasts and specialty sites disseminating expertise over a broad range of interests. Here in Ottawa, we have access to a site devoted to political affairs. We see movements like blacklivesmatter come to life on the Internet.
Never have Canadians had access to more information. But the capacity to produce original news, particularly of a civic nature, is severely constrained by the unsolved riddle of how to finance the cost of journalism in the digital age.
Fewer reporters and more platforms means less time is spent hunting and gathering news and more processing it. While fake news takes just moments to make up, real news often requires days, weeks and even months of digging and verifying. Our exclusive public opinion research shows that Canadians feel a deep reverence for the role journalism plays in democracy. In fact, they consider this so important that they are fearful fixing the problem could make journalists reliant on government.
We took this to heart in crafting our recommendations to support the civic function of journalism while keeping government distant from discretionary policy levers.
There is nothing new or novel about Canada looking to public policy to ensure there is journalism by Canadians for Canadians. A postal subsidy to ensure wide distribution of news predates Confederation. In the 1930s, public policy created the CBC. In the 1950s, it extended public broadcasting to television. In the 1960s, Parliament adopted Section 19 of the Income Tax Act to give preference to advertising in Canadian media; in the 1970s, it was applied to broadcast and in the 1990s, it was amended for magazines.
We make 12 recommendations today to address a mirror so shattered as to diminish the news media’s capacity to reflect Canadians back to themselves. The recommendations aim to ensure our democracy is well served by a strong, diverse, independent and trustworthy news media firmly planted in the digital age.
We recommend reforms that would put advertising on the Internet on the same footing as print or broadcast. At the same time, the proposed changes would generate ongoing revenue for what we call The Future of Journalism & Democracy Fund. The idea, as with the Cable Fund, is that companies that gain from selling advertising in Canada should contribute to the creation of Canadian news content.
The combination of a dedicated source of money and a fund more independent than the academic granting councils will minimize the influence of governments on both ends of the equation.
We also call on governments to start collecting sales tax on foreign companies selling digital subscriptions and advertising, as they do from Canadian media. This digital-age anomaly has already been addressed by many countries around the world.
One of many answers to who will finance journalism is philanthropy. But the rules in Canada are either unhelpful or unclear to charitable support. We call for reforms so philanthropists can support journalism, as is common in many countries.
We also recommend several new initiatives to provide reliable and trustworthy news in situations where the civic news deficit is at its most acute. In local news, we recommend the creation of a second, non-profit service for Canadian Press that would put 60 to 80 reporters in the field in places that are not being covered right now. A similar kind of service under the auspices of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network would provide Indigenous-led reporting of Indigenous governments. These two organizations with their high standards provide part of a response to the fake news problem. Another initiative would establish a legal advisory service to help smaller news organizations engage in investigative journalism.
Solutions to the challenges posed by the shattered mirror are not possible without an even greater role for the CBC and Radio Canada. Canadians continue to depend on them for reliable, trustworthy news that informs our civic life. We make three recommendations: The first is to put greater emphasis on the ‘Inform’ part of CBC’s mandate, given the weakened state of news. The second is to get CBC out of digital advertising so as to remove any distractions from the pursuit of serious news. The third is to begin really remaking the CBC for the digital age by putting its news content under a Creative Commons licence, starting with not-for-profit news organizations. This open-sourced approach would go a long way toward transforming the CBC from the public broadcasting model of past to a universal public provider of quality journalism – an important antidote to fake news.
Ladies and gentlemen, Canada’s news media is in the midst of an existential crisis. So therefore is our democracy. Our greatest hope is that The Shattered Mirror will stimulate a necessary debate and ultimately necessary actions.