The financial rescue package for local journalism contained in today’s federal budget was seen as a good first step in easing the crisis in the news industry.
The government said it would provide $50 million over five years to one or more independent organizations to support civic journalism in underserved communities.
“We’re very pleased that the government has taken this step,” CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon said.
“It won’t solve the woes plaguing the news industry, but it’s a good start. We will continue to push for action on foreign digital advertising and concentration of news media ownership.”
He also saluted Ottawa for opening the door to philanthropic financing of non-profit news organizations. That was one of the recommendations of the Public Policy Forum’s “Shattered Mirror” report on the news industry the union endorsed just over a year ago.
“We at CWA Canada have been urging this for some time in order to encourage local, non-profit ownership of newspapers rather than the destructive, predatory hedge fund disaster that is Postmedia,” said O’Hanlon.
Local news coverage has been decimated across the country in recent years as Postmedia and other companies have slashed jobs and closed publications.
Postmedia continues to award millions in bonuses to top executives even as it seeks major concessions from unionized staff.
Workers at three Postmedia dailies who are represented by CWA Canada have given their bargaining teams strong strike mandates as they attempt to reach new collective agreements. There was a resumption of contract talks at The Ottawa Citizen/Sun on Monday, with more on the horizon in Montreal at The Gazette and at the Windsor Star.
In a letter last summer to Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, O’Hanlon said the union “supports relief for the news media industry, but cautions that there must be a mechanism to ensure that it goes toward creating front-line journalism jobs and increasing quality civic journalism.”
CWA Canada has also called for changes to the Income Tax Act to remove tax deductions on foreign digital advertising, to favour the placement of ads on Canadian websites.
“Almost 90 per cent of Canadian digital advertising dollars go to foreign-owned companies like Google and Facebook that have an unfair tax advantage and that simply must change,” O’Hanlon said. “Otherwise Canadian media companies will continue to struggle and fight amongst themselves over the digital ad crumbs.”