Patrick Doyle The Canadian Press Federal Minister of Heritage, Pascale St-Onge < p>The collapse of media revenues is closely linked to the erosion of public confidence in them, believes the federal Minister of Heritage, Pascale St-Onge. In an interview with Le Devoir, she agrees that the precariousness of newsrooms “does not help that journalists have the time and latitude to dig into investigations and do the quality work that all the world expects.”
A survey published by the firm Léger last month indicated that 42% of Quebecers have little or no trust in the media. It is even 44% of the Quebec population who think that traditional media manipulate the information they broadcast.
The federal elected official was reacting to comments made last weekend by the Quebec minister of Culture, Mathieu Lacombe, on the sidelines of the congress of the Professional Federation of Journalists of Quebec (FPJQ) in Saint-Sauveur. The former news presenter then called on journalists to be more self-critical and “ask themselves what they can do to regain the trust of citizens.”
“There are financial difficulties which do not help. But this relationship of trust is the basis of the success of the media. […] We must continue to have the highest standards of quality, continue to focus on a relationship of trust with the population and never take it for granted,” argues Minister St-Onge.
Financial measures to respond to the media crisis could be found in Ottawa's economic update, scheduled for next Tuesday. According to information from Devoir, the federal government is studying the possibility of increasing the refundable tax credit on the payroll of newsroom employees from 25% to 35%.
Minister St-Onge did not want to move forward on future tax measures, but “obviously” hopes that his colleague in Finance, Chrystia Freeland, plans an increase in this tax credit. The federal government would thus match that of the Quebec government.
When she herself was president of the National Federation of Communications and Culture (FNCC–CSN) — which brings together 6,000 people working in fields related to the media — Ms. St-Onge called for this increase in the tax credit for the journalistic workforce. “[It is] a tax measure which was, in our opinion, the best way to act quickly to give a chance to the level of liquidity and the level of profitability of the financial health of companies, without there being government intervention. »
The minister also believes that this is still the preferred avenue to protect the independence of the media.
Expectations from the community
The current president of the FNCC–CSN, Annick Charette, also hopes that the federal government will match Quebec by raising its payroll tax credit to 35%. But the eligibility criteria should also be broadened to include electronic media (radio and television) in the program, which is currently reserved for the written press, she believes.
“Radio and television have just hit the wall that the written press hit about six years ago, namely that advertising revenues no longer cover their expenses and they are in deficit. We saw it with [the cuts to] TVA,” laments the president in an interview with Devoir.
TVA Group announced the layoff of 547 employees, or 31% of its workforce, in early November. In the wake of these cuts, President Annick Charette and the Bloc Québécois had requested an emergency fund of $50 million to help the media “without further delay.” “We have lost Métro Média, the CN2i dailies must eliminate positions in all newsrooms, TVA is cutting a third of its staff: we need a special fund that will be able to compensate for emergencies, so that stop the massacre,” underlines Ms. Charette.
From 2008 to 2021, 450 media outlets closed their books in Canada, due to lack of sufficient revenue to maintain their activities.
450 This is the number of media outlets that closed their books between 2008 and 2021 in Canada, due to lack of revenue sufficient to maintain their activities.
Pascale St-Onge has not closed the door to the creation of such an emergency fund and still claims to evaluate all the proposals on the table. However, she insists that one should not simply “improvise a program”. “The [aid measures adopted] must allow the independence of the media and as little subjectivity as possible in distributing sums. It’s still a significant challenge,” she underlines.
Waiting for Google
What miracle could save the Canadian media ecosystem? The Minister of Heritage is still banking on the long-term benefits of the new Online News Act (better known by its bill identifier, C-18). “If there was an easy solution, we would definitely have put it in place by now. I believe that we must also give time for the Online News Act to come into full force in December and see the results,” she said.
C-18 will take effect on December 19, when Meta and Google must begin compensating Canadian media. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has already blocked the sharing of journalistic content on its platforms in order to avoid the provisions of this law. Google threatens to do the same if the federal government does not modify its draft regulations.
Ottawa wants to extract approximately $172 million per year from Google, compared to approximately $62 million from Facebook, in order to finance the journalism in the country.
Minister St-Onge continues her negotiations with Google in order to find common ground, but she is not giving up: the platforms must pay their fair share. “These new players must be part of our system,” she emphasizes, despite the rebuffs delivered by Meta and Google.
During the most recent FPJQ congress, the Quebec Minister of Culture, Mathieu Lacombe, had invited his federal colleague to better collaborate in their search for solutions to the problems which overwhelm Quebec journalism – an impossible quest if their two levels of government work in silos, he argued. Working sessions between Quebec and Ottawa are planned to continue discussions to this effect, says Ms. St-Onge.