For the media in Canada and around the world, the internet and social media have changed everything.
The way the news is presented has changed. The way it is consumed has changed. The way it is paid for has changed, too often to the detriment of traditional media.
What has not changed is the central role media plays in our society as a vital part of our democratic system — and that’s why media companies and workers, Unifor included, have for years pushed the federal government to find a way to support local news.
The recent federal financial update from the federal government contained some good news for the future of local media in Canada. They include such measures as tax credits for expanding local news, charitable status for non-profit news and a 15-per-cent refund on digital news subscriptions.
Such moves will help ensure a future for newsrooms across the country and spur the development of new media outlets online, telling local stories that are the fabric of our society, and covering important local news to help ensure an informed voting public.
This is the sort of work that makes journalism the bedrock of our democracy. A functioning democracy, after all, relies on informed voters making a responsible choice about who their next leader should be.
Conservative commentators, however, seem to just see some sort of conspiracy in the announcement of support for journalism. This is not just unacceptable, it is frightening.
There is often a perception among conservatives of Liberal bias in the media. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has openly accused the media of showing bias as he ramps up towards next year’s federal election, as have some of his MPs.
When a Bloomberg journalist wrote about a statement by the Business Council of Canada about carbon pricing — a business reporter writing about a pro-business group — Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre accused him of being a “Liberal reporter” for sharing the Business Council of Canada’s statement praising details of the government’s carbon pricing plan.
This came shortly after Conservative MP Mark Gerretsen was forced to back down after accusing an award-winning Global reporter of “fake news” — a favourite trope of U.S. President Donald Trump — when he accurately reported on the deficit.
Even former journalist Peter Kent, now wallowing in the backbenches as a Conservative MP, undermined members of his former profession when he implied the Liberal government was trying to buy off journalists with government support.
Kent even took a swipe at me over a tongue-in-cheek meme on social media and my efforts to build a strong foundation for journalism in Canada, which is fine, but he crossed a line when he maligned the integrity of journalists in Canada.
Maybe such conspiracy theories play well to the Conservative base, but the numbers simply don’t add up. A study after the last federal election, for instance, found that most newspapers that supported a candidate in Canada overwhelmingly endorsed Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in the last two elections — 95 per cent in 2011, and 71 per cent in 2015.
So much for a Liberal bias.
The fact is, the new supports for journalism in the recent federal financial update are structured in such a way that they would have no impact on the day-to-day decisions of any working journalist.
No journalist scrambling to meet the next deadline to get a story online, on air or in the paper is worrying about tax credits, charitable status or subscription refunds.
Their priority, rightly, is making sure they have all the facts, that the facts are correct, and that they are presented with as much balance as possible.
It’s an enormous job, and one I have a great deal of respect for. I talk to reporters almost every day. They ask tough questions, and demand straight answers — as they should. Without them, our democracy would be weakened.
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