Right in the centre - I am skeptical


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

The federal Liberal government has been studying newspapers for several years. A couple of years ago, I was invited to fly to Ottawa to testify before the parliamentary Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. At that time, I made the case that we need reliable local newspapers to cover local news, sports and political issues. The whole fake news idea was gaining steam at that time and has since become a full-blown epidemic. There are now many “news” outlets that spread falsehoods with pride and others that do it by way of sloppy reporting.

The Committee chair, Liberal MP Hedy Fry, quoted me in the proceedings and in the committee report. My suggestion was that governments could help newspapers by simply not sending so much of their ad dollars to Facebook and Google. Instead, they could buy ads to inform citizens about government programs and policies by way of ads in the newspapers.

Instead, the committee suggested spending $50 million on a support program which was shot down by Prime Minister Trudeau. He and his buddies have now come up with an almost $600 million program over five years. There are three phases to the program.

Access to Charitable Tax Incentives-the government will introduce a new category of qualified donee for non-profit journalism organizations that produce a wide variety of news and information of interest to Canadians. As qualified donees, eligible non-profit journalism organizations would be able to issue official donations receipts and organizations would also be eligible to receive funding from registered charities.

Refundable Tax Credit to Support News Organizations-the government will introduce a new refundable tax credit for qualifying news organizations. The new measure will aim to support Canadian news organizations that produce a wide variety of news and information of interest to Canadians.

Non-Refundable Tax Credit for Subscriptions-to support Canadian digital news media organizations in achieving a more financially sustainable business model, the government intends to introduce a new temporary, non-refundable 15 per cent tax credit for qualifying subscribers of eligible digital news media.

Not sure what all this means yet and we will certainly be watching for more details.

The chairman of News Media Canada is Bob Cox, who is also publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press. He has worked hard to get this program approved, but I am skeptical on a number of fronts.

•On principle. Governments should not be subsidizing newspapers; we are supposed to be a free press, not a government puppet. That said, the government has pumped over a billion a year forever, it seems, into the CBC.

•On costs and bureaucracy. We can be fairly certain that a lot of the money will get wasted on bureaucracy.

•On the methodology of who gets paid. The panel that decides that will be suspect for sure.

•On how little will get to local business and how much will drift off to pay off Post Media and Glacier’s shareholders.

Like I say, I am skeptical, but I also have to be careful and make sure we allow for other opinions here. I am currently president of MCNA and there are member papers who may well support this program. That is why at the end of most of my columns, there is the declaration about this being my opinion and mine alone. I just find it difficult to believe that anything good can come of this.

Everybody knows that newspapers live and die by advertising, so whether it be local groups and organizations, businesses or any level of government, just buy ads.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.