Thank you, Madam Chair. Good morning everyone.
My name is Pascale St-Onge, and I am the president of the Fédération nationale des communications, or FNC. I am joined today by my colleague, Pierre Roger, corporate secretary and treasurer of the FNC. We appreciate the opportunity to speak to the committee about news and information and, more specifically, about the future of regional news.
The FNC is a labour organization affiliated with the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, or CSN. The FNC represents more than 88 unions and some 6,000 workers in the communications and cultural sector. Present in most of Quebec's mainstream media outlets, the FNC represents the vast majority of staff and freelance journalists in the province.
We also have unions in Ontario and New Brunswick. Radio-Canada, La Presse, Groupe Capitales Médias newspapers, Le Devoir, Le Journal de Montréal, Transcontinental, TVA, Cogeco, and L'Acadie Nouvelle are just a few of the media outlets in which we are present. The people we represent work in print media, TV and radio, and increasingly, digital media.
In our brief, we discuss the numerous issues facing the news and information industry. On a structural level, the traditional media is experiencing financial trouble that is hindering its ability to carry out its first mission: to inform. Clearly, the advent of the Internet and the technological developments since have made it easier for people to access information and provided opportunities to significantly grow audiences.
The trend towards the use of digital media and social networks, which are free for the most part, is constantly on the rise. And these sources of information, which deprive traditional media organizations of considerable revenues, are, above all, dissemination platforms, as opposed to content producers.
Not only does this reality challenge the traditional media business model, but it has also given rise to a news and information crisis that could eventually lead to a democratic crisis.
In addition to these dramatic shifts, the industry's pervasive media concentration and convergence practices are jeopardizing the quality and diversity of information by turning it into an increasingly commercial commodity. All too often, spot news, fluff stories, and sensational headlines are what appeal to audiences. This type of information is intended, first and foremost, to entertain. The focus is on growing the audience at all costs, because that is the only way to make more money.
It goes without saying that such an environment undermines the work of journalists. Being forced to multi-task and operate on multiple platforms has led to a much heavier workload for journalists. For their part, freelance journalists have no resources at their disposal to negotiate working conditions, in light of the high level of media concentration in the industry. Now more than ever, their independence and integrity are under tremendous strain.
As part of this consultation process, the FNC encourages our political leaders to redefine their vision of the media. Our various levels of government have a duty to intervene to safeguard and improve information accessibility, quality, and diversity, and most western nations are in the process of doing just that.
We would like to submit to the committee 10 recommendations that, we believe, will provide the support needed to ensure that the media can continue to play its role as the fourth estate. Without further ado, here they are.
First, the FNC believes that it is now necessary to implement funding measures to support the production of high-quality and diverse information and news in Canada, as well as Quebec. All funding options should be considered. We are especially in favour of a payroll tax credit. Such a measure would allow media companies in financial trouble to keep their staff or, even better, to hire journalists to improve information plurality and diversity. Similarly, the measure would provide support to hire more advertising representatives or new technology experts.
Second, the federal government should set up a permanent fund to support local and regional programming and production, to expand the regional media footprint. It is imperative that funding be allocated to the production of regional news and information.
Third, CBC/Radio-Canada should be involved in producing quality local and regional information and news content. It is crucial that the crown corporation strengthen its presence in the regions. In order to do that, the public broadcaster needs considerably more funding and, above all, a much stronger commitment to and awareness of regional realities on the part of its leadership.
Fourth, to give Canadians better access to this high-quality and diverse news and information, particularly in remote regions, it is crucial that the government recognize high-speed Internet service as being an essential service.
Fifth, the government should introduce grant programs to support digital platform innovation. Similar programs are in place for cultural enterprises. Many small media organizations cannot afford to build better online applications. As audiences increasingly turn to the web, media outlets need to equip themselves with appealing, innovative, and effective platforms in order to attract those audiences.
Sixth, given the period of upheaval that our media companies are going through, it is incumbent upon government leaders to create a task force to examine the regulatory framework that should govern multinational web companies. The purpose is to identify the right tools to protect the production of local content in the digital era. It is also incumbent upon government leaders to impose certain requirements on these Internet giants, who enjoy lucrative advertising markets, both locally and nationally. They should have to contribute financially to the production and dissemination of high-quality and diverse news and information content in connection with those markets. They should also have to follow the tax rules in force in the countries where they operate.
Seventh, the federal and provincial governments have a duty to immediately address the issue of media concentration and convergence rife in the industry. Clear restrictions need to be imposed on media companies in order to limit their ability to employ sweeping practices that hurt information and news quality and diversity. The media should be subject to stricter regulation, particularly as regards its responsibility to inform. Simply put, government leaders must address the urgent need to protect the diversity of voices, not just locally, but also regionally and nationally.
Eighth, the FNC-CSN believes that the government should undertake an in-depth review of the CRTC's role and governance. In our view, the rules governing the appointment of commissioners should be reviewed. Political partisanship should not determine who sits on the CRTC. The Harper government's direct involvement when industry players asked the CRTC to regulate Internet giants was especially disgraceful. The CRTC has a duty to ensure that licence holders comply with the conditions imposed on them, especially in the case of news and information. The CRTC should also be involved in the discussion on how to legislate and regulate the Internet. Similarly, it should examine ways to protect the local and national media industry.
Ninth, it is our view that governments should make an effort to spend their advertising dollars on Canadian and Quebec media organizations, first and foremost. While we appreciate that social media provide access to large audiences, we think it makes no sense to have our tax money end up in the hands of multinational giants who thumb their nose at our tax rules and contribute nothing whatsoever to the production of information and news or the production of cultural Canadian and Quebec content.
Tenth, and finally, as social networks continue to grow in size and number, we believe the federal government should work with its provincial counterparts to establish media education programs. Canadians need to be able to distinguish between information from reliable sources and the so-called fake news that is prevalent on social media sites. Canadians also need to be able to distinguish between editorial content and advertising, which is increasingly blurring that line. Given the crumbling of online boundaries, it has become necessary to explain and underscore the role and contribution of professional journalists.
Keep in mind that we have discussed these solution proposals with a number of media company heads in Quebec, as well as with our union leaders and members. Though it was not possible to obtain unanimous agreement on which approaches to adopt, we see a clear consensus emerging industry-wide. Immediate action is needed. Several measures, especially financial ones, could be implemented temporarily to give companies the chance to transition fully to digital platforms and build new business models to protect the future of news and information.
As our societies grow more and more complex and as social networks contribute to the polarization of ideas, our media outlets need to be able to continue producing high-quality news and information and to make it accessible on appealing platforms to ensure that Canadians are exposed to diverse points of view.
Thank you for listening to us. We are available to answer any questions.