Madam Chair, members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to talk about local media. It's a subject that is dear to us since we represent workers that produce local content on a daily basis in Quebec, whether on the radio, on television or in print media.
My name is Denis Bolduc. I am the secretary general for the Canadian Union of Public employees in Quebec. I am accompanied by Nathalie Blais, from our research branch. In a previous life, both of us were journalists. We have prepared this statement with media workers that still work in the field, and who are both with us here today. They are Richard Labelle, a cameraman at TVA, who is also vice-president of the TV and radio workers for our communications sector, and Jean-François Racine, who is president of the union representing the editorial staff of the Journal de Québec. They will be able to answer your questions if you wish.
Today, we will not spend much time talking about the critical financial situation surrounding television and print media. I think you are all well aware of the declining advertising numbers. That said, we would like to highlight that it is actually the national advertising numbers which show a downward trend, while the local ad purchasing numbers remain quite stable. This is shown in table 2 of our report.
What we really want to talk about today is the importance of local media for our democracy and to emphasize our recommendations that aim to further support the production of local news content.
Let us start by looking at the local news landscape in Quebec.
Earlier this year, CUPE commissioned a study from Influence Communication, which was submitted as evidence to the CRTC during its consultation on local television. Here are some of its key findings.
First, in 2015, there was 42% more information from all sources circulating in Quebec compared to 2001 yet there was 88% less local news content. This means local news information that comes directly from the region of origin accounts for less than 1% of all news information available in the province of Quebec.
Second, if we compare each region, we see that the amount of local news content available varies quite a bit. This is shown in table 4 of our report. In the Saguenay—Lac-St-Jean region, for example, there is 18% of local content for about 275,000 people, whereas in Montreal, there is about 1% of available content for a population of about 2 million.
Third, the quantity of available local news content has an impact on voter turnout in elections. Influence Communication compared local news content with voter turnout during the 2013 municipal elections and found that, on the whole, voter turnout was greater in regions that had more local news content.
Local news content therefore has a direct and real impact on our democracy. This is the main reason why it is important to support the production of local content and to implement measures that will protect the expertise of the journalists and media professionals that produce it. The traditional financial model for television and print media may be weakened, but our solutions to strengthen it cannot ignore the importance of local news content and must ensure that the public interest is served.
In this era of change, some people have also changed the way in which they consume media. Those who are 44 years old or younger get most of their news online, whereas those 45 and older still prefer to read the paper or watch the news on television.
Nevertheless, the statistics show that most people get their information from multiple sources, and many from the younger generation still read the paper or watch the newscast on television. There are also those from the older generation, like me, who spend a lot of time reading the news online. Things are not black and white and all platforms remain relevant in 2016.
The biggest problem is that media outlets must shift towards digital platforms while revenues plummet and when the newer generation has become used to consuming its news content for free.
We are therefore recommending that the federal government create a new tax credit for advertising purchases on Canada's traditional media platforms, that is to say radio, newspapers and television. The tax credit's aim would be to support the communications industry during its transition to digital platforms.
Many studies have shown that advertising on traditional platforms is effective, though new trends and the smaller price tag can make online advertising enticing, even though it's harder to measure its real impact. The tax credit would rebalance things in the sense that the lower cost of online advertising—which is often offered by foreign companies like Google and Facebook—would be less appealing. These companies do not produce news content, and definitely do not produce local news content. In fact, traditional media platforms are still the source of much of the local news content on the web.
CUPE also recommends that the federal government implement a payroll tax credit to allow Canadian traditional media outlets to continue to fulfill their mandate of delivering local content despite their difficult financial situation. Newspapers, television and the radio have unmatched expertise in terms of news and information, and Canadians must still be able to have access to it, regardless of the platforms used.
This tax credit could be granted for every media worker directly involved in producing factual news content as long as the news outlets agree to adhere to an independent and well-recognized code of conduct, such as the Quebec Press Council Code of Ethics. Opinion-based journalism would not be eligible for the tax credit.
Finally, CUPE recommends that the federal government work to provide a better system for collecting data in the communications sector. Ten days ago, the Minister of Canadian Heritage launched a review of all the culture-related measures in place, including those that affect news content. However, the latest CRTC consultations on local and community television clearly demonstrated that there were gaps in the available data. For instance, we don’t know how many journalists cover local news in Canada, or even how many hours of news content or news stories are broadcast weekly on the Internet, the radio or television. In this context, outlets like CTV and Global are looking to reduce their local programming, which is mainly news.
To address the lack of relevant data, the Governor in Council could make use of subsection 7(1) of the Broadcasting Act in order to instruct the CRTC to collect more statistics on the industry that it regulates. For written press, more detailed data could be collected by Canadian Heritage.
To conclude, CUPE believes that professional journalism built upon a recognized ethical framework is an essential part of our democracy, and must be supported. Canadians deserve to know what is happening in their communities from the best sources so that they can make informed decisions. The government has the responsibility to implement measures that will ensure that all Canadians have access to news and information that is diversified, complete and of the highest quality. Access to information is an essential part of a healthy democracy.
Thank you very much for listening. It would be our pleasure to answer your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.