Good morning, Madam Chairperson, and members of the committee.
Any question of providing commercial financial subsidies instantly raises an intractable set of fresh problems and must be rejected out of hand. Traditional boundaries governing government interaction with media ownership must remain in place.
However, clear opportunities exist to encourage and foster the development of new community-based media vehicles to supplement existing local coverage and to help replace locally relevant content where it has been thinned and, often, has disappeared. These ventures could be seeded so they have a chance to bloom in sometimes surprising and unexpected ways, including the digital sector. In some instances, these could help local media to grow, or in others to establish a digital presence.
Thus, we propose a substantive broadening of the Canadian periodical fund support mechanisms to include new and online media. This would require a concomitant increase in available financial resources. It would also offer the possibility for collaboration between major institutions of our community, such as the CBC, universities, and colleges.
Many journalists get their start working for the CBC, which acts as a de facto training ground. Providing the CBC and other local media with resources for internships in conjunction with university journalism and communications programs would help get some reporting boots on the ground and open the door for a new generation to become active in local and community media.
Any financing for such projects should be channelled through third parties. In this vein, the “Final Report on the Canadian News Media”, published in 2006 by the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, recommended that the definition of charitable foundations be broadened to allow for not-for-profit media to be included in this part of the federal tax regime. In addition, a portion of the Canadian Heritage strategic fund that's traditionally allocated to the development of official language minority community radio stations could be reoriented to include new community media ventures without excluding community radio. Two examples of this potential are the community hub websites GoGaspe.com—you can reference the links in the report—and valleyjunction.ca.
I declare my conflict of interest as being the owner of valleyjunction.ca, which so far has made $10 in Google ads. At least we've got it started.
These have been started by local individuals in the Gaspé, and where we are located, in the Chateauguay valley, southwest of Montreal. They're intended as information hubs for and about the communities they serve. Taking advantage of the Internet and social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, they directly involve residents and community organizations who can post stories and announcements about their activities, providing one-stop shopping for community information, with sections for business advertising, classified, and legal notices. With an entrepreneurial approach, multiple sources could be packaged for such projects. The use of crowdsourcing could provide an additional lever effect for financing completely outside any government orbit.
Since four out of five Canadians continue to read a newspaper at least once a week, our focus is not just on digital alternatives. Federal government spending on advertising in newspapers has fallen sharply in recent years. According to one report, this figure has plunged to $357,000, in 2014-2015, from roughly $20 million about 10 years ago. Room clearly exists to restore government ad placement with an emphasis on newspapers that cover local news.
CBC/Radio-Canada, a major source of news for many local communities, receives $946 million a year, and an additional $60 million annually has been promised, about $1 billion in total. QCGN believes that much of that stabilized funding should be used to restore local coverage in the regions. Minority-language community newspaper associations have further recommended that 1% of that $1 billion, or $10 million, be allocated to minority-community newspapers or their associations to support member services, sustainability, education, and recognition and retention of English and French-language journalists. This suggestion by the QCNA and its francophone counterparts is a good one that we believe could be broadened. We suggest the creation of a community media foundation, like the Community Radio Fund of Canada, to support community media across all platforms, as well as new media ventures such as the ones we suggested earlier.
We recommend that the provision of support require evidence of community ownership or involvement. This could be twinned with a paid internship fund to get journalism students to support such initiatives. This latter idea could be structured as government summer jobs or internship programs, such as the Young Canada Works in Both Official Languages program.