Print media: Open letter urges federal government to help

A campaign launched in Quebec is urging the government to help news organizations, which are struggling to survive disruption

MONTREAL — Saying it’s a matter of upholding democracy, an open letter published in several Quebec newspapers Monday urged the federal government to intervene and take “urgent steps” to help ensure the future of print media in Canada.

The letter, signed by Quebec union leaders, associations, researchers and entrepreneurs, is the beginning of a campaign aimed at spreading awareness about the state of newspapers in the province and across the country.

At a news conference in Montreal, Pascale St-Onge, president of the Fédération nationale des communications, which is behind the campaign, urged Ottawa to act now instead of waiting until it’s too late.

“It’s much more difficult to recreate something once you’ve lost it than it is to support something that already exists,” St-Onge said on Monday at the event.

The letter was addressed to federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Singh Bains. It called on the government to implement such support measures as temporary funding or payroll tax credits for print media companies.

“The steady erosion of advertising revenue for almost 10 years now jeopardizes the ongoing activities of our dailies and weeklies, regardless of whether they are independent or linked to big companies,” the letter said. “The disappearance of these media would be a great cultural, social, political and economic loss for all our communities.”

In Quebec, the letter noted, 43 per cent of newspapers jobs were lost between 2009 and 2015. Across Canada, it said, 16,500 media jobs disappeared between 2008 and 2016.

“Web giants like Google and Facebook use content produced at great expense by newspapers while draining off vital advertising revenue. For the web giants, it’s a win-win situation. For newspapers, it’s lose-lose,” the letter said.

St-Onge criticized a new partnership Joly announced in the fall between Facebook and Ryerson University to launch a digital news incubator.

Detailing her cultural policy at the time, Joly had said the government needed to focus on innovation and experimentation instead of bailing out “industry models that are no longer viable.”

But St-Onge called the idea a “total aberration.”

“We’re asking our local and national newspapers’ main competitor to determine what the future of our media industry should be,” she said. “For me right now, and I hope I’m wrong about this, the Canadian government is down on its knees before Silicon Valley companies.”

Louis Tremblay, head of the union for Chicoutimi’s Le Quotidien newspaper, said the situation is especially dire in smaller communities across Quebec.

“Often people will say, ‘well, a newspaper can’t be shut down,’ ” Tremblay said. “But in several regions across Quebec, citizens are helplessly watching it happen as weekly newspapers close practically every month. And these are papers with 50 or 75 years of history behind them.”

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