Support a Vibrant News Media for a Democratic Society
Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector union and has more than 310,000 members across Canada, working in 20 economic sectors. Unifor represents more than 26,000 workers in the telecommunication sector and12,500 media workers, including 5,000 members in the broadcast and film industries.
Media expression is at the core of our identity as Canadians. We need to see ourselves in the stories we see and hear, day in and day out. We have always known that this objective can only be obtained if we protect this cultural industry not only with legislation, but also with financial supports. News and more specifically local news is an integral part of this expression, but news in also important because it creates an informed citizenry and thus is an essential component of our democracy and the public good.
The Liberal government has promised support to strengthen our cultural industries. Herein are Unifor’s recommendations on a new Bill-C10, that would bring foreign streamers in to the Canadian regulatory system, and how Facebook, Google and other big tech platforms need to play a significant role in supporting local news to maintain a viable and thriving Canadian news eco-system.
Unifor generally supports the previous iteration of Bill C-10, but it was held up in committee and bogged down with opposition and ambiguity regarding user content. Unifor submits that a revenue threshold be established for media companies, before they are included in the regulatory system. This simple measure will eliminate any questions on whether or not your cat video would fall under regulation.
The elimination of the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) with no replacement has put broadcast local news in jeopardy and we are in dire need of a sustainable funding source. Currently, C-10 overlookslocal news and accordingly, Unifor recommends the following changes:
The CRTC must be specifically mandated to create a mechanism in which Canadian content “charges and expenditures” assigned to domestic and/or foreign media companies are distributed to all local television and radio stations, including those belonging to major networks, in order to sustain local news, given the long term and continuing decline in advertising revenues available to television and radio stations.
That the distribution of such funds to local television and radio stations be calibrated to employee headcount or payroll expenditure of news gathering and production staff.
To this end we propose the following amendment to C-10:
Amend section 11.1(1) as follows:
The Commission may make regulations respecting expenditures to be made by persons carrying on broadcasting undertakings for the purposes of
(d) developing, financing, producing or promoting local news and information programming, including through contributions made by distribution undertakings either to a related programming undertaking or by distribution undertakings or online undertakings to an independent fund. In making regulations for the distribution of these contributions, the Commission shall take into account the local presence and broadcast staffing of the programming undertaking.
We believe that tying local news funding to actual local staffing levels is the most reliable metric to ensure that industry funds are spent exclusively for the purpose they are intended: that Canadians receive the relevant and timely local news they rely on.
Google, Facebook and Tech Platforms Paying for News
Tech Platforms Google and Facebook, which do not produce any news, have disrupted advertising revenues that once supported a vibrant news industry in Canada. While news consumption in Canada has not diminished, Facebook and Google profit from the display of Canadian news on their websites.
The situation has become so dire for so many news outlets that we now realize that the question is not: do Facebook and Google compensate Canadian news outlets? It’s how should they compensate them?
Unifor supports the creation of a news fund or the expansion of existing news funds. The idea that these tech platforms would contribute a portion of Canadian revenues to a fund that would be distributed to news creators, much like the Canadian Media Fund (CMF), is simple and could be used to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of monies to qualified news outlets.
This news fund would not only be supported by the monies levied by the tech platforms, it could also be supported by governments, local, provincial and federal and even private donations. To combat the misperception of government funding journalism, the fund could be built into a trust to ensure that its governance is independent.
This fund would support local or regional news projects from eligible news outlets, that wouldn’t necessarily receive funding under current programs. These projects could support diverse and underrepresented communities or strengthen community journalism where it is needed most.
In the alternative Unifor also supports a hybrid plan consisting of a news fund (as stated above) and made in Canada legislation based on the “Australian model” whereby news outlets will negotiate with the tech platforms, and if a deal is not reached in good faith, it would be subject to binding arbitration.
Unifor believes, first and foremost, that the principle of transparency is upheld. Deals made or not made with online tech platforms and formulas for compensation that are in the public interest must be public knowledge. Google and Facebook have made deals in Australia and Canada that have been kept secret with non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). They do not want publishers and sovereign governments to see what they are paying (likely more than they want in Australia and probably hardly anything in Canada). That is why all deals negotiated and compensation paid must be disclosed publicly.
Secondly, we must ensure that compensation be directly earmarked for journalism or news creation. We must avoid the embarrassment of this money being spent on corporate salaries or shareholder dividends. A reporting structure can be created to ensure the money is spent on news creation.
Thirdly, we must have a funding model that is inclusive. Eligible news outlets, whether written or broadcast, private or public should be supported. No eligible news outlet should be left behind. As for the question, ‘what qualifies as journalism’, Unifor supports criteria similar to that used for determining eligibility for Qualified Canadian Journalist Organizations, but it should be expanded to be platform agnostic i.e.: include broadcasters, podcasters, written, etc.
Because remuneration is often based on web traffic it will be imperative that Canadian publishers are given substantial notice before any algorithms are changed by the tech platforms. Without this notice, Canadian news outlets will be at the mercy of the tech platforms without recourse.
Transparency, inclusiveness and a made-in-Canada approach is Unifor’s proposal to ensure that journalism not just survives, but thrives in Canada. The Government should take every effort to ensure there are no loopholes, no eligible news outlets should fall through the cracks, and all big tech players must play by the same rules. Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon or any other foreign media platforms that currently use Canadian newsrooms as a source for free content, must start to pay for it.
Director, Unifor Media Sector