Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly does not plan to release her digital culture policy plan until September, but the pressure to address the financial challenges faced by media organizations increased last week with the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage report (the same report that recommended an Internet tax that was swiftly rejected by Prime Minister Trudeau) and a proposal from News Media Canada that seeks hundreds of millions in annual government support. The recommendations don’t end there: copyright reform, tax changes, and amendments to government advertising policies are all part of the proposals to provide support to Canadian media organizations.
Andrew Coyne’s must-read column persuasively argues against a media bailout, noting the dangers of permanent government funding of an otherwise independent media. He rightly argues that if funding is established, it isn’t going away as government will be reluctant to allow funded media organizations to fail. Further, Ken Whyte, former editor-in-chief of the National Post, openly acknowledges in a Twitter stream the constraints that come from criticizing government when funding or regulation is at stake.
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The third part of my critique of The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age, the Public Policy Forum’s report on the future of media, has taken longer than anticipated. In the interim, there have been some excellent posts on the report, including those from Andrew Potter, Dwayne Winseck, and Marc Edge. The first two parts of my review focused on the copyright and CBC/open licensing recommendations. This post discusses the report’s most significant financial recommendation: reforms to the Income Tax Act that would be designed to increase or capture digital advertising costs with Google and Facebook accompanied by a scheme to create a fund to support Canadian media. The recommendation is similar – though not identical – to one floated by communications law veterans Peter Miller and David Keeble in a report commissioned by the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (FCB).
At the heart of both reports is the recommendation that advertising purchased on foreign Internet-based media should not be tax deductible. The reports offer a tempting vision for those seeking a simple solution to the struggles of Canadian media organizations. Both posit that much of the problem lies largely with the dominance of Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market. According to the FCB report:
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My review of the The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age, the Public Policy Forum’s report on the future of media continues with a comment on long-overdue recommendation that unfortunately falls short of the mark (my first post on copyright reform recommendation is here). The report tackles the future of the CBC with three recommendations: increasing the emphasis of the CBC’s mandate on news, moving to an ad-free approach online, and adopting a Creative Commons licence for news content to help broaden distribution.
The recommendation of increased emphasis on news is a good one as is the call for an ad-free CBC online. I wrote in support of the CBC becoming an ad-free digital news competitor last year and while Ken Whyte offered up arguments against it (noting that the Canadian market needs more ad choices, not less), the online advertising competition has been a longstanding source of frustration for online media competitors who resent public support for CBC’s online presence.
The recommendation that I would like to like is the adoption of a Creative Commons licence for CBC news content. I have similarly argued for open licensing of CBC content for many years as part of its role as a public broadcaster. In 2014, I noted:
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The Public Policy Forum released its much anticipated report on the future of Canadian media yesterday. The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age garnered considerable attention and may influence policy discussions over what – if anything – to do about the struggling media industry. I tweeted some initial responses to the report and plan several posts to examine some of the recommendations more closely.
This post starts with one of the worst (if unsurprising) recommendations: copyright reform. For the better part of two decades, business sectors facing digital challenges invariably think that copyright law offers a solution. It rarely does and definitely does not in the case. In fact, the proposed copyright reform to fair dealing would cause considerable harm to freedom of expression and the practice of news reporting with little likelihood of economic benefit.
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