These problems appear to be worldwide. Hundreds of publications have closed in Canada. Even those which survive have sold off property, reduced activities, and laid off staff. Overall, about one-third of journalism jobs have disappeared over the last eight years.
Now from Ottawa, Canada, comes the cry: We are from the government, and we want to help you! Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal administration is offering public support for private publications. In late 2018, officials began exploring “models that would allow private giving or philanthropic support for nonprofit journalism and local news.”
The government advanced a set of proposals estimated to cost $675 million Canadian dollars, or about $600 million U.S. First would be a tax credit for online subscribers. The objective: to create a “more financially sustainable business model.” Presumably, more people would spend more money for news if Ottawa bore part of the cost.
Second, journalism nonprofits could become “qualified donees,” allowing their benefactors to take a tax write-off. Moreover, charitable foundations would be able to offer support, as well.
Third, enterprises that “produce a wide variety of news and information of interest to Canadians” would receive a refundable tax credit for the cost of labor engaged in creating “original content.” That is, the government would pay newspapers for hiring journalists even in the event that no tax was owed. An industry panel would decide who was eligible for this lucrative deal.
The idea of rescuing presumably valuable news agencies has obvious appeal. So does saving the jobs of talented writers. However, a government bailout raises important issues. Advocates point to existing taxpayer-supported media, which, alas, is not reassuring. For instance, National Public Radio in the U.S. might be editorially independent, but that doesn’t mean it is objective and nonpartisan. Why taxpayers should be forced to fund an agency arrayed against their beliefs has never been clear.
Indeed, that is one of the objections to the Trudeau proposal. Culturally and politically, the government plans a taxpayer rescue of friendly journalists, who are likely to return the favor in future reporting. “Justin Trudeau and this system he’s setting up will determine whether your mortgage gets paid. And you say that will have absolutely no impact on the nature of your coverage?” complained Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre. “I think you can forgive us for being just a little skeptical about that claim.”
Increased bias is likely to result not so much from flagrant quid pro quo as reinforcement of shared assumptions and beliefs. The media generally lean left. As a left-leaning government transfers public resources to left-leaning journalists, the latter are unlikely to shift right.