OTTAWA â€” A report from the Public Policy Forum, authored by veteran journalist Ed Greenspon, is urging dramatic changes to help support the Canadian news industry as it struggles with sharp declines in revenues.
A detailed look at the report’s 12 recommendations:
1. Enhance Section 19 and 19.1 of the Income Tax Act.
â€” The distinction made in the treatment of Canadian and non-Canadian print and broadcast media should be extended to the Internet. The current situation is neither fair nor sensible: A Canadian advertiser cannot deduct expenses when buying space in The New York Times but can when placing an ad on nyt.com. Similarly, expenses for advertising on a border TV station cannot be deducted but can be if on YouTube.
2. Extend GST/HST to all digital news subscription and advertising revenue for companies not qualifying under new Section 19 criteria. Rebate GST/HST for those that do qualify.
â€” Reform Canadian tax law so as to subject to GST/HST subscription and advertising revenue in companies not compliant with new Section 19 requirements, thus levelling the playing field. The existing arrangement discriminates against Canadian news media in providing better tax treatment to foreign companies.
â€” Introduce a consumption tax rebate on newspaper and digital news subscriptions sold by companies compliant with Section 19 in order to remove a tax disadvantage imposed on Canadian companies versus foreign competitors selling digital subscriptions and advertising in Canada.
3. Remove obstacles to philanthropic financing.
â€” Amend Canadaâ€™s charity laws and regulations to allow non-profit news organizations producing civic-function journalism to qualify as recipients for support from philanthropic foundations and, in some specific cases, become charities themselves.
â€” Overhaul the rules around policy advocacy by charities to allow for non-partisan civic-function journalistic activity.
4. Review the Copyright Actâ€™s fair-dealing rules to strengthen rights of news originators to control their intellectual property.
â€” The fair-dealing provisions of the Copyright Act, amended in 2012, are scheduled for review in 2017. We recommend that this review tighten usage of copyrighted news material in favour of creators, without unduly stifling the social power of sharing on the Internet. News producers have a right to benefit from their work for a reasonable period while pursuing the business strategy of their choice.
5. Create a Future of Journalism & Democracy Fund.
â€” Creation of the Future of Journalism & Democracy Fund would provide financing for digital innovation, especially in its early stages, and be directed at those operators who produce civic-function journalism at the national, regional and local levels. To qualify, enterprises would have to be Section 19-compliant and deliver original news on digital platforms that are refreshed at least once a week. The fund would cover a maximum of 75 per cent of the cost of a project. The ability of applicants to attract support from other partners would factor into grant decisions.
â€” The fund would be administered at armâ€™s length from government in keeping with the principles of a free press. To further promote independence, the fundâ€™s governance structure would go beyond that of most granting councils, borrowing instead from the bicameral model of the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. There, a group of 13 members â€” serving as proxy shareholders â€” appoints the board, which in turn hires the chief executive officer. The members select their own replacements.
6. A legal advisory service for investigative/accountability journalism.
â€” The board of the Future of Journalism & Democracy Fund would work with the news industry, philanthropic foundations and universities to establish an advisory service to provide pre-publication legal advice for newer and smaller news services as well as other legal assistance as judged necessary. Such regular access to legal advice would both give smaller organizations greater confidence in pursuing difficult stories and impose the discipline of having to maintain high journalistic standards.
â€” This legal advisory service would be available only to organizations that qualify under the new Section 19 provisions, and are members of the National NewsMedia Council, created from the 2015 amalgamation of provincial press councils with a mission to promote ethical practices within the news media and to serve as a national forum for complaints from the public.
7. Establish a local mandate for The Canadian Press.
â€” Civic-function journalism is being steadily degraded across the nation. We recommend that The Canadian Press (CP), which has a 100-year history of generating and sharing news coverage in both official languages and the infrastructure to distribute it, establish a second, non-profit service to fill these gaps. This service, CP-Local, would be distinct from CPâ€™s existing subscription service, with a separate editor and staff. It would be financed by the Future of Journalism & Democracy Fund, including an annual management fee paid to CP.
â€” The news produced by this second service would be published under a Creative Commons copyright licence, which would make it available for commercial use by any organization or individual with appropriate attribution.
8. Establish an indigenous journalism initiative in keeping with a new era of reconciliation, self-government and nation-to-nation relations.
â€” Create a support and training structure for the coverage of indigenous governmental institutions by indigenous news organizations and journalists.
â€” Embed responsibility for developing this journalistic capacity within Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), which is currently the only journalistic organization of scale devoted exclusively to indigenous issues and governments. This service, APTN-Local, would be financed by the Future of Journalism & Democracy Fund, and would support the development of indigenous media across the country. APTN would be paid an annual management fee, beyond direct costs.
â€”Have APTN sponsor 60 to 80 journalists over time who would work for indigenous news organizations across the country. An APTN editor would be in charge of ensuring these journalists meet standards and practices of news organizations associated with the initiative.
9. Establish a research institute dedicated to the study of news and democracy.
â€” Its first order of business would include an evidence-based study of the existence, origin and impact of fake news in Canada.
10. Bolster the “inform” imperative in the CBC mandate.
â€” Have the CBC do more to emphasize the instruction “to inform” Canadians that is contained in its mandate. This includes paying particular attention to civic-function news, which may not attract the biggest audience but must be a public broadcasterâ€™s raison dâ€™etre in a digital age.
11. Financing for CBC online.
â€” The CBC should stop selling online and other digital ads, with a one-year phase-out period to make necessary adjustments. These funds should be replaced through the corporationâ€™s parliamentary appropriation so as not to weaken the CBCâ€™s transition to digital.
12. Encourage a digital-age approach to public broadcasting.
â€” The CBC should move to a system of publishing its news content under a Creative Commons licence, marking the next logical step of a public-service news supplier in the digital age. Such an open-source approach would go a long way toward moving the organization from a self-contained, public-broadcasting competitor to a universal public provider of quality journalism. It would strengthen the media ecosystem overall, anchoring it in greater integrity and maximizing the reach of CBC journalism. In already posting its journalism on Facebook and Google-owned YouTube, CBC has implicitly accepted the principle that production and distribution can be separated. The transition to a Creative Commons licence would have to be carefully mapped out to minimize unintended damage to other organizations that provide civic-function news, such as Canadian Press. It would be best to start by making CBC news available to non-profits. The move to a Creative Commons approach furnishes a powerful use of policy that would, as Thomas Jefferson said, “contrive” to make the same body of high-quality information available to the whole public to help them in their democratic decisions.
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