Unifor lobbies MPs to support real news

Unifor media members meet Liberal MP Filomena Tassi (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas) in Ottawa to discuss the importance of supporting news and journalism in a time of crisis for the media industry. From left, Jackie McIntosh, Pat Darrah, Stephen Hawkins, Filomena Tassi, Paul Morse, Ron Tupper.

Representatives of Unifor media locals, including 87-M, were in Ottawa for five days until Feb. 3 to lobby federal MPs to make sure that quality journalism will survive and thrive in a media landscape that is rapidly losing money, increasingly digital and littered with clickbait and even fake news.

Unifor representatives were encouraged that members of parliament seem to be getting the message that without real news, our very democracy is under threat.

“The chance to lobby some of the MPs in Ottawa was an exciting and fruitful opportunity,” said Paul Morse, president of Local 87-M. “I think the MPs were genuinely interested in the issues we put forward to them and listened closely to our proposals to enhance news and journalism in Canada.”

Traditional news is on the decline because of the loss of advertising dollars to the American media giants, Google and Facebook. Yet, people want to read the news as much as ever.Newspapers and broadcasters had hoped that their advertising revenue would follow them into a digital format, but digital advertising dollars are a fraction of what traditional ads fetch.

That’s because Google and Facebook operate at such a mass scale that they are able to offer advertising for a fraction of the cost of a traditional media ad.

As a result of declining revenues, traditional media is shedding jobs en masse, with no end in sight.

The decline of journalism, in particular,  poses problems for our society:

1. Loss of Canadian identity: With fewer and fewer Canadian sources of news, our culture is in danger of being overwhelmed by unverified special-interest opinion or by the flood of information coming out of the United States.

2. Decline of Democracy: With fewer and fewer eyes on government and the powerful in society, the less they will be held accountable, leading to a less informed citizenry. The less informed the citizenry, the more vulnerable it will be to apathy and fake news.

3. Loss of Jobs: Journalism and media jobs are a major source of well-paying jobs in our society and the decline hurts the Canadian economy in general.

Unifor wants the federal government to level the playing field:

1. Under the Income Tax Act, advertisers can write off advertising in traditional Canadian media. This is intended to encourage the financial health of Canadian media, but the same advantage doesn’t exist for digital media, which is the major growth area. As a result, there is no incentive to advertise on the Toronto Star or CTV websites over the New York Times. Unifor proposes adding digital media to this legislation.

2. Making sure foreign providers pay their fair share of sales tax. Foreign-owned streaming services such as Netflix are using loopholes to get out of collecting sales tax from their customers, and firms such as Google and Facebook should be paying taxes on advertising revenue in Canada. This results both in lost taxes and an unfair competitive advantage for these companies over domestic ones that need to play by the rules. Ensuring Netflix collected tax, for example, could generate $22 million a year alone.

3. Creating a Internet Service Provider revenue levy for domestic providers. Content and Internet service providers who are selling to the Canadian market should contribute to the creation of home-grown content. 

4. Expanding the eligibility of the Canada Media Fund. Currently, producers of local TV news and information programming are not able to access this fund.

Unifor will continue talking to MPs over the next several months.

Read Canadian Content in the 21st Century: Unifor Policy Proposals here.Read the full Shattered Mirror report by the Public Policy Forum and supported by Unifor here.