Between the SNC Lavalin Scandal, the federal budget announcement and the subsequent grandstanding by political parties, the update on the financial support for journalists fell somewhat by the wayside.
For those who’ve missed it, it sets out three ways to support Canadian journalism:
– allowing journalism organizations to register as qualified donees (charitable status).
– a refundable labour tax credit for qualifying journalism organizations (25 per cent tax credit on journalist salaries up to $55,000).
– a non-refundable tax credit for subscriptions to Canadian digital news (15 per cent tax credit on digital subscriptions up to $500).
You can decide for yourself whether in general the government should be financially supporting journalism but what is pretty undisputable is that their approach in this particular case is fundamentally flawed.
In order to be eligible for any of these tax breaks, an organization will need to be a Qualified Canadian Journalism Organization (QCJO) to be determined by an independent panel. The budget already sets out some criteria including regularly employing two or more journalists and being primarily focused on matters of general interest, not a specific topic. The labour tax credit would also only be applicable to those primarily engaged in the production of original written news content. Other than Canadians at large, nobody should have a hand in picking what journalism outlets do and don’t get funding, especially government. To that extent, it doesn’t seem inherently bad to let Canadians choose their preferred journalists/journalism through (partially tax credited) subscriptions or through charity donations, however, if the list of eligible organizations is put together by a panel (politically independent or not) it’s a very different situation.
That panel providing millions in funding to organizations selected by them is worse still.
It’s pretty clear what the outcomes of this will be:
– The labour tax credit is not going to resolve the problems journalism is facing (MacLean’s Magazine, for example, has received approximately $1.5 million for years and it hasn’t stopped the layoffs there).
– It’s going to erode trust in journalists working for QCJO organizations even if they remain equally critical of government (possibly leading to or accelerating their demise).
– It’s going to hurt non-QCJO organizations as they’re going up against government-subsidized organizations.
– It’s going to cost the government a bunch of money.
One Free Press reader called the whole thing “abhorrent” and that’s probably a fair characterization. Alternatively, you could look at it as Trudeau getting the Canadian journalism industry an ugly wool sweater as a late Christmas present despite some severe wool allergies and it being completely the wrong size. It’s the thought that counts?