Canadian Newspaper Industry To Receive Government Support In Upcoming Budget

Struggling Canadian newspapers are expected to get financial assistant from Ottawa in the upcoming budget, according to news reports.

Officials within the office of federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly are meeting with newspaper publishers from across the country ahead of the next federal budget that is expected to be tabled in the House of Commons in late March. A report in The Toronto Star over the weekend said that expectations are high that the Liberal Government in Ottawa will allocate more money and change the rules around the “Canada Periodical Fund” to provide funding beyond print magazines, non-daily newspapers and digital periodicals as the industry looks for a viable business model in the digital age.

Minister Joly discussed the matter late last week with representatives of the Federation nationale des communications, a Quebec union that represents 6,000 people who work in culture and communications. Union president Pascale St-Onge said Minister Joly told the gathering “there would be a support measure in the next budget” without specifying the funding formula the Liberals will use.

Also last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the newspaper Le Soleil that he was preoccupied with the financial crisis facing media in Canada and that a decision on federal funding would come in the next budget.

“We’ve had an indication from the prime minister’s mouth and from the minister’s mouth that there will be help for newspapers, so both of those are very encouraging,” said Bob Cox, chairperson of News Media Canada, a trade association representing almost 1,000 newspapers in the country. The government said an announcement will be made in the coming weeks or months concerning the $75-million periodical fund to help struggling print publications.

“Journalism is critical to a healthy democracy. We have always supported local journalism and will continue to do so,” Minister Joly’s official Twitter account tweeted Friday afternoon. “We are currently reviewing the Canada Periodical Fund to make sure it can support magazines and local papers to innovate, adapt and transition to digital.”

The federal government has been bombarded with ideas on how to help the newspaper industry that has watched mounting layoffs in newsrooms as companies look to cut costs and shutter publications. A 100-page report from the Public Policy Forum last year called for a sales tax on foreign companies selling digital subscriptions in Canada, a “Future of Journalism and Democracy” fund to help finance reliable news and information with $100 million in federal seed money, a new “local” mandate for news agency The Canadian Press and changes to the CBC’s online advertising structure.

Changes to the periodical fund were of particular interest to Minister Joly’s officials when the minister met with newspaper publishers last September. A briefing note prepared ahead of the meeting noted that News Media Canada’s proposal to morph the periodical fund into a $350-million journalism fund to provide rebates on newsroom salaries and expenses would require about $275 million in new federal spending.