Mélanie Joly made the comments in a speech to journalists, as government studies ways to help struggling media industry, buffeted by declines in revenue as digital distribution has taken hold.
OTTAWA—Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly called for a “true redefinition” of the Canadian media industry Friday, as the Liberal government continues to study ways to support the beleaguered news business in the digital age.
A range of options remains on the table, from tax changes to the creation of a fund for media projects, but Joly said it’s too early to say what Ottawa will do to help Canadian news outlets, which have seen huge drops in profits and also job cuts in recent years.
She said that government action must include players in the media industry as well as corporate titans such as Google and Facebook, which gobble up huge portions of digital ad spending, according to a prominent report published in January on the withering media sector.
Joly said she expects to present some of the government’s proposals for Canadian media later this year.
“It’s hard to imagine what our democracy would look like without the vigilance of journalists,” Joly told an audience at the annual Canadian Association of Journalists conference Friday.
“What the disruptions require is a true redefinition of our business practices,” said Joly, who added that the role of government is to be a “catalyst for change.”
A Parliamentary committee, has explored these questions for several months. The body will make recommendations on how to respond to changes in the media landscape. The changes include the ascendancy of digital platforms such as Google and Facebook, which aggregate and publish news for millions of users, and the collapse of newspapers and private broadcasters in smaller markets.
In late January, the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum released a report on the ailing industry. In almost a decade, ad revenues for community and daily newspapers in Canada dropped from $3.8 billion to $2.3 billion, while private broadcasters also saw declines, the report said.
It recommended several ways the government could support robust Canadian journalism. These included the application of sales tax to the sales of digital subscriptions of foreign media outlets, such as the New York Times website, and the establishment of an arms-length fund that would support digital news innovation, civic journalism, local news and indigenous reporting.
The fund would start with $100 million from Ottawa and then run on $400 million per year, money that the report suggests could come from the digital subscription tax revenue. It could also be funded by a suggested 10-per-cent levy on advertisements purchased from digital platforms that don’t spend enough money on news reporting in Canada.
Joly said Friday that the report’s recommendations are being considered but would not say which ones, if any, the government may act on.
She did emphasize, however, that it’s important the media maintain “independence” from the government and that any solutions don’t just address the current downturn in profits, but set the stage for a successful industry in the years to come.