Public Policy Forum report calls for CBC to stop selling digital ads

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      A public-policy group has issued 12 recommendations to revive the Canadian news industry, including cutting off digital revenue to the public broadcaster.

      The report by the Public Policy Forum maintains that the decline of traditional media, audience fragmentation, and fake news are undermining faith in Canadian democracy.

      "Free of the need to 'attract eyeballs' for digital advertising, which can run contrary to its civic-function mission and draw it into a 'clickbait' mentality," the report states.

      As things stand now, the CBC generates about $25 million in annual digital revenue, according to the report.

      Another recommendation is to change Sections 19 and 19.1 of the Income Tax Act to provide incentives to "Canada-centred news organizations" to increase reporting. 

      The country's largest newspaper company, Postmedia Network, is a Canadian-centred news organization but it's mostly owned by U.S. investors.

      The report also calls on extending the GST or HST to all digital news subscriptions and advertising revenue going to companies that don't qualify for Section 19 incentives.

      In addition, the report urges the federal government to review the Copyright Act's fair-dealing rules to give news organizations more control over their intellectual property.

      There are also recommendations to remove barriers to philanthropic financing of journalism and to establish an indigenous-journalism initiative.

      Another suggestion is to give Canadian Press a local mandate to provide more coverage of courts, legislatures, and city halls.

      A Public Policy Forum report suggests tax incentives to help "Canadian-centred" organizations hire journalists.

      In 1995, there were 49 newspapers sold for every 100 households in Canada. By 2015, the number had fallen to 15 per 100 households, according to the report.

      In 2005, Canadian advertisers spent $562 million online compared with $2.7 billion on newspapers.

      By 2016, digital advertising in Canada reached $5.6 billion, including $1 billion in the French language.

      However, only $233 million of that $4.6 billion in English-language digital advertising went to daily newspapers. Just $40 million went to community papers. Most went to foreign-owned digital platforms.

      By 2016, print advertising had fallen to $1.4 billion in 1,000 weekly and 100 daily newspapers in Canada.

      The report states that between 2008 and late 2016, 169 news outlets across Canada have either closed or been merged into other outlets. This includes 41 in B.C., which was the most of any province outside of Ontario.

      The report also recommends creating a revenue stream to fund a Future of Journalism & Democracy Fund.

      "Those who fear the state will take up residence in the newsrooms of the nation should realize it has been well ensconced there for a long time—although generally at a safe distance from the journalists," it states. "Still, we are also seized by concern over editorial independence, as were respondents in our public opinion research. Indeed, Canadians believe so strongly in journalism and its role in 'keeping the powerful honest' that many find the mere notion of government support to be at odds with the very purpose of the news media."

      The report came after six months of study and discussions with nearly 300 people. (The Georgia Straight was not among those consulted in its preparation.) 

      It was funded by the ministries of Canadian Heritage and Economic, Science and Innovation. Other funders were CN, TD Bank, Ivanhoe Properties, Clairvest Investments, and the McConnell, Atkinson, and Max Bell foundations.