Independent Panel of Experts on Journalism and the Written Press — July 10 2019 meeting
Panel members present
- Bob Cox
- Esther Enkin
- Brad Honywill
- Pierre-Paul Noreau
- Brenda O’Farrell
- Thomas Saras
- Pierre Sormany
- Pascale St-Onge
The panel began the conference call with a discussion of whether a recommendation should be made that journalists should be members of a professional association in the context of the administration of this program.
- One member weighed the merits of this suggestion against its impracticality, saying that several important news organizations in Quebec would certainly oppose it; in addition, there is no actual organization to which journalists are required to adhere, and forcing them to be a member of something would not be a good recommendation.
- One member concurred, pointing out that the vast majority of journalists would not belong to such an association.
- One member noted that this would enhance the profession’s self-respect and that a small annual paid membership should not be an obstacle. However, the member recognized that this is a complex situation and that many people would oppose the idea in Quebec.
- One member said that the idea of a professional association is not a bad one, but as there is currently no requirement to be part of one and as it should not be up to government to say who should or should not be, this would not be a good recommendation.
- One member explained that this is a controversial issue in Quebec that has been discussed extensively, with no emerging consensus. The member also noted that this is an issue that should be discussed amongst the industry and not a decision that should be made by this panel about the current program.
- One member concurred, pointing to the fact that the panel had defined the term “journalist” in one of its articles in the interpretation rules.
- One member agreed, saying that a committee would be required to judge behaviour, and that this would be out of the question, at least in Quebec. The text prepared by the panel describing who is and isn’t a journalist is enough. The member mentioned being in favour of adding something to the effect of peer evaluation (e.g. Ombudsperson or Press Council), but recognized that this idea had already been discussed and decided against.
- Consensus was reached not to pursue this as a potential recommendation further.
The discussion then moved to the draft public letter addressed to Minister Rodriguez and Minister Morneau.
- The panel agreed to highlight key messages at the top, including that the needs are pressing; that, while this program is very important, it is not enough for an industry in crisis; and that smaller publications will not benefit much from it. Further and more recent statistics will also be sought for inclusion in the letter.
- One member suggested pointing out that having the government put money in advertisement in Canadian media is in fact an efficient measure.
The discussion then moved to the draft interpretation rules.
- The panel discussed the definition of “editorial content”, in particular how the understanding of the term can vary between French and English.
- One member mentioned that, while it is rightly not considered a journalistic task when a journalist produces some branded content, the frontier between branded and editorial content is increasingly blurred. The member explained that they would agree to a description of the work of journalists that would exclude this content, but that things are less clear when it comes to defining editorial content.
- One member suggested adding text to say that original news content should be understood as editorial content.
- One member indicated that this would cause a problem, since editorial content is larger than news.
- One member expressed concern that Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) staff might not understand what “editorial content” means and would need a clearer definition.
- The question was raised of whether content used in a newspaper that comes from its ownership group would be considered original content.
- It was decided that, since the definition provided indicates that the research, writing, and presentation were to be done by and for the organization, then it should not be included.
- One member suggested separating the definitions for “editorial content” and “original news content”, but pointed out that the Budget law uses the terms “written news content”, not “editorial content”.
- It was decided that when the law refers to “written news content”, it should be interpreted as “editorial content”, and that the panel would further provide a definition for “original news content”.
- It was further clarified that articles in a newspaper that were generated from other newsrooms within the same ownership group, including articles from news agencies and any other publication, would not be considered as original content.
- On the topic of journalistic judgement, the panel debated whether to define the term and, if so, in what way.
- One member described the concept as the consideration of issues such as timeliness, public interest, and importance, which are things all journalists consider all the time, even if their judgement about them might be subjective.
- One member expressed concern that if CRA staff does not understand what is meant by these considerations, then everything would be referred to the 2nd panel.
- One member suggested that instead of listing the considerations upon which journalists make judgements, the panel identify the types of things that result from the judgements journalists make, such as whether something (e.g. violent photograph) is published, where, or with what presentation.
- One member suggested expanding a previous paragraph to integrate this concept, rather than have it be its own separate paragraph, to which the panel agreed.
The panel then discussed recommendations for the composition of the 2nd panel.
- The panel noted the importance of having regional, linguistic, cultural, and ethnic representation amongst the members of the panel and agreed to recommend several names for consideration – more so than would be needed, as some people might refuse due to too busy schedules, for example.
The panel then discussed its draft general recommendations.
- The panel discussed suggesting a review or consolidation of the three federal government programs that support media.
- The panel also agreed to mention something to the effect of copyright law, insofar as media should receive compensation for use of their material.
- The panel discussed issuing separate recommendations regarding newspapers in official language minority communities, which are covered by the Official Languages Act, and for Indigenous publications and ethnic press, which should also receive their fair part.
The panel concluded by agreeing to make a public statement to inform the public formally that they have finished their report, once it is published.
End of meeting.
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