Independent Panel of Experts on Journalism and the Written Press — July 4 2019 meeting
Panel members present
- Bob Cox (chair)
- Esther Enkin
- Brad Honywill
- Pierre-Paul Noreau
- Brenda O’Farrell
- Thomas Saras
- Pierre Sormany
- Pascale St-Onge
The meeting started with panel members reading through a new draft of the document with the proposed interpretation rules. This started with the section on general recommendations prepared by a panel member.
- Members started the discussion by reviewing the labour tax credit’s criteria touching the maximum salary and percentage of a salary the measure would refund. Members debated a change to the salary cap of $55,000 based on their knowledge of average salaries in newsrooms. Concerns were expressed about the optics of raising the cap, making it look like large newspapers were trying to take advantage of the program. Another member counter-argued that the measure is to incentivise newspapers to keep or hire journalists. As an illustration of this, if a journalist makes $100,000 a year, then the maximum labour credit of $13,000 will not suffice.
- After discussion, panel members agreed to a recommendation to raise the cap on labour costs to $85,000 and the percentage of the tax credit to 35%. Members agreed to provide context and explanation around this recommendation and agreed to recommend that it be retroactive.
- The panel agreed that, in the opening paragraph of the general recommendations section of the report, digital media be added to print. Similarly, the panel agreed to modifications in another recommendation to refer to digital media as well as online start-ups.
- On the recommendation concerning the allocation of government advertising budgets to papers in official language minority communities for the purpose of meeting its obligations, one member was concerned that ethnic press was not reflected. The Panel member wanted ethnic press to be included with the recommendation that 5% of advertising dollars be spent in official languages minority outlets. There was some discussion over the Official Languages Act, with some members pointing out that the federal Government has special obligations to French and English minority communities under the law. Panel members agreed that the question of ethnic media should be dealt with in a separate recommendations.
- The panel discussed a proposed recommendation whose intention is to support small publications, including whether the Aid to Publishers component of the Canada Periodical Fund should be the subject of a recommendation as well.
- One member suggested there could be a recommendation to incite the government to adapt its programs more rapidly to reflect the rapid changes in technology and news consumption habits of Canadians, especially younger Canadians.
- On the recommendation to address foreign social media and the regulatory and tax laws, members noted that the unfair treatment favouring these platforms has occurred simply due to a void in the tax framework. The tax system does not address their existence and the government should make changes to address this.
- One member provided the example of Section 19 of the Income Tax Act as an example of such an imbalance. As has been detailed in other reports, the section favours foreign media on the digital platforms, something that did not exist when the section was created. One member suggested adding a recommendation to make modifications to Section 19.
- The panel also deliberated on a proposed recommendation to have a list of companies who successfully filed for the tax credits made publicly available. Arguments for (principle of transparency) and against (optics for papers who are not on the list, not because they were unsuccessful, but because they did not apply) were presented. One member pointed out that any company wanting to have their subscribers benefit from the digital subscriptions — which would be almost all newspapers — would want to be listed as being eligible.
- After debate, members agreed to include a broad recommendation regarding limiting the tax credit amounts for companies where executives receive large bonuses.
- The panel agreed to incorporate proposed text from a panel member regarding the role of the 2nd panel and that of CRA in the administration of applications. The text would be incorporated into the introductory letter.
- A panel member reminded everyone that while it will be up to the government to name individuals to the 2nd panel, it is nonetheless indicated in the mandate letter that the government expects recommendations on this from the panel of experts. Panel members agreed to try to identify individuals to nominate, as per the mandate, despite the challenge of reaching people during the summer months.
- On the recommendation for frequency of publication, the panel agreed to the suggestion to require publications to exist for at least 12 months and that they publish at least 10 times in a given year.
- Under the “original news content” criterion, one member explained that the requirement for publications to have 60% original content was to force them to have a few more articles than just what is necessary than a simple majority of 50%.
- The panel improved on the draft text regarding the need for QCJO’s to cover democratic institutions and processes to provide greater clarity. The fundamental message the panel wishes to deliver is that coverage of democratic institutions is a basic requirement to be considered a QCJO.
- The panel deliberated at length the idea of recognizing as publications with content of general interest those that deal with a large spectrum of policy issues through a specific lens, such as the environment, science, technology or economics and business, while remaining “of general interest” by the scope of the topics covered and the general audience they target. The concern for many was that this would open the program too widely; it would allow too many types of publications to qualify for which the measures were not intended. In this view, the panel would be changing the measure to move away from its original goal of supporting general interest newspapers. After the debate, the panel agreed to remove the suggested text, at the reluctance of some members.
- The panel also made improvements to wording for the definition of “regularly employs” and to the definition of “journalist” that was proposed. In this latter case, text was added, describing the journalistic method.
- A call was then placed with Daniel Giroux, who was on an expert panel that advised the Quebec government on its program of tax credits to support digital transformation in print media companies, which developed eligibility criteria for written media to be considered outlets producing original written news content relating to news of general interest. Mr. Giroux provided his feedback on the proposed definitions to help the panel improve upon them.
- Mr. Giroux reviewed new text on the concept of “evidence-based”, in particular with a lens to see if there were problems with the applicability of the criteria. Ultimately, it was determined that in the context of determining the eligibility of an organization, it should not be a problem.
- After the call, all the day’s changes were incorporated into a new version of the interpretation rules document. Panel members then reviewed the revised document to ensure it reflected the changes to which they had agreed.
- In deliberating on the criterion for a minimum percentage of original content, panel members agreed that this should be qualified to say “over the course of a given year.” On the definition of “newsroom employee”, one panel member suggested that it would be useful here to clarify the similarities and differences between it and the definition of journalist found earlier.
- Panel members then agreed to check with some individuals who work in newsrooms to ensure the definitions are not off base from the reality of these workplaces.
- When the chair asked the other members if there were outstanding items that still needed to be addressed, one member suggested adding a paragraph to the introductory letter describing the situation of newspapers, particularly the state of the crisis, using data to illustrate this. Another member suggested adding a paragraph to explain how the panel went about developing its recommendations, in particular as it relates to the mandate the panel was given.
- Panel members agreed to hold a conference call on Wednesday, July 10, to continue the work on the report.
End of meeting
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