Independent Panel of Experts on Journalism and the Written Press — June 19 2019 meeting
Panel members present
- Bob Cox
- Esther Enkin
- Brad Honywill
- Pierre-Paul Noreau
- Brenda O’Farrell
- Thomas Saras
- Pierre Sormany
- Pascale St-Onge
Officials from the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Department of Finance were present during the morning portion of the meeting, to greet panel members, make presentations and answer questions from the panel members.
After welcoming remarks from senior officials, Canadian Heritage officials provided a review of the panel’s mandate and answered questions. At the same time, panel members were presented with options as to levels of support the Government could provide in addition to financial (to cover the panel’s operating costs) and logistical support (e.g. book meeting rooms, hotel rooms, etc.)
Officials from Finance Canada then provided an overview of the fiscal measures announced in the 2018 Fall Economic Statement for which further details were provided in Budget 2019 and answered questions.
Government officials then left the meeting to let panel members deliberate.
Subsequently, panel members elected Bob Cox as president.
Panel members further decided to keep the option of contacting government officials to obtain clarifications when questions on their mandate or criteria would arise during deliberations.
The panel first proceeded with a roundtable during which each member expressed their expectations of the panel’s work and the issues that should be addressed in its deliberations and potential areas for recommendations in its report.
Issues and topics that were raised include:
- On a broader level, the panel should be looking at preparing specific recommendations on criteria but it should also consider recommendations that are forward-looking and might include changes to other programs to address journalism issues.
- It is not clear whether the measures proposed would be sufficient to ensure the survival of newspapers. One consideration to address this is the possibility of recommending a new program that supports community papers across the country.
- The panel should consider providing definitions for terms such as “journalism” and “general interest publication”. In the case of journalism, a discussion should start from a look at existing definitions from associations or court decisions.
- The requirement that a publication must regularly employ 2 journalists who are at arm’s length is particularly problematic for smaller publications, including the majority of newspapers in communities in official language minority situation and in ethnic communities.
- Recommendations to be considered could include:
- that all QCJO applicants must be published.
- that the panel should show that the government’s measures are un-inclusive. The government’s view does not capture smaller publications, including from communities in official language minority situation and ethnic communities.
- that the government’s advertising program be reviewed or modified to favour placements in community newspapers and in the ethnic press, including digital advertisement to get their message to Canadians.
- That there be openness and transparency such as regarding donors.
- The panel should discuss the elephant in the room, which is the fact that social media have taken advertising revenues from newspapers. This is revenue that is leaving the country.
- On the question of the 2nd panel, this element of the mandate is more problematic. The panel will need to know more about how it will work. If the criteria developed by the 1st panel are already solid, there will be little to do in terms of interpretation.
- There is a message the government needs to get from the panel, namely that written journalism, print and digital is in a crisis. We will have to press to have changes happen before it is too late. The panel should also keep in mind that the future of journalism has to do with niches, including geographic.
End of roundtable portion of meeting
The Panel then turned its attention to a discussion about definitions.
- As a first step, the panel examined the definition of a QCJO.
- Criteria from the Government of Quebec’s « Programme d’aide à l’adaptation numérique des entreprises de la presse d’information écrite » were reviewed, as a possible starting point to define the criteria for the federal measures.
- The panel also examined the definition of journalism provided by the Canadian Association of Journalism’s Ethics Advisory Committee in its report, “What is Journalism?” was examined by the Panel members. In particular, journalistic types of actions were reviewed, namely, purpose, creation and methods.
- Other topics debated by the panel included:
- Whether to define the percentage of audio-video allowable as this is not in the current legislation.
- Adapting exclusions from the Quebec Government’s program.
- Here the subject matter is not as important. It needs to speak more to the future as new, young news sites would not otherwise qualify.
Following a discussion, consensus was reached by Panel members to create a list of deliverables:
- Define original news content
- Define eligible newsroom employees
- Define scope of eligible publications
- Define a Qualified Canadian Journalistic Organization
- Recommendations on the 2nd panel
- General recommendations to the Government
In the case of the definitions, there is a basis in the legislation that needs to be expanded upon. In the case of the general recommendations, this should be in reference to either legislation or program changes.
The discussion then turned to the content in the Budget and on the presentation from Finance Canada earlier in the day. It was suggested that the panel’s attention should be focussed on the top part of the list, but not on criteria such as defining Canadian ownership, e.g. the 75% ownership requirement, as this concept, for example, is based on the definition already found in Section 19 of the Income Tax Act.
1. Defining Original News Content
Panel members raised several questions in discussing a definition of “original news content”, including:
- Should there be a mention of audiences, in the context of original news content and in particular the idea of general interest?
- But what about sports publications such as The Athletic ? Perhaps this is not the thinking for what the newsroom was meant to cover in this context.
- The question then is, is it journalism? The short answer is yes, but it illustrates that it is hard to draw a line on inclusions.
- What about a publication such as a science magazine? “Québec Science” was given as an example. It is a publication that has articles about scientific research funding programs, scientific education, or even climate change. The publication is about science but from a general interest angle.
- Should there be a requirement that 50% of content created be of general interest, covering civic institutions? It was suggested that regardless of the percentage, whether it is 40%, 50% or 60%, if it is about politics, it should be about Canadian politics.
- Looking at what is in the Budget regarding original news content, what else should there be, in addition to what is already there?
One panel member noted that if the panel wants to be forward-thinking, then it needs to keep focus on content that is of general interest (as opposed to sports or science). In reference to the federal government’s goal, in the Budget there is more intent given to public or democratic institutions. The intent is to strengthen democratic institutions.
A suggestion was made that a definition should begin by defining “original” on its own followed by a definition of content, whether it is meant to have a particular focus or examining content from a particular angle. In this way, content could be about particular subjects but still of general interest. Exclusions, such as those listed in the Quebec Government’s program, would still be maintained.
A suggestion was made to add “eligible” to”original”.
When concluding the meeting, discussion returned to one of the problems raised earlier in the day about the money that goes to US companies from advertising. It was reiterated that the Panel should recommend something on this, and that it highlight the issues created by social media revenue.
End of meeting
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