Independent Panel of Experts on Journalism and the Written Press — June 26 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
On convening, panel members agreed to spend the morning working through the document, consisting of three columns, prepared by one of the members.
The discussion began with a review of the criteria for Qualified Canadian Journalistic Organizations (QCJO).
- As an overall approach, it was noted that recommendations formulated by the panel must provide clarity to ensure the criteria and definitions are less likely to be subject to interpretation.
- The first item discussed was that of providing a definition for original news content.
- Panel members considered a first question put forward: when defining the production of news content, should a criterion around the application of journalistic standards, or a code of ethics for journalists be included? Arguments were presented on both sides of the issue. After lengthy deliberations, the panel reached a consensus to not include a reference to standards or to a code of ethics, as it would be difficult to evaluate and would not be easy to operationalize.
- It was suggested, however, that if a requirement for a code of ethics could not be recommended, it would be reasonable to suggest that, as a minimum, organizations have a process in place to correct errors, and that the panel incorporate the use of evidence-based research and verification in its definition, thus incorporating minimal standards of journalism. After discussion, panel members agreed to add these elements.
- The question discussed next was that of what defines original news content in the context of qualifying as a QCJO, specifically what it includes. Suggested elements included news, reports and analysis or commentary, to which were added profiles and interviews.
- Panel members further agreed to compare their list of exclusions to that found in Investissement Québec’s tax credit guidelines and to add any that were not in the former.
- The panel then reviewed the definition for “matters of a general interest”. The list of seven topics found in Investissement Québec’s guidelines was considered as a starting point. To these, panel members suggested adding business and finance, science and technology. Concern was expressed that the panel was looking at this from an elitist perspective, which is why sports was not being included, despite being a popular section in newspapers. Another concern focused on the idea that if the panel is looking towards the future, then digital news sites like The Logic, which are more specialized, that have niches, will be excluded.
- Ultimately, the panel reached a consensus that the third item on the list of QCJO criteria in the group’s working document should be removed, namely: “Original information content includes news, reports and analysis or commentary, produced according to the highest standards of journalism and intended for the general public, and whose research, writing and formatting are conducted by permanent, contract or freelance employees who work for this organization.”
- It was suggested that the panel could provide a policy recommendation that the future of journalism lies with subject-based material that addresses a variety of issues and social policies.
- On the question of publications funded by foreign entities, the panel reached a consensus to add foreign-funded publications to the list of excluded publications. One member offered to draft a text on this aspect.
- Panel members returned to the criteria requiring an organization to regularly employ two journalists to qualify as a QCJO. The proposed language to define what is a journalist, found in the working document, was discussed. Panel members agreed to the definition proposed, with two changes: 1) add “writing” to the list of verbs; and 2) remove the text after the words “digital formats”. The definition around which consensus was formed is the following: “The term "journalists" should be understood in the broad sense given to it by media companies and professional associations of journalists. This includes all staff, contract or freelance, directly involved in the planning, research and collection of facts, data analysis, reporting, writing, text verification and publishing, illustration, photography and videography, graphic presentation and adaptation to digital formats.”
- A discussion of the expression “regularly employs” is postponed to the following day, as it will be discussed with officials from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in the morning.
- Panel members discussed the concept of “primarily” used in the QCJO criteria, specifically in relation to producing original news content. What should be the proportion of content that must be original news to qualify as “primarily engaged in the production of original news content” and what should be the level of diversity of the news? It was suggested that perhaps 50% of content be of general interest but this would be difficult to evaluate.
- Regarding the criteria touching on content of general interest, it was suggested that the list of topics of general interest from the Investissement Québec tax credit guidelines be added. As such, it would read: “primarily focused on matters of general interest and reports of current events, including coverage of democratic institutions and processes and, further general interest can include…” to which the elements from the Quebec list would be integrated.
- Turning to the refundable labour tax credit, the panel set to define the term “eligible newsroom employee”. Upon first reading, the concept seemed to members to be well-defined, although exclusions could be added to the definition. At the same time, certain functions could be added. Panel members reached a consensus that a section could be added to the sentence on functions that states “and those otherwise involved in preparing content such as managers directly working on preparing content.”
- The panel returned to the criteria excluding publications that receive foreign funding, based on a text proposed by one of the members. The idea is that foreign organizations should not control content in Canadian publications, thus preventing foreign influence. Should it then exclude publications where a majority of funding is from foreign sources? It was suggested that the language be changed to “publications receiving funding from a foreign entity for the purpose of influencing the Canadian democratic process.”
- The panel discussed the Quebec government’s approach — that publications cover three of the seven topics listed — and applying it as a criterion for the federal measures. It was noted that covering democratic institutions should be a basic requirement on top of the selection of three topics. This could then be read as “publications regularly covering any level of democratic institutions, as well as at least three of the following topics”. A list of topics would follow.
- Panel members turned their attention to general recommendations the panel could propose. Proposals brought forward included:
- A recommendation that government advertising should be placed in Canadian publications, that it commit a percentage of its advertising budget, maybe 50%, to be placed in Canadian written news media.
- A recommendation to create a separate program for small publications, including ethnic publications.
- A recommendation that government live up to its official languages obligations.
- It was also suggested that the recent Senate report’s four recommendations, subsequent to its study of Bill C-97, be reiterated. Attention was brought to the recommendation related to advertisement revenues that have migrated to the FANG group of companies. In order to address the long-term viability of the news industry, the government must address the structures that favour foreign social media platforms that do not create news content.
- A recommendation that the government reexamine the labour tax credit requirement to have employees working 26 hours for 40 consecutive weeks.
- The government should review Section 19 of the Income Tax Act to level the playing field. The government should address all inequities in the Act that disadvantage Canadian media.
- Internet Service Providers that also benefit from Canadian media content should also be taxed accordingly.
- The government should raise the tax credit for digital subscriptions to 25% if it wants to encourage the transition to digital.
- The report should indicate that the program is a good first step but it will need to be broader to be effective. Similarly to the message in the Senate report, the panel report will need to express the urgency of the situation. The risk exists that many organizations will fail before they can receive funding from the tax credit.
- The panel agreed that discussion on the 2nd panel should be postponed until after the discussion with government officials occurs the following day.
End of meeting
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