The Canadian news industry is hoping to galvanize support in coming weeks for federal measures that would help to prop up the bottom lines of media organizations that are struggling to adapt to new digital realities.
There is little appetite for a straight-up federal bailout inside government or the industry. Still, there are growing calls for financial measures to help media organizations "to transition" to digital operations, as well as new rules surrounding domestic advertising and the copyright protection of original content.
The Public Policy Forum, an independent think tank, will release a report on Thursday on "news, democracy and trust in the digital age" that is expected to provide a road map for government to bolster professional journalism as a key component of the political process. The report is expected to feature a dozen recommendations on ways to fund innovation in the industry, change advertising models and redefine the mandate of the CBC in the news landscape, among other issues.
The Canadian heritage committee of the House will unveil its own recommendations to support news operations in coming weeks, which are expected to increase pressure on Ottawa to take action to help the media.
"I really feel for newspapers right now," said Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, a former television broadcaster who is increasingly favourable to government help for the industry.
NDP MP Pierre Nantel added there is a consensus on the heritage committee "that we need solutions" to the financial crunch facing the news industry as advertising dollars – including federal ones – are increasingly migrating to foreign digital platforms.
Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has said she is looking for ways to foster cultural diversity, while protecting the political process from the type of fake news that had a large impact on the recent U.S. election. Liberal officials said Ms. Joly is still consulting the industry in Canada as well as companies such as Facebook and Google, and that any solution will respect the "editorial independence" of the news media.
"There have been many discussions on the impact of fake news and the digital revolution on the media industry," Ms. Joly said in a recent interview from Switzerland, where she attended the World Economic Forum.
"One of the things that we discovered is the need for conversations on the importance of cultural diversity and the importance of supporting a healthy democracy, which entails having access to local sources of information that are credible and trustworthy," Ms. Joly said.
The Public Policy Forum report was funded in large part by the federal government, which is conducting public consultations on the future of cultural industries in the country. Given the fact the consultations are going on, there is little chance any measure to help the Canadian media industry will be included in the next federal budget.
Still, the Canadian News Media Association is hoping for tax changes that will foster innovation in the industry and encourage advertising in Canadian publications, instead of foreign Internet firms. In addition, the industry would like changes to the Copyright Act to protect original content from being picked up on aggregator websites, and new rules governing the role of non-profit groups in the news industry.
"We're not asking for any kind of subsidy, we don't want to be a propped-up industry," said CNMA chair Bob Cox. "We might like some help to transition, we might like better rules of the game in terms of taxation and in terms of copyright, but we don't want the government to make us into coal mines in Britain and support us in perpetuity."
Ms. Joly has travelled to Europe and China as she looks for the best way to support Canadian cultural industries in the digital era. She is focused on increasing the export of Canadian culture, but also on fostering the creation of domestic content.
Officials at Google said they are willing to work with the news industry to promote the creation and distribution of original journalism, in part by sharing advertising revenues with the media.
"We recognize the critical role that the press and the news industry play in our democracy, and we see ourselves as partners," Google spokesman Aaron Brindle said.