This week, the Quebec National Assembly is studying the future of news.
Across the country, newsrooms are shrinking, journalists are losing their jobs while their companies struggle to turn a profit. Can the government keep local news alive?
When people talk about a crisis in journalism, Patrick White knows first-hand what that means. Last year, he lost his job as editor-in-chief at Huffpost Quebec.
White has found work again, as a journalism professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). He’s one of more than 30 people testifying in front of a National Assembly committee this week with ideas on how to save journalism in Quebec.
“The media needs to have a business model to make money. And the government needs to step in for a couple years, maybe just three to five years to at least turn things around,” White said.
He suggests subsidies and payroll tax cuts for media companies. Those ideas will be considered when the government comes up with a promised plan this fall to help struggling media, including Capitales Médias Group, a regional press group which declared bankruptcy last week.
Lemieux said all news, including TV and radio, are steadily losing advertising revenue to social media giants, like Google, Apple and Facebook.
“The problem is not unique to Quebec,” said Liberal MNA Isabelle Melançon.
Opposition parties say they want to hear from experts on how the government could tax these giants, but none have been invited to testify in Quebec City.
“It’s dismissed,” said Québec Solidaire MNA Catherine Dorion. “And it’s the most important thing we have to see because that’s where a huge amount of money can come from to save our media on a long-term basis.”
The government said it wants to hear from local media first.
“I think the whole world is listening to experts on that respect. Quebec is no different,” Lemieux said.
Taxing giants like Facebook and Google will not be easy.
“They refuse to pay their taxes in every country where they profit,” said Pascale St-Onge, president of the union, FCN-CSN, but she added, “It’s the government’s role to… make sure that those who benefit from our content participate in financing it.”
White said everyday Quebecers also need to be made aware of the importance of the survival of local and regional journalism.
“We need to convince people, tell them, that if these media disappear that content is not going to be on Facebook anymore. Facebook doesn’t have a newsroom; same goes for Google,” White said.
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