Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector union, with more than 310,000 members. Our union represents more than 10,000 media workers, including journalists in the broadcast and print news industry.
Journalism is a public good and its role in holding power to account, strengthening democracy and building community has never been more important. Social media has proven to divide us, pitting neighbour against neighbour. We are more polarized than ever, but a strong Canadian news media can build community.
I don’t think I need to spend too much time on the problem, because I think we can all agree the news industry, and especially local news, is in CRISIS!
The Public Policy Forum has done some great work documenting this decline in their updated Shattered Mirror report, advertising revenue for community newspapers dropped 66% from 2011 to 2020. During that time, almost 300 papers either disappeared or merged with other publications. The list of dead newspapers reads like a roll call of regional and small-town Canada.
In Broadcasting it’s a similar story. News outlets are closing, consolidating and downsizing.
Unifor’s own membership numbers confirm this trend. Between 2009 and 2022, the Toronto Star’s membership declined from 610 to 178, a decrease of 70%. In broadcasting between 2017 and 2021, employment decreased by 16%.
This all results in less journalism and less news with nothing replacing it.
Where has all of the advertising gone? American Web giants Google and Facebook have cornered the world’s advertising market. Their marketshare dominance is an abuse of power where they dictate terms and price. It’s important to note that they don’t produce any news of their own, local or otherwise.
How to solve the problem. To some, including myself the answer seems simple. Google and Facebook must pay their fair share and contribute to the creation of Canadian news.
But, how? Unifor first submitted the best approach was a news fund, but Australia went in another direction and had success in creating legislation that compelled the platforms to negotiate with News Outlets for fair compensation for their product.
Thus, C18, the Canadian Online News Act was born. Unifor supports the speedy passage of this bill -- as we are almost too late to act. Without this support more news outlets will close as they are already on the brink.
Unifor had three main concerns with the drafting of Bill C18. One, Inclusivity, no eligible news outlets should be left behind. Two, Accountability, the money received by these deals need to earmarked for news creation and Three, transparency, the value of these deals needs to be public knowledge.
Although, not perfect, and we have submitted some minor amendments to tweak the bill, Unifor believes that C18 strikes a good balance on these issues.
On the first, the bill acknowledges that diversity must play a key role in inclusivity, smaller outlets must be included and the bill is also platform agnostic to recognize broadcasters and podcasters. Unifor submits that all eligible news outlets should be included.
On the second, Unifor maintains that this money goes toward news creation. Hiring journalists to tell our stories and to hold power to account, is the most important metric to measuring the success of this initiative.
And thirdly, transparency. The platforms have ensured that the value of deals negotiated thus far are shrouded in non-disclosure agreements. Unifor submits that the value of deals negotiated should be made public. We do know, however, that this bill will allow the CRTC to give us annual aggregated numbers, as we currently receive in the broadcasting industry. Unifor would also suggest that arbitrators should have special access to the value of these deals and other relevant confidential information so they can make informed decisions in the arbitration process.
Now, if only we had a quasi-judicial body, that is arms length from the government, to handle the administration of this bill. To be clear, Unifor, has not always agreed with all of the CRTC’s decisions, but Unifor applauds the decision to have the CRTC administer this bill, as we believe they are well suited to this work.
To sum up – The news industry is in crisis and local news is essential to the public good and a functioning democracy. We know from the Australians a bargaining code with an arbitration process can be successful, and we believe that C18 is an improvement on the Australian legislation. Unifor supports speedy passage of this legislation with very minor adjustments.
Let’s not get side tracked by noise, lets get C18 passed to ensure a sustainable future for local news.
Now, let’s all imagine a world without news, imagine the void, now imagine you can do something about it.
Director, Unifor Media