Torstar sale shows the depth of crisis in media

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Canada’s conservatives must be popping champagne corks today after the sale of Canada’s largest newspaper to two of its avid supporters.

The Toronto Star has been a consistent voice for working class Canadians for more than 100 years, leading the debate on issues Conservatives can’t stand to talk about – decent wages and working conditions, the rights of marginalized Canadians, reasonable immigration policies, and more. 

The Star’s Atkinson Principles - that the Star be an unabashedly progressive paper - have been the bedrock of its commitment to give voice to the voiceless, telling the stories of marginalized communities to help build a better society.

Just this morning, the Star documented its 17 years of exposing the conditions in long term care homes. While the pandemic has made the conditions in these homes front page news of late, the Star and its dedicated reporters have led the debate for years.

The Star is also the rare media outlet in this country with a full-time labour reporter. Sara Mojtehedzadeh’s work put the issues of temporary and gig workers on the national agenda. These are issues we are all seeing with new eyes thanks to COVID-19. We are a better country and workers are safer because of her work and her dedicated colleagues in the Star newsroom.

The new owners say they will continue to adhere to the Atkinson Principles to stand up for working Canadians across country. As good as that sounds, it’s the same thing we’ve heard right-wing populists pontificate for years. Jason Kenney claims to speak for working Canadians, too, but continues to show us that doesn’t make it true.

Both of the new owners are Conservative Party donors. One even donated the maximum allowable to extreme right-winger Maxime Bernier during his leadership bid. 

The Toronto Star once said of Bernier, “It’s no secret that Bernier holds extreme, even indefensible, views on immigration, climate change and a lot more. It’s also obvious that his views don’t accord with the Star’s well-established principles.” 

Let’s hope the good people at the Star don’t forget that.

In election after election, the Toronto Star and its sister papers have been alone in endorsing the Liberals and the NDP. The majority of newspapers across Canada have consistently backed the Conservatives in their endorsements – no matter what destructive economic and social policies Conservatives cooked up with their rich friends.

The Star became Canada’s largest newspaper precisely because of its dedication to progressive journalism and to covering the stories that other more conservative papers would not. The new owners would be wise to remember that.

The fact that the Star and all its sister papers sold for pennies on the dollar shows the desperate situation in media today.

The deal, which takes the papers private, comes after decades of decline in advertising revenue, the digital hit of Facebook and Google swallowing up the vast majority of online advertising and the body blow of COVID-19 causing what’s left to dry up.

Meanwhile, the news media sector continues to wait for the long-promised federal aid to come through. 

In the best of times, we all rely on the media for a functioning democracy. In a pandemic, we rely on good journalism to stay safe – even to stay alive.

We have seen dozens of media outlets go out of business across Canada in the last few months as the pandemic proved to be the last straw in a struggling sector. 

Relief from the federal government has been promised and promised. Unifor has led the fight to get this important aid in place, and to get Google and Facebook to pay their fair share for the journalism that is driving their massive profits.

We can’t wait any longer. Australia has acted to get the Internet giants to pay up. France is taking action, as are other countries around the world.

No more delay. We need to get this done in Canada, too.