—— By Paul Deegan/News Media Canada and Brent Jolly/Canadian Association of Journalists

 

Late last week, British Columbia Premier David Eby dropped some verbal firebombs as he went on a 2.5-minute tirade last week blasting BCE, the parent of Bell Media after their announcement of 4,800 job cuts and the sale of 45 radio stations across Canada.

He said, “The fact that they cannot find it possible with all of their MBAs to operate a few local news stations, in British Columbia, to ensure that people get accurate, impartial, reliable information in an age of disinformation and social media craziness is such an abandonment of any idea of corporate responsibility…I find it reprehensible…I think it’s appalling.”

He went on, “On behalf of all of the families, of the journalists, the media outlets, on behalf of all British Columbians that have watched their local news stations slowly turned to garbage by these companies, who now say, unsurprisingly, that there’s not a lot of support for them, I just want to say shame on you.”

The premier’s outspoken support for local journalism was admirable. We hope that unwavering support and passion will continue into next week’s Speech from the Throne.

There are four policies he can champion that will help support quality public service reporting in the province.

First, B.C. should follow Ontario’s example and exempt newspapers from extended producer responsibility fees. The capture of newspapers in B.C.’s regulation fails to recognize that newspaper is the product, not the packaging, and effectively subsidizes actual waste producers. The B.C. government exempts paperback romance novels and single use paper towels from the regulation, yet they are trying to have publishers into paying excessive fees to Recycle BC – a monopoly run by large retailers and packaged goods companies – which will most likely result in the direct loss of about 80 local journalism jobs in B.C. and the shuttering of some newspapers.

Second, Eby should direct 25 per cent of the province’s domestic advertising spend to support local news. B.C.’s news publishers and other local media organizations have earned the trust of millions of British Columbians by providing news and information that is relevant and reliable. Like many provincial and municipal governments, B.C. does not disclose where provincial ad dollars are spent. Looking at federal government’s most recent advertising report, we know that too many dollars are going to Facebook/Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok – social media giants that do little to combat misinformation and disinformation.

Third, Eby can borrow a page from Quebec’s approach and introduce a 35 per cent refundable news media labour tax credit. This credit has saved jobs and put journalism on a more sustainable footing in that province.

Fourth, Victoria could introduce a provincial program similar to the federal government’s Local Journalism Initiative or the California Local News Fellowship. Funding journalist positions in areas of news poverty, particularly in remote areas in the province would help keep communities informed and connected.

To date, the federal government has adopted a suite of policies designed to support quality public service journalism.

Now is the time for other provincial governments, including British Columbia, to so the same. The Feb. 20 Speech from the Throne is the time to put Premier Eby’s passionate words into concrete action. The cost of inaction will result in the loss of journalism jobs, the shuttering of local media outlets, and a less informed and less engaged citizenry.

 

Paul Deegan is President and Chief Executive Officer of News Media Canada
Brent Jolly is President of the Canadian Association of Journalists